Securing a long term viable future for the Theatre Royal and Winter Gardens in Margate is the aim behind operational changes being announced today (Wednesday 18 August) by Thanet District Council and Your Leisure.
Bookings are scheduled to pause at both Margate entertainment venues in 2022 (specific dates outlined below), in order to identify a new long term direction. This will be supported by proposed funding of £2.5m from the Margate Town Deal.
The impact of COVID-19 has been profound, not just on the Margate venues but on the leisure industry as a whole, as a result of enforced closures and subsequent restrictions. Of 944 theatre venues, producers and businesses* 95% are reported to be worse off financially due to the pandemic.
Although entertainment venues were able to reopen to the public from 21 June 2021, income has been substantially impacted and both the Theatre Royal and Winter Gardens buildings are in need of significant refurbishment works. Like many attractions across the country, they now need to secure a more sustainable future.
Margate Town Deal funding (confirmed allocation): The Margate Town Deal has allocated £2 million for a renovation project for the Theatre Royal and the business case for this project will start in September 2021. The council will be looking for an operator, project partner and making a funding submission to the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
Changes to current operation: The intention is that from 28 April 2022, the annual, rolling lease with Your Leisure will cease in order to accelerate these plans. Bookings at the venue will pause from this date.
Margate Town Deal funding (proposed ask – to be determined): £500,000 was included within the Town Deal final submission of projects to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to create a fully developed plan for the Winter Gardens. This would include a clear vision and detailed project delivery plan with public and private sector engagement. Specialist services would be needed to help test the market and identify the opportunities available. Specialist architects would also be used to scope out the required works and develop a fully costed scheme. The Town Deal Board is waiting for confirmation from MHCLG regarding this allocation of funding.
Changes to current operation: The intention is that from 14 August 2022, although the lease with Your Leisure is in place until 2024, the entertainment programme at the Winter Gardens will be paused.
Your Leisure will honour all tickets and events up to these dates at both venues.
Thanet District Council owns the freehold of the Theatre Royal and the Winter Gardens in Margate. Both venues are operated by Your Leisure, a leisure trust with charitable status. The Winter Gardens is operated on a 25 year lease and the Theatre Royal on an annual basis.
*A new survey by industry body UK Theatre found that 95% of 944 theatre venues, producers and businesses were worse off financially due to the pandemic [https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-56394404]