Felixstowe’s Spa Pavilion will now remain open to the public until at least January 2013 for theatrical performances if Suffolk Coastal successfully concludes its discussions with its current managers.
The Cabinet meeting (Tuesday 7th Feb) reaffirmed the decision taken in December to press ahead with trying to find a secure long-term and value for money future for the Spa but agreed to aim for a January 2013 ending of the Council’s contract with Openwide Coastal, the theatre’s current managers.
“At the start of December, Cabinet had hoped to keep the Spa open until October while we sought alternative and viable options for its future. Openwide subsequently said it would prefer its contract to end in June, but since then our decision has been put on hold after it was called in for review by the Scrutiny Committee,” said Cllr Geoff Holdcroft, Cabinet Member for Leisure and Economic Development.
“The stark financial reality behind our initial decision remains unchanged – the Spa needs £3 million spent on it to bring it up to scratch while the £250,000 annual cost of supporting its performances is neither value for money for our Council Taxpayers or anywhere near enough to make it a successful operation.
“I hope we can reach agreement with Openwide so it will remain open until the conclusion of next Christmas’s programme. That should also give us plenty of time as we originally planned to assess proposals from local groups or leisure and entertainment companies from across the country,” added Cllr Holdcroft.
Reports considered by Cabinet in December and at the Scrutiny Committee have spelt out that the Spa will not attract larger audiences without massive investment in the building and a doubling of its subsidy from Council Taxpayers.
Cabinet’s view has remained unchanged that given the Council’s pressing need to address a £2.8 million budget gap, it cannot afford to make that type of investment or long-term financial commitment.
“Our primary goal remains unchanged – we hope to find a long-term future for the Spa, whether that be with a new local trust running the building or outside established companies with new proposals, which is not dependent on unaffordable funding from this Council,” added Cllr Holdcroft.
The expert advice is that without major investments the Spa will quickly become unfit for purpose and that the building is already out of date. Audiences at the Spa have been falling to a degree that each ticket was being subsidised by the Council by well over £7.
“If our talks with Openwide are successful, we can look forward to the Spa remaining open until Christmas and we can now press ahead with our efforts to secure a future for it far beyond then. We can look into whether a theatre trust like that which has taken over the running of Lowestoft’s Marina Theatre is a way forward, while also calling for ideas for the Spa from national companies who have the financial clout to put them into effect.
“Tonight’s decision could clearly be a real boost for all those community groups that have performances planned during the rest of this year at the Spa. I hope it will also be the starting gun towards a bright new dawn for the Spa that we hope to confirm by Christmas once we have received viable business cases for its future management,” added Cllr Holdcroft.
Spa Theatre Manager, Julie Howes said: “It is fantastic news that the Spa Pavilion has been given a reprieve until January 2013. It’s evident that the venue does have a great deal of support from its users and that the hard work put in by the local community hire groups to save the Spa has definitely paid off. By having this extension it means that the theatre can continue to operate for the remainder of the year and that a more sensible timescale is available to those interested in running the venue in the future. We would however urge people to continue to support the venue by booking tickets to see shows that we have in the Spring Summer Season.”
Suzie Lowe of the Dennis Lowe Theatre Group, who hold their annual panto at the theatre, said: “It is fabulous news about the theatre. Now the hard work starts though, figuring out ways for the theatre to run successfully once Openwide’s contract finishes in January.
“There will be different avenues looked at by the council to find the best way of running the theatre whether it by a company that comes on or whether it will be more community based with a charitable trust of some kind.”
Miss Lowe who is also involved in the organisation of the Spa’s Summer Youth Project added, “The best thing has happened to the theatre at this current time and we can only hope that things get even better and that the Spa sees a new lease of life brought to it.”
She however did make a plea to local residents, “The only thing I would ask is that we all stick together as much as we can and support this theatre by going along to see it’s shows and using the building. There is so much opportunity for this building but it does need the support of the community and general public to keep it going.”
Initial talks have already been held with Openwide about keeping its contract for the management of the Spa until after Christmas and the Council hopes that an agreement can be speedily reached.