SUMMER THEATRE: Saving the life of theatre

Rebecca Morland, interim director of the Theatres Trust, looks to the future as the trust celebrates its 40th birthday



2016 marks 40 years of the Theatres Trust protecting theatres for every-one, and we’ve taken time to evaluate our position, and think ahead to the next 40 years and how we can continue to secure the future of live theatre.

We feel much has been achieved over the last four decades. Our work has significantly raised awareness of the value and unique qualities of theatres, the importance of good theatre design and sustainability, and ensured their protection through the planning system.

In the last decade alone, we were instrumental in achieving the inclusion of culture in national planning policy, have significantly influenced the strength of cultural policies in Local Plans which protect theatres, and created the Theatre Buildings at Risk Register to monitor those theatres most in danger.

A lot has changed since we started. We were originally formed to try and halt the demolition or closure of West End and other important regional and national theatres. Today it is rare that this happens to a theatre in use and when it does our role is focussed on making sure there is replacement provision that is well designed and can have a viable future. However, theatres are still vulnerable in many different ways, and exist in a landscape where the demands placed on them are constantly changing.

We want to ensure that live theatre has a place in everyone’s lives and we are committed to delivering a more powerful campaigning voice, being more visible with our expert advice and influence in the planning system, creating new opportunities to discov- er theatres, and increasing the levels of capital related grants and funding we can provide.

We have developed a new vision and mission to ensure everyone is clear about our focus – to provide access to good quality buildings and champion the future of live theatre through protecting its buildings.


Theatres Trust vision and mission

The statutory framework for the Trust’s activities was established by an Act of Parliament in 1976 and a further Act in 1978 in Scotland, which defined the Trust’s objects in general as being to “promote the better protection of theatres for the benefit of the nation.”

Our new vision: We believe that current and future generations should have access to good quality theatre buildings, where they can be inspired by, and enjoy, live theatre.

Our new mission: We champion the past, present and future of live theatre by protecting the buildings and what goes on inside. We do this by providing advice on planning and development, supplying resources and advice to make theatres sustainable and offering financial assistance through grants. We help people discover more about theatres and campaign for theatres at risk.

Theatres Trust strategic priorities

In order to deliver our mission we have reviewed what we currently do, and plan to build on it. Our work covers the following areas:


Our ambition here is to be recognised as the nation’s most powerful champion for the cause of theatres. At the core of this is our work with theatres at risk, but we also aim to increase our campaigning and advocacy for theatre buildings, and ensure that events such as our annual conference become significant events where we engender debate and raise issues that are important to the theatre industry.

Championing theatres at risk through the announcement of our annual Theatres at Risk Register is an important part of our remit. While it raises the profile of such buildings – which is often important in terms of identifying a future for them – it also needs to be backed up by positive action. This connects with several of our other priorities.

Advice and planning

We have built our team of expert advisers at the trust to provide advice in planning, architecture, capital development and viability. We have a statutory role in the planning system, where we are a consultee for planning applications involving a theatre (over 170 a year) which quite often involves using our expertise to support planning applications which are beneficial to theatres, and to oppose applications which could be harmful. Our advice work has also expanded into our workshop programme, which offers practical, day-long courses around capital projects and other building- related issues such as maintenance.

Our aim for the future is to build on what we already do, but also ensure that more people are aware of what we can offer, through improved advocacy and through the new and improved website that we will launch later in 2016. This will provide concrete examples and successful case studies of our work. There are still planning departments that aren’t aware of our statutory role, or community groups who only discover what we can offer too late in the day, and we would like this to change.


We have a wealth of information and resource about theatre buildings, including an extensive database of current and past theatres. We want to ensure that this is more accessible to people in a number of different ways. The database itself will be more easily searchable, and will be accessible via the website, which itself will be much more of a learning resource. We will also continue to take part in projects which encourage people to explore theatre buildings and their history.

Grants and funding

Over the last four years we have developed, due to the support of some generous benefactors, two different small grants schemes – one for London, and one for the rest of the country. Both give up to £5,000 for small capital works, and prioritise projects that make a real difference to, mainly smaller, theatres. We are, however, very aware that there is a considerable need which goes beyond this. For example, through our work with theatres at risk, we know that many theatre groups need professional support at the very start of projects – to develop feasibility studies or to pay for architects and surveyors – and this is hard to find. We also know that theatres often struggle to find support for major, but essential building repair works. We therefore aim to build up our fundraising capacity so that we can fund and run such schemes.

We are here to help all theatres, large and small, ensure they have a viable future. If you think your theatre could benefit from our advice and guidance then please get in touch.

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