Other Venues in the Town

Beverley Picture Playhouse, Feasibilty Review, Alun Bond – Artservice

4.1 Beverley Memorial Hall

The Memorial Hall is located just off the main town centre and is owned by the Beverley Memorial Hall Trust, which is made up of Town Council and independent members. The building is operated by Beverley Town Council, but with East Riding of Yorkshire Council providing some services, including bookings, cleaning and caretaking. The Hall is used as a performance venue by two local amateur theatre/operatic societies and for a range of other uses including fairs, shows, auctions, blood donor sessions, lectures, training courses, dance classes and band practice.

The Hall consists of a large flat-floored central hall, licensed for around 200 people, with a raised stage, catering facilities off one side and dressing rooms and storage to the rear of and beneath the stage. The Hall lacks meeting space and users generally use the main hall for meetings, which is too large for many groups and restricts the Hall’s capacity to accommodate some organisations. The Hall is currently viewed by many as lacking sufficient parking.

The Hall trustees have developed a capital scheme for the complete re-design of the Memorial Hall building. This would involve the creation of a first floor performance space with bleacher seating for up to 240, a re-designed ground floor with office accommodation for staff, two meeting rooms (seating 60 and 30 people) and other ancillary facilities, including Town Council Chamber and offices. The entrance to the building would be reversed to face the Library gardens with new foyer areas and a café bar area facing onto the gardens.

The entrance would therefore be closer to existing car parks (the Lord Roberts Car Park is located about 500 metres from the rear of the building which would become the new entrance if the building was re-designed) and would link via the upgraded park to public parking behind the planned Treasure House building which is to be built on land adjacent to the Library. The existence of the Library and Art Gallery, Treasure House and a refurbished Memorial Hall would therefore create a cultural focus for this civic (or cultural) quarter of the town with the Hall as the main focus for evening events and activities.

The Memorial Hall capital scheme was costed at around £2.6 million in 2002. The capital scheme is ambitious and could provide the town with an excellent performing arts facility, but no work on fundraising has yet been undertaken and the achievability of the capital funding required remains untested. Work on this and preparation of a business plan are however planned. In considering the Memorial Hall’s positive and negative attributes we need to take into account the potential improvements to parking and location which would be brought about by reversing the front of the building.

The Memorial Hall’s positive attributes are:

· the building is of generous proportions and could accommodate a range of facilities

· the building is not listed and could therefore be adapted

· it is trust-owned and a capital scheme could possibly attract funding from charitable sources

· the building is operated in partnership with East Riding of Yorkshire Council

· the trustees have played an active role in developing plans for the building and are pursuing the development energetically

· the re-developed building could benefit from improvements to the area and increased local parking

· though relatively close to the town centre, the building is apart from the main evening ‘drinking’ areas

However, on the negative side:

· the building’s location is not at the heart of the town centre

· providing adjacent parking would be dependent on the Treasure House development

· the capital scheme as planned would be very difficult if not impossible to deliver in phases

· the scheme may be over-ambitious – the capital funding required could prove very difficult to secure.

The Memorial Hall has the potential to provide the town with an acceptable solution to its venue needs, whilst also meeting other community and social needs, but at this stage in the process it is impossible to say whether or not it is achievable given the level of capital investment required and the absence of a business model.

4.2 Longcroft Theatre

Longcroft School is a specialist arts college and is located about a mile out of the town centre to the north-west of the town. The School is set back from the main road and the school hall (now referred to as the school theatre), located adjacent to the main entrance, has recently been refurbished with the installation of bleacher seating and improved stage lighting. The theatre can accommodate up to 450 seated, including about ten rows of seats on the flat area between the raised seating and the stage which can seat up to 150. We have been told that this can create difficulties in using the space with audiences of under 200 as the audience is either seated mainly on the flat-floored area or on the raked seating leaving a large gap in front of the stage.

The theatre is available for use by local community and arts groups and has been used as a venue by several of the town’s festivals. However some groups and organisations feel that community use is constrained by availability, the pattern of school usage which restricts access to the theatre before 4p.m., and the difficulty of communicating with the school over bookings. The venue lacks a dedicated bar and café, refreshments and interval drinks are served in the school refectory and in an area which is converted into a bar for performance evenings. The lack of a dedicated and fully-equipped bar area adjacent to the theatre reduces the venue’s attractiveness to some potential users.

Longcroft Theatre is a valuable venue for the performing arts in Beverley, and is an excellent space for larger events requiring a capacity in excess of 300, but it is an educational facility. The theatre lacks the range and quality of ancillary amenities and services which make an arts venue an attractive place to visit in its own right and the building suffers to some extent from its educational ambience. Furthermore, like many school venues, operational factors may limit the venue’s availability to the local community and it can only meet some of the town’s arts venue needs.

The Council’s Music Service uses the lower school premises for its youth music activities involving up to 350 young people every week. These activities include youth orchestra rehearsals and performances, and regular Saturday youth music rehearsals and activities.

4.3 Other Venues

A variety of other venues in Beverley are used for arts events and festivals, including the Minster, the Friary, St Mary’s Church, At Mary’s Parish Hall, the Methodist Church, the Guildhall, Beverley Art Gallery, the Leisure Centre and The White Horse (Nellie’s). The Council is also in the process of developing plans for a new archive building, the Treasure House, to be sited next to the Library, which will include a 90-seat lecture theatre.

4.4 East Riding of Yorkshire Community Music and Dance Centre

The Council’s Music Service is based in cramped premises adjacent to the Magistrate’s Court close to Beverley Town Centre. The Service’s teaching staff of 44 and nine other permanent staff operate out of the building. The Service uses Longcroft Lower School as the base for its ten music ensembles based in the Beverley area, which meet every Saturday during term time.

The Music Service has expanded considerably in recent years and is finding it increasingly difficult to accommodate all of its activity in the School premises. It is currently exploring the possibility of creating a new purpose-built music and dance rehearsal and performance facility with accommodation for the Service administration on the Longcroft School site.

Land has been identified to the rear of the campus and the plan is to create a new dedicated centre with a large concert and dance performance space, an external performance area, large rehearsal and ensemble room, instrument teaching rooms, administrative offices, a piano workshop and storage rooms. The large performance space seating between 250 and 300 is intended to be available as a community facility for use by local groups, festivals and visiting companies. It is intended that the facility would be used in the evenings for a range of community music activities.

The scheme would need to secure capital funding from the local authority and also possibly from other external funding sources, though no detailed work has yet been undertaken on funding sources, other than initial contact with the Arts Council to explore the potential for Arts Lottery capital funding. The estimated capital cost is £2.4 million.

The scheme could provide Beverley with an excellent concert venue with a first class acoustic, possibly capable of accommodating dance and small-scale theatre performances. It could prove particularly attractive to specialist music groups, including choral societies and amateur ensembles and orchestras from around the County and would provide a quality performance venue for schools work. It might also be used by some of Beverley’s festivals, such as the Chamber Music Festival.

However, in order to meet the needs of the Music Service the facility would need to be designed specifically with acoustic music (and classical music) in mind and to ensure that it accommodated the Service’s academic requirements. While the scheme would include audience facilities, its prime focus would be educational activity and educational needs would take priority.

As a shared Music Service and community facility for music and dance there are challenges for the scheme and several issues which might inhibit its suitability as a community venue and would require more detailed consideration:

· designing a performance space which could accommodate live orchestral music which was also suitable for dance (which needs a large flat sprung stage with generous wing space and backstage areas

· providing adequate front of house facilities for an audience of up to 300 people

· the location of the venue to the rear of the school campus making it invisible from the road

· the out of town location of the school

· ensuring that there was adequate parking at all times

· balancing Music Service demand (including the planned community evening programme) with the requirements of other users

· balancing the operational needs of the building between educational and community usage

· the reluctance of some organisations to use out of town facilities

· the ambience of the building

Ultimately the Music Service requires a concert facility and music rehearsal facility and it has to be questioned whether a specialist concert space can also function effectively as a venue for a range of other performing arts uses. As a music facility there is little doubt that the Centre would greatly enhance Beverley’s facilities, but it is unlikely that it could meet the full range of performing arts needs. Neither can it be assumed that it would become the natural venue for the town’s music festivals.