Lowestoft’s Marina: Curtain up soon for new trust?

MOVES to safeguard the long-term future of Lowestoft's biggest theatre took a leap forward this week as plans were drawn up for a charitable trust to take over the running of the Marina.

After months of uncertainty about the theatre, and concerns that it might lose its status as a venue for major live entertainment, Waveney District Council confirmed that a proposed transfer to a trust had now been all but secured.

A council report entitled The Future Operation of the Marina Theatre will be considered by councillors today.

It states that a bid to take over the theatre submitted by a group consisting of its current management team and the Friends of the Marina Theatre committee has passed an initial 'scoring' phase.

Crucially, this means the bid has overcome a significant first hurdle by meeting a raft of strict criteria laid down by the council to safeguard its long-term future.

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'This report will now be presented to members for approval, with the council's learning and skills and prosperous scrutiny sub-committee meeting next Wednesday to hear the report first,' a council spokesman said yesterday.

If the bid passed the scrutiny stage next week, a final decision would be taken by Waveney's cabinet on March 22, he said.

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'If approved, the council, in partnership with the bid team, will undertake an implementation project to create and establish the charitable trust, with a 15-year partnership management agreement,' the spokesman added.

The new developments follow a winter of great uncertainty for The Marina, amid concerns that were highlighted by The Journal. On November 19 last year, we reported that a five-month search for a new organisation to take on the day-to-day running of the Edwardian theatre had proved unsuccessful.

Fears were raised about the future of live entertainment at the Marina because the new procurement process no longer listed it as a 'theatre' but as an 'entertainments/leisure venue'.

Rallying calls to safeguard the Marina followed, with pledges of support from local people and showbiz stars – including perennial favourite Ken Dodd.

Hopes of a positive solution were raised in December, when a meeting took place between the theatre's Friends group, Enterprise Lowestoft, Lowestoft Players and the council, with all parties expressing their determination to secure its future.

This week, Stephen Ardley, Waveney's portfolio holder for healthy communities, told The Journal he was delighted that a prosperous future for the theatre had moved a step closer.

'From day one, the council has been absolutely clear that our number-one priority is to preserve the Marina Theatre for future generations,' he said.

'To do this, we laid down the strictest criteria for potential bidders to meet, and it was no surprise that the original round of tendering late last year failed to produce an acceptable bid. The theatre will not be handed over lightly.'

The proposed transfer of the Marina to a trust includes a commitment to provide a full and diverse programme of stage and screen entertainment, although the repair, maintenance and general management of the building would remain the council's responsibility.

Mr Ardley said: 'Officers and members have worked tirelessly to get to this point. I am extremely proud of their efforts.'

He stressed that, despite initial concerns to the contrary, it was 'never' the council's intentions 'to sell off the theatre'.

• What do you think? Write to Postbox, The Journal, 147, London Road North, Lowestoft, NR32 1NB or email max.bennett@archant.co.uk, remembering to include your name and address.

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