Tips for Theatres at Risk campaign groups

10 tips to help campaign groups get their project off the ground and move onto the next stages.

1. Hearts and minds
Discuss with your community what this building could be – explore all models. There are many different ways to run a theatre or community building. Focus on the positive benefits of restoring / reopening your building and the opportunities that this will provide to your local area. What is it about your building that makes it important to the local community, such as historical importance both social and architectural?

2. Organisational set-up
Forming of a charitable organisation will enable you to access public funding and also provide a vehicle for future ownership. However, setting up a company or charity comes with responsibilities and you should make sure you understand your duties as a trustee or director. Ensure that you have a bank account linked to the organisation.

3. Viability
Establish the viability of your proposals through commissioning a viability study or similar for the building. This is a crucial early step and will help evidence that there is both market demand and a viable business plan for your proposal. Business planning and feasibility studies will look in a greater level of detail about the financial and architectural proposals. All of these will help prove the credibility of your proposals to the local authority / funders and other key organisations.

4. Ongoing community engagement
Speak to and involve your local community in the project. Their support will be vital. Expand the interest in the project beyond the members of the group and collect the memories and testimonials of local people. Theatres are at the heart of communities and it is likely people will have interesting stories of the theatre’s past.

5. Positive engagement with your local authority
Engage with your local authority as early as possible. This will help establish your interest in the building with them and also help you to understand their position. Look to work together positively for the benefit of the building. We've also put together some ideas for ways local authorities can support their local theatres.

6. Building ownership
Understand the current situation. Is the current owner keen to engage with you to find a solution for the building or to open to discussions over possible acquisition? If in council ownership, is the council open to discussions regarding leasing the building / asset transfer? If the site is proposed for development, what is the local authority’s position?

7. Building condition
Understand the current condition of your building – structural survey, conditions survey, asbestos survey etc. The information may be currently available or you may have to organise the surveys yourself. This will help you moving forward with obtaining more accurate costings for the restoration works and in understanding the conservation deficit on the building. It will also help mitigate risk.

8. Campaigning
Ensure that your website is kept up to date with current information. You may also want to set up a Facebook page and Twitter profile as a way of connecting with other local people and businesses. A petition is a good way of raising the profile of your project and finding people to join your campaign group. How can those who wish to get involved help out? Local press are also often important to help publicise your cause. Speak to local councillors about the benefits of your project and its importance to the community.

9. Fundraising
A thread that will run throughout the project, from funding for early stage viability studies / business planning through to the capital works project itself. It is important to start engaging with funding bodies early and keep them aware of your project and plans. Most funders will also want to see local authority support for the project – see also point 4 above.

10. Economic impact
Performance venues can have a major impact on the local economy, driving footfall in a town centre and helping boost local business revenue. Consider commissioning an economic impact study to indicate the potential benefit of your project, both in terms of financial impact and job creation. In addition, the restoration and reopening of an historic building can also serve as a catalyst for the regeneration of an area.

And a bonus tip – get in touch with Theatres Trust as we have a wealth of experience helping groups in similar situations.

Read the Chair of Shanklin Theatre's tips on how the former-Theatre at Risk was saved.

Go to Theatres at Risk.