Renewed plea for support as threat of closure hangs over Margate’s Theatre Royal and Winter Gardens

Margate Winter Gardens Photo Mike Nichols

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.

Historic venue Courtesy Theatre Royal Margate Archive

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.”

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  1. All so very sad as they have Talent shows every year for the young and that means the future Talent will not be able to get onto live Stage. How sad the times we head into with lack of finance for Theatres and Live Drama and dance shows especially for the young and very young. Performance and entertainment is the heart of any Community and Town accross the Country. Perhaps some open air live performance can take place in Spring and Summer next year and people donate at those times. The Minack Theatre in Cornwall is open air and its a wonderful thing. I really don’t know otherwise what will happen.How very sad this all is.

  2. How about doing some regular weekly Street Acting and Dancing on week ends and get Donations for the Theatres, especially this Christmas.

  3. The former M&S building is getting funding of £750,000 (for what exactly?), there are proposals to fund KCC cllrs that get voted out(!), expensive traffic-altering schemes are put in place in Westgate and Broadstairs (and then quickly scrapped)… yet our much cherished theatres are in imminent danger of permanent closure! Absolutely bonkers.

    • Peter – could not agree more with you. KCC local councillors cost in excess of £2,000,000, according to KCC web site. Value?? All these traffic schemes now being reversed and yet another substantial chunk of money wasted. As you say bonkers when our theatres are in peril.

  4. By their own admission “being almost cost neutral” last year, they lise money even in the good times.

    Good luck to them if they can raise money through private donations. The Margate Town Fund is public money however. I see no justification in using it to pay staff salaries when there’s no work for them.

    These theatres have had their day. Before TV they might have been viable. In the Netflix era they cannot make it work. Stop flogging a dead horse.

    The Winter Gardens is on valuable land. It should be developed to create something that makes financial sense – housing especially. The everlasting pot of other people’s money is no more.

    • I suppose you’d want to close down the libraries and sell off that “valuable land”, too? Before COVID struck, both venues were providing top-class entertainment for the people of Thanet. Your argument is exactly the same as the one the uncultured used when radio started and again when TV became popular. It’s not an either/or situation, theatres can flourish in the age of Netflix. We need our Margate theatres as much as we need roads, pavements, and street-lighting.

      • Libraries? Yes. Certainly use the asset more usefully! Even street beggars have smart phones to access content.

        A better analogy is horse and carts after the invention of mass produced cars. A nice novelty, but little more.

        • John F, you’re talking complete rubbish. Live concerts/theatre/comedy are very much a thing of the present, and a great many of those at the Margate theatres are complete sell outs, just like they were 20, 50 or 100 years ago. I for one can’t wait to experience the thrill of a live concert again (I’ve still tickets for 3 of them which have been postponed until next year).

          As for books, as a writer I can tell you that sales have pretty much doubled during lockdown, proof that people still buy – or hire – real paperback books.

        • Close libraries?! What kind of philistine are you? Choosing a book online is nothing like picking one up and looking through it.

  5. Hopefully people will want more holidays at home because of Covid and we need to keep all our assets no theaters and entertainment centres would be a disaster.

  6. John F valuable land such as The Lido. Give me a break. It would be tragic for Margate to lose these venues 😢

  7. I look forward to going again once this pandemic is over not only does it need money now but in my opinion it needed money before the pandemic. The winter gardens looks very run down and grumpy needs a good repaint, floor covering etc, and I was surprised it could attract any acts to perform there.

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