Brighton Hippodrome tops ‘theatres at risk’ register for third year running

Posted On 28 Jan 2018 at 2:06 am

The Hippodrome in Brighton has topped the Theatres at Risk Register, compiled by the Theatres Trust, for the third year running.

The list was published a few days ago and notes the sale of the theatre to a private investor in November.

The new owner is believed to be planning to convert the site into a luxury hotel and flats.

The “Theatres at Risk” entry for the Hippodrome notes the work of the Brighton Hippodrome Community Interest Company (CIC) in trying to preserve the building as a theatre.

The trust said: “The Brighton Hippodrome is the UK’s most architecturally significant circus theatre – the finest surviving example of its type in the country.

“It is listed grade II*. The Hippodrome originally opened as an ice skating rink in 1897, designed by Lewis Karslake.

“In 1901 eminent theatre architect Frank Matcham converted it into a circus and in 1902 it was converted into a variety theatre.

“The most spectacular feature is the circular auditorium with its richly decorated ceiling in the form of a panelled tent.

“The relationship between the stage house, auditorium and circle, as well as the ancillary areas, is significant as a unique example of our past cultural and recreational pursuits.

“Why is this theatre at risk? In 2014 Brighton and Hove City Council approved planning applications to convert the Hippodrome into a multiplex cinema.

“This would have seen the auditorium subdivided, the fly tower demolished and the rear access to the theatre built upon, preventing the building from ever being used as a theatre again.

“However, in 2015, the proposed cinema operator pulled out and this consent has subsequently expired.

“A stakeholder group including the Theatres Trust commissioned a viability study which concluded the Hippodrome does have a viable future as a lyric theatre, if the challenge of raising funds can be met.

“Brighton Hippodrome Community Interest Company has been leading the project to restore the Hippodrome and in 2016 secured grants to complete a valuation, structural surveys and initial designs.

“The proposals include residential and retail development on site to support the restoration of the auditorium and stage house.

“Importantly, this new development will be sensitive to the needs of a performance venue and will not prevent access to the get in and back of house areas, meaning the Hippodrome can ultimately be used as a lyric theatre.

“In November 2017, the Hippodrome was sold by Academy Music Group to a private investor.

“While the new owner’s plans for the building are not yet public, the Theatres Trust is clear that any development of the theatre and its surrounding site must be sensitive to the possible future reinstatement of the lyric theatre and has been lobbying the council and other key organisations to this cause.

“In the meantime, the Theatres Trust is continuing to support Brighton Hippodrome CIC in working up both a business plan and fundraising strategy to achieve the ambition of restoring and reopening this magnificent grade II* listed building.”

On publishing its latest annual “at risk” register, the trust said: “The Theatres Trust has announced its Theatres at Risk Register 2018 with a call for local authorities to better support their theatre buildings by developing the opportunities they offer to their communities.

“The register lists 35 theatre buildings across England, Scotland and Wales that are most at risk of being lost – even though each has real potential for a sustainable future as a working performance space.

Comedian and television presenter Dara Ó Briain spoke in support of the trust this week. He said: “This is a list of 35 theatres, from all over the country, each different and unique, but all sharing one thing; they are at risk of being lost forever but they are also so achingly close to being saved.

“They are not on this list because they are beautiful ruins. They’re here because they are just a few good decisions from living again, of taking their place at the heart of their communities, of entertaining further generations.

Dara Ó Briain

“Today we’re asking local authorities to stop viewing these sites as liabilities and start thinking of them as opportunities, to work with eager local campaign groups and experienced theatre operators to put these incredible spaces back to work at the heart of their communities.

“And the call goes to the public as well. These campaigns work, these buildings can be saved and you can help bring these wonderful theatres back to life.”

The trust added: “The 2018 register clearly demonstrates those venues that receive support from their local authority are much more likely to take an assured path towards an ongoing life as a performance venue.

“These are challenging times for local authorities, as they are under tight financial pressures, but our evidence shows that through collaboration and creative partnerships, these venues are opportunities for local authorities to support and stimulate their local economy, provide a focus for local pride and act as an important community resource.

“The Trust has been working with theatre buildings and local authorities to find creative solutions in order to keep buildings such as those on the register in use.

“The industry body is encouraging local authorities to embrace and develop creative partnerships that secure new lives for these buildings with the following practical recommendations

  • Reviewing the economic and social benefits of a theatre when making any decision about its future
  • Ensuring the inclusion of culture within local plans to promote and encourage new venues and protect existing buildings
  • Offering full support to community groups campaigning to get buildings back in to use, such as suspending demolition proposals, putting their support behind funding bids, etc
  • Intervening to prevent deterioration of listed buildings through repairs notices, section 215 notices, etc
  • Providing assistance to groups to investigate the viability of their theatre and develop proposals
  • Offering theatre campaign and community groups leases with a reasonable length and conditions to enable them to secure funding from other partners
  • Offering affordable rents to operators that want to develop the theatres as future performance spaces
  • Offering capital grants and / or loans to support capital works projects

“Each theatre on the Theatres at Risk Register has the potential to have a life as a performance space and each deserves the opportunity to explore how this potential can be realised.

“Our work with theatres at risk goes right to the heart of what we do – protecting theatres for everyone.

“We work with local groups, theatre operators and local authorities up and down the country to help find creative and sustainable solutions either to restore and reopen these buildings or to keep their buildings open.

“The annual launch of the register is aimed at highlighting and raising the profile of those theatre buildings we consider to be most at risk across the UK.”

To see the full register for 2018, click here

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