Trust on horizon for Lowestoft theatre

Mark BoggisFEARS that the final curtain may be set to fall on Lowestoft's biggest theatre were dismissed this week, as moves get under way to keep it 'at the heart of the community'.Mark Boggis

FEARS that the final curtain may be set to fall on Lowestoft's biggest theatre were dismissed this week, as moves get under way to keep it 'at the heart of the community'.

More than six months ago, the future of the council-run Marina Theatre looked bleak when managers at the 750-seater Edwardian venue were forced to cut the number of shows on offer.

But The Journal can today reveal that plans are being drawn up by Waveney District Council to find 'alternative ways of operating the theatre', with the formation of a new trust among the options.

Expressions of interest are now being sought from organisations that might want to take over the running of the venue, and these will be advertised 'within the next few weeks'.

Meanwhile, representatives from the Friends of the Marina Theatre have been working closely with the council to support their 'attempts to resolve issues' relating to its future.

'The council is considering alternative ways of operating the theatre and a working group met for the first time this week to look into this,' a council spokesman told The Journal.

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'The idea of creating a trust is being considered along with other alternatives, which will all be considered with the best future for the theatre in mind.

'The working group have begun to draw up plans and if an alternative operational arrangement is appropriate, we would like to have this in place for December 2010,' the spokesman added.

The Journal first revealed last November that The Friends of the Marina Theatre had called on the council to relinquish responsibility for running the venue and to pass it over to some form of local theatre trust, which had proved so successful in other towns and cities.

Now, following a 'very positive' meeting with Waveney management last month, the Friends are hopeful there will be 'sufficient interest' within the theatre-going community to 'create a strong, well-structured bid to keep our Marina Theatre at the heart of the community'.

With this in mind, the Friends have called a meeting for next month to elect a committee and create a 'Trust Bid Group' so they can develop a business plan and draw up their aspirations.

Friends' spokesmen, Mike Holroyd and Mike Pinner, said: 'There is much to do before an effective bid can be mounted. In particular, we need the support of professionals - legal advice, tax expertise and experience of financial management - who could help us to organise an effective approach.

'We would thus wish to invite any interested parties, whether or not you are Friends of the Theatre, to a short meeting at the Marina on Tuesday, June 8 at 7pm where we can begin the process.'

There are currently 600 to 700 Friends, and hopes are high that many will turn out to back the trust bid.

'We have moved from a negative a number of months ago to a positive relationship with the council, and now we have to make sure that the Marina Theatre thrives and survives,' Mr Holroyd said.

'If you have time and expertise to offer, or if, like us, you passionately believe that quality live entertainment is vital to the district, we shall be delighted to see you at the meeting on June 8.'

Responsibility for the Marina was moved into Waveney's Culture, Tourism and Sport Team portfolio last month, but it is still unclear what role the council might have if it is taken on by a trust.

'What this means for the council will become apparent as we look at the project in more detail,' a council spokesman said.

Although the theatre is still facing major budgetary issues, its late Summer/Autumn brochure will be unveiled in the next two weeks, and the council spokesman added: 'There are some exiting shows in the pipeline and we are in the process of finalising contracts.'

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