Spilsby Theatre

Situated in an impressive former sessions house and gaol, this is the only venue for dedicated arts and community activity in Spilsby.

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Address
Church Street, Spilsby, Lincolnshire, PE23 5DY
Risk Rating
7 (Community Rating: 3, Star Value: 2, Risk Factor: 2)
Owner
The Dandelion Trust
Architect
Henry Edward Kendall
Date of Construction
1827 (as sessions house)
Listing
Grade II
Capacity
113

Significance

Spilsby Theatre was formed in 1984 from a former sessions house and gaol built in 1827. It features an impressive façade with an imposing tetra-style portico. The auditorium is within the original courtroom and has an end gallery, facing a low stage. The holding cells (now dressing rooms) still exist. A former coach house provides a rehearsal space and workshop.

Why is this theatre at risk?

Spilsby Theatre has been on the Theatres at Risk Register since 2015.

Spilsby Theatre’s owner, Dandelion Trust, like many small charities, had struggled to cope with the costs of maintaining and renovating an historic building. As a result, the auditorium roof had become unsafe and the ceiling in danger of collapse. The auditorium was closed in 2015 and structural support installed, although volunteers continued programming activities in other parts of the building. In December 2017, a section of plaster ceiling collapsed in the theatre’s bar area, further limiting use of the building. However, the group remained undeterred, continuing a programme of activity and events within the Sessions House Lounge.

Despite major challenges and set-backs, Spilsby Sessions House Ltd has been proactive both in maintaining a vibrant arts programme for its community and in looking for solutions to repair, restore and ultimately save this important local theatre. While it has made great progress to date, the condition of the building remains a major concern. There are promising plans for a capital works project that would see this building stabilised and essential repair works carried out providing a semi-operational venue in the first instance, with further capital works phases that would see the building fully restored and reopened in the future. These next few years are seen as crucial and if funding cannot be found to prevent further deterioration of the building the theatre could be permanently lost as a community resource. Discussions regarding funding urgent repair works are underway with Historic England.

SpilsbyTheatre interior architectimpression c SessionsHouseProject

Theatre potential

Spilsby Theatre is the only dedicated arts and community venue in the small Lincolnshire town of Spilsby. In 2016 a group of volunteers came together with the ambition of taking over the operation and ownership of the building and developing a vibrant and viable programme. Spilsby Sessions House Ltd has now been formed to lead the capital project and the organisation is in the process of registering as a charity.

Spilsby Sessions House Ltd together with the local community have been working incessantly to see their ambitions for this important local theatre realised. This has included successful funding applications to enable the commissioning of a viability study to assess the options and establish the cost of renovating the theatre.

The viability study, which was jointly funded by the Architectural Heritage Fund (AHF) and the Heritage Lottery Fund, now National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF), completed in summer 2018. The preferred option from the study is for Spilsby Theatre to become a place for the whole community, providing a broad programme of live performance and cinema as well as community activity, including rentable workspaces.

Current situation

Following the viability study and subsequent discussions with NLHF and AHF, it was recommended that Spilsby Sessions House Ltd undertake a further package of supporting work before embarking on its capital works project. This work funded by the NLHF and part-funded by the Theatres Trust Theatres at Risk Capacity Building Programme included a review of phasing options for the works, an economic impact assessment, fundraising and VAT advice. It also included the scoping of a heritage activity plan. The work was temporarily paused by the pandemic and the timeframes extended by six months.

The works completed in autumn 2020 and have indicated a three-phase approach to the project:

  • Phase 1 is a development and initial delivery phase that will see the purchase of the building from the Dandelion Trust, appointment of a consultant team to develop the proposals and essential repair works to the roof, allowing the building to return to semi-operational use for a programme of heritage and arts activity.
  • Phase 2 will provide a fully operational cultural venue with the auditorium fully fitted out and reopened for use, creation of café, bar foyer and new toilet facilities plus a dedicated heritage display in the original prison cells.
  • Phase 3 will provide additional facilities including the east-side function room, additional toilets and backstage facilities, first floor offices and preservation work to the historic façade and forecourt area.

The work also concluded that as well as serving as a hub for the community, the theatre will play an important role in attracting visitors to the town, boosting the economy through increased footfall. The economic impact assessment indicates that the theatre could generate c. £500k per year in additional visitor spend to its local area and an additional c. £80k in additional employment.

Spilsby Sessions House Ltd is currently fundraising for Phase 1 and hopes that this could be complete in 2022.

Spilsby Sessions House Ltd has also been working hard in developing partnerships with key stakeholders, broadening links with its local community and arts organisations to deliver and support a wide range of high-quality arts experiences. The organisation and the capital works project has town and district council support and has been highlighted as an integral project for the revitalisation of Spilsby in the recent Institute of Place Management Vital and Viable Spilsby report commissioned by East Lindsey District Council.

Currently the theatre is operating community arts events from one small room within the building. Events have been streamed online during closures forced by Covid-19 and the organisation has also worked in partnership with producers, Different Light, to deliver a Covid-19 safe, digital arts project for the council during winter 2020.

Spilsby Sessions House Ltd has made great progress towards achieving its ambitions and saving this important local theatre, however until such time as ownership has been achieved and the capital works project to stabilise and secure the building is complete, Theatres Trust feels it is prudent to retain the theatre on the Theatres at Risk Register.

Theatres Trust will continue to provide advice and support as required throughout the next stages of the project.

Campaign video (from 2016)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRklv0a3IwM&feature=youtu.be

Main photo Spilsby Theatre, Theatres Trust. Previs by Sessions House Project.