Marina can get ready for ‘a great new era’

A MAJOR 'historical step' to secure the long-term future of Lowestoft's Marina Theatre was taken this week.

Proposals to pass the management of the 750-seat Edwardian venue to the Marina Theatre Trust were carried unanimously at a meeting of Waveney District Council's cabinet on Wednesday.

The decision means that – subject to any call-in – a 15-year contract to run the theatre will be awarded to the trust, which is already drawing up plans to replace its seating and redecorate the auditorium.

The move also brings to an end any lingering uncertainly over the future of the theatre.

In 2009, Marina's prospects looked bleak when managers had to cut the number of shows on offer, but a few months later there was a ray of hope as the council began looking at new ways of operating the theatre.

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A five-month search for a new organisation to take over the day-to-day management proved fruitless, and then last November The Journal revealed how the council was considering re-advertising the Marina in a way that could see it lose its status as a full-time theatre and become an 'entertainments or leisure' venue instead.

After a public outcry and a determined campaign to safeguard live entertainment at the venue, the formation of the Marina Theatre Trust was approved earlier this year and all that remained was the formal handover.

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On Wednesday evening, there was applause from the council chamber as cabinet members voted in favour of the report entitled 'Approval to Contract the Management of the Marina Theatre'. Among those looking on from the public gallery were trustees, board members and representatives of the Friends of the Marina.

Deputy leader of the council, Stephen Ardley, who chaired the meeting, said: 'I know the work that has gone into this – the highs and the lows and keeping it open by a gnat's whisker. I feel lucky we have a group of trustees who have got a wealth of knowledge and personally I'd like to say thank you very, very much to all concerned.'

Frank Mortimer, portfolio holder for customers and communities, seconded the report's recommendations. He wished the trust 'all the very best in the future,' and this was echoed by Sue Allen and Mike Barnard.

'The Marina is very important for this area and I do wish everyone concerned the best of luck,' Mrs Allen said.

The trust's shadow board, which comprises theatre professionals, local business people and community representatives, also includes district councillors Patricia Flegg and Ian Graham.

Mrs Flegg said: 'I am honestly very excited by this and back it to the hilt – the only way is up!'

David Gallagher, head of customer services and commercial partnerships at the council, paid tribute to officers, councillors and Marina staff who had made the new arrangement a reality.

Among those deserving of praise, he said, were Marina manager Martin Halliday 'for supporting me for 10 years and actually keeping the theatre alive and getting it to what it is today' and Mike Holroyd and Mike Pinner, of the Friends 'for keeping the faith and the new board'. He added: 'This is one of the finest things we have ever done.'

Welcoming the decision, and thanking councillors, officers and his own staff, Mr Halliday, who is now chief executive of the new trust, said: 'This is one of the most significant events ever in the history of the Marina – the most important step since the venue was saved from demolition in the mid-1980s.

'This is an historical step, but there is still lots of work to do and its imperative now that the public backs the theatre by coming in and booking tickets in order to have a great new era.'

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