A renewed plea for support is being made as the threat of permanent closure hangs over Margate’s Theatre Royal and Winter Gardens if funding cannot be secured.
The historic venues, like almost all performance and event spaces across the UK, have been hit hard by the effects of the pandemic and both sites have remained shut since the March.
Hopes are pinned on a crowdfunder – which has four days left to run – and a bid to the government’s Cultural Recovery Fund.
Other routes are also being explored, including a submission to the Margate Town Deal fund.
Operators Your Leisure have had to make seven of their 28 hospitality staff redundant from November 1 as the impact of lost income bites. The decision to ‘hibernate’, rather than host socially distanced events, is based on the need to reduce costs as far as possible and the unsuitability of the almost 250 year old Theatre Royal to be used with covid-secure measures in place.
Paul Palmer, Hospitality and Entertainments Manager for the Winter Gardens and Theatre Royal, said: “We want to be able to keep the majority of our staff and look at reopening early next year. With the Cultural Recovery Fund we can make sure we have a plan going forwards and a vision of how we will operate from 2021.
“We will need to change the way we operate and will reduce the amount of events that we would normally do per week. When customer confidence and ‘covid’ spending confidence returns we can look at bringing events back.
“But we do need to raise money. Two Grade II listed theatres are expensive to run. We hope the crowdfunding and the support of people who love the theatres can get us through to next year and keep us away from permanent closure.
“We should find out on Monday if we have been successful with the Cultural Recovery Fund and that combined with the crowdfunder would mean some of the costs due to covid can be resolved.”
Frustratingly, before the pandemic hit the theatres were in their strongest financial position for decades.
Paul said: “We had taken out £350,000 of costs for running the two theatres and were aiming to be close to being cost neutral so we would not require funding. We did that by investing in the venues, such as box office services and new till systems and a new pricing policy. It is frustrating as we were so close and then the rug was pulled from under us and our income disappeared overnight.”
Shows have been rescheduled and other areas of funding are being sought while the theatres remain “in hibernation” to cut running costs.
Paul says reopening now at the Winter Gardens would mean an outlay on extra staffing and security as well as the costs of Covid-secure measures which would result in operating at a loss. A second wave of the virus would then push the venues ‘back months.’
But help is needed to keep the theatres in a position where reopening next year will still be possible.
Paul said: “It isn’t the final nail in the coffin but our best chance is with support of the crowdfunder.”