Future plans have been made for Margate’s Theatre Royal and the Winter Gardens following talks between Thanet council and Your Leisure.
In February this year a decision was passed to cut £350,000 council grant money to Your Leisure, which runs both venues and isle sports centres and other services such as beach hut hire as well as being a partner in Ageless Thanet and the Get Out Get Active programme.
Your Leisure is a social enterprise that reinvests surpluses into areas including community programmes such as Fit and Fed and the FeelGood Factory in Margate.
The cut was part of ‘painful measures’ taken to fill a £2.8 million funding gap in Thanet council’s 2018/19 budget.
The decision threw into doubt the future of the venue with ward councillor Iris Johnston branding it a blow to Margate’s tourism industry.
But talks have now resulted in the expectation of a £285,000 grant for Your Leisure in 2019/20 and a plan to apply for external funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to rejuvenate the building and set it on the path of being self-sustainable.
Your Leisure holds the lease to the Winter Gardens until October 2024 and the aim is to take the business beyond this date by making the venue “fit for the 21st Century market place.”
You Leisure managing director Kevin Fordham (pictured) said: “The relationship between Your Leisure and Thanet council is on a positive footing, Your Leisure recognises the challenges to local authority spending at this time and the services we provide are discretionary.
“But we have now agreed a way forward that enables us to continue trading. As a social enterprise we reinvest our surplus back for the benefit of the community so the challenge we face is how we generate this surplus in the context of pressure on local authority funding.”
Plans include continued bids for outside funding, making sure shows on offer bring the best financial return – and in the case of local productions cover their costs – and changes to the menu and catering opportunities following the appointment of a new head chef. A management restructure has already taken place.
“It’s our firm view that we can rejuvenate the building. We have six years (until the lease expires) and are working to secure the funding required so longer term arrangements can be put in place. “
A deal has also been struck for Your Leisure to continue running the Theatre Royal.
The decision follows a failed bid by Soho Theatres to take over the historic venue after an unsuccessful application for funding.
Mr Fordham said: “We will continue running the Theatre Royal until March 2020 and have agreed the associated funding arrangements for that.
“We are exploring external funding opportunities for both Winter Gardens and Theatre Royal.
“Our ambition is that the Winter Garden should have a future. We are working with the local authority to try and secure that external funding through the Heritage Lottery Fund. We have four key objectives to get the organisation self sufficient and to do that we need to make sure that (both venues), in particular the Winter Gardens, are fit for the 21st Century market place and that requires investment in infrastructure.”
Mr Fordham says a focus of Your Leisure is also community programmes, such as Ageless Thanet, Get Out Get Active, FeelGood Factory and Fit and Fed.
He said: “Our role is about getting people to take part in physical activity and wellbeing and health programmes to improve how they feel. It is reinvesting to make a difference in the community.
Mr Fordham praised Your Leisure’s 500 full-time, part-time and casual staff who were affected by the funding uncertainty.
He said: “We have seen clear evidence that the service we provide to customers, despite the cutback, has been improving and that is a great credit to the staff that deliver that service in challenging financial times.
“The future is looking positive.”