Mhora Samuel, Director of the Theatres Trust, explains how the organisation’s role has evolved in recent years to provide funding to theatres at risk and how its Small Grants Scheme – launched last month with support from the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation – aims to help theatres better serve their communities.
When I started at The Theatres Trust in 2006, I was directed to the Theatres Trust Act 1976, our founding document. The Act came about as a result of a Private Members Bill sponsored by Sir David Crouch. At the time he said: “It is the live theatre that I want to protect – the platform on which the live theatre can grow and develop as it has in this country for several hundred years.”
Our main objective is enshrined in the Act: “to promote the better protection of theatres”. In order to protect the platform to which Sir David Crouch refers, our objectives also include maintaining or helping to maintain theatres and to “give financial and other assistance to any body whose objects are charitable … in connection with any function … which is both charitable and similar to an object of the Trust”.
In 1976 the Trust was established with no funding, and today still only receives £45,000 from the public purse towards its role as a statutory consultee in the planning system.
As a result, in 2006 the Trust’s focus was firmly on its role as an advisory body, promoting the better protection of theatres as a statutory consultee. We had some distance to travel before we could look to raise the funds needed to take forward the ambitions of the Act.
Theatres Protection Fund
But when Rob Dickins, our current Chairman, arrived in 2009 the time was right to start to look at how this task could be achieved. We established that significant grants and donations needed to be found to build our Theatres Protection Fund, providing an endowment that we could use to provide capital funding for theatres in need and at risk.
We recognised that we had to find ways to help theatres that did not have ready access to existing funds from Lottery distributors but which have a special place in their local communities, such as the Hulme Hippodrome, recently covered in the Manchester Evening News, and Plymouth Palace, both of which are on our Theatre Buildings at Risk Register and which are valued in the nation’s cultural life.
Small Grants Scheme
In April this year we were able to announce the creation of the Theatres Protection Fund’s first programme – our Small Grants Scheme. It’s aimed at theatres run by charities and not-for-profit groups that can clearly demonstrate the value capital improvements would make to their work with local communities.
Our aim is to help theatres address urgent building repairs, make improvements to their buildings that improve operational viability and environmental management, and enhance physical accessibility.
Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation
The Small Grants Scheme has been made possible through support from the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation. It has provided the Trust with a grant of £125,000 over the next five years – £25,000 per year.
Announcing the award, the Foundation’s Madeline Lloyd Webber said: “Our theatres and their heritage must be cherished. I sincerely hope that others, especially those who have been lucky and successful in the theatre, will be encouraged to match the Foundation’s funding and allow the Theatres Protection Fund to widen its support in the future.”
This will be our next challenge. We would like to see if we can at least financially match the support that the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation has made to the Theatres Protection Fund this year and create more awareness of the difference even small grants make to the protection of theatres and the quality of life of the people that use them.
My message to you is to spread the word.
Want to know more about how the trust is working to protect theatres? Read Mhora’s blog about the Theatre Buildings at Risk Register.
Photo of exterior of the Plymouth Palace © Mark Price, Theatres Trust, 2009