Options for Future Development

Beverley Picture Playhouse, Feasibilty Review, Alun Bond – Artservice
6.1 Options Assessment

If we accept that Beverley needs two main performance spaces then the options for development are as follows.

440 seat capacity Longcroft School Theatre

150 to 250 seat capacity Memorial Hall; Playhouse; Music and Dance Centre

Despite the reservations about the Longcroft School Theatre (see above) it appears to be the only equipped venue capable of accommodating music, dance drama and other live events requiring a seating capacity in the region of 400. It should therefore be promoted and made available for events of that scale so that it can become a recognised venue for relevant performances. The Council will need to work closely with the School to explore ways in which community use of the Theatre can be extended and made easier.

The Memorial Hall currently seats up to 240 and would replicate this size of space in a re-developed facility. The Playhouse seats up to 320, but would seat many fewer if it was re-designed. The Music and Dance Centre is not yet finally designed but is planned to seat up to 300. The key questions are which of these venues should be prioritised and how many should be maintained. Can Beverley afford to have three venues of roughly equivalent size?

Answering this question is not easy when it is not possible to compare the three options in detail as there is no basis at present for assessing the comparative capital and revenue costs involved. The Memorial Hall re-development scheme has been costed at in excess of £2.6 million, and the Music and Dance Centre scheme at £2.4 million, but no detailed capital estimates have been prepared for the Playhouse.

6.2 The Music and Dance Centre

The Music and Dance Centre development has its own rationale in terms of educational and community use. It is planned to provide a base for the Music Service and a centre for youth music in the East Riding. It will be a specialist facility with practice and rehearsal rooms and a central space for presenting concerts and other live performances. The facility will also be available for use by the community and it is intended that it will offer opportunities for the community to participate in music through evening classes and other activities. It should be viewed as a specialist countywide facility of particular benefit to Beverley, rather than as an arts facility for Beverley as such. It is unlikely that it would be able to meet all of the town’s arts venue needs in the 200 to 300 seat range, but it is a valuable development which will meet a perceived need.

6.3 The Memorial Hall

The Memorial Hall is badly in need of re-design and modernisation and the current plans drawn up for the trustees would radically improve the venue’s range and quality of facilities. Though the Hall’s location is not ideal, the development plans would improve its relationship with the civic area and, with improvements to local parking as a result of the Treasure House scheme, a re-developed Memorial Hall could play a key role for Beverley in the arts. The new fully-equipped 240 seat auditorium would provide a replacement for the Playhouse with the full range of ancillary facilities a modern venue requires.

There are however four questions which must be addressed:

· Whether the capital funding required (possibly in excess of £3m) is realisable?

· How the management and staffing arrangements will need to be strengthened in order to operate the building efficiently and maximise usage so as to justify the investment in it?

· Will the building have the ambience of an arts venue so that it is able to attract a wider variety of arts users?

· What are the revenue implications of the development and whether they are affordable?

6.4 The Picture Playhouse

The Playhouse, like the Memorial Hall, could play a part in meeting the future arts needs of Beverley, but, again like the Memorial Hall, major capital investment would be required to adapt the building, extend and enhance its facilities and bring it up to the standard required by today’s audiences. In order to achieve this, the developments outlined in 3.2 above would be required.

However, there are several issues to be addressed:

· Could the capital funding required for such a development be secured (the main Arts Lottery Capital programme is not a potential source of major funding as applications to the programme cannot now be accepted as the scheme has now closed (though up to £100,000 of capital funding a year is possible through the Regional Grants for the Arts scheme)?

· What governance/management arrangements would be required?

· Who would take the lead role in taking a scheme forward?

· What would be the staffing and operational needs?

· What are the revenue implications and is the venue viable?

In the following section we shall look at these questions in more detail.

6.5 Options Summary

While the proposed Music and Dance Centre has a distinct and separate role to play, it is evident that there would be considerable crossover between the Playhouse and Memorial Hall if the latter were upgraded to provide a 240-seat theatre space. It would be difficult therefore to justify major capital investment in both facilities. Indeed, securing funding for either will be challenging.

At the moment there is no management mechanism for taking a Playhouse scheme forward, unless the Council were to do that or a new trust were to be set up. Neither is there a capital scheme or estimate of capital costs for the Playhouse. The Memorial Hall business plan has not been produced. It is difficult therefore to assess the two schemes comparatively.

As a building the Memorial Hall has greater potential, given its larger volume, but it lacks the capacity to generate income from daytime catering which the Playhouse has. The location of the Playhouse is generally agreed to be more satisfactory. Ultimately the decision on which of the two options is preferable depends on the following factors.

· Can either scheme be delivered – is the capital funding required achievable?

· Is there the potential and local commitment to create a trust to take over the management and development of the Playhouse?

· Is the trust option viable and could it deliver the proposed development requirements?

· Would the trust option provide the necessary degree of assurance for the Council?

· What are the revenue implications of the Memorial Hall scheme?

· What is East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s strategic aim in respect of Beverley Town centre – does it wish to retain diversity in the evening economy or is it prepared to accept the increasing dominance of the drinking culture?

· What are the revenue implications of the suggested Playhouse development?

We shall try to deal with the latter of these below.