Stakeholders reveal results of Burnley Empire Viability Study
The second stage of the Viability Study for Theatre at Risk Burnley Empire is now complete. The study by Bonnar Keenlyside and Theatresearch and commissioned by a stakeholder group, which includes Burnley Empire Theatre Trust (BETT), Burnley Borough Council, University of Central Lancashire, Burnley College, Burnley Civic Trust and Theatres Trust, has concluded that there is a clear opportunity for the restoration of this Grade II listed theatre through a long-term venture with partnership and training at its core. The proposal, which includes restoring the historic auditorium to its original splendour, is seen as a great opportunity for local heritage skills education and vocational training for young people.
The Grade II listed theatre has lain vacant for the last 20 years and in an increasingly poor state of repair. The current situation is recognised as untenable and a decision on the future of the building is required. The Viability Study was tasked to explore alternative routes for the building, including demolition, to allow a balanced overview of all available options.
The report identified a preferred option – an innovative and incremental approach to the renovation of the building. In the short term it would allow the development of the stage house into a fully independent night club / events space, with a long term vision to fully restore the auditorium through an initiative with heritage skills training and to reopen it as a working venue.
Whilst the project route is complex, the potential benefits are numerous: offering training development and job opportunities to the local community; providing new opportunities for independent artists and creative entrepreneurs; and creating community space for the people of Burnley, in particular young people and students. As well as the cultural and economic benefits, the project would breathe new life into an important heritage asset - East Lancashire’s only Grade II listed purpose-built Edwardian theatre.
It is recognised that set against the positive opportunities of the project are the considerable challenges and key to the project’s success will be harnessing the current local support as well as securing the ongoing partnership of key stakeholders.
Whilst it is regrettable that the Council will be unable to commit any financial investment in the project, the relationships and channels of communication which have been established between the Council, Burnley Empire Theatre Trust and other organisations through working together on the Viability Study remain in place, and the stakeholder group will continue to investigate other partnerships to take the scheme forward and to restore the Grade II listed building.
The Council continue to maintain their support for a reuse of the building and would welcome a viable community operation for the Empire.
The Council will be progressing work on a masterplan for Burnley Town Centre which will include the Empire. Theatres Trust and BETT are to be consulted as a part of the masterplan exercise and look forward to engaging with this work going forward.
Burnley Empire is currently vested in the Duchy of Lancaster. The Duchy continue to be very understanding and have extended the timescale for any proposed auction on the building to allow the next stage of the project to complete.
BETT are also currently holding fundraising events to support the future restoration of the Empire – for further details of these events refer to burnleyempiretheatretrust.weebly.com and facebook.com/BurnleyEmpire.
Burnley Empire is currently number 5 on Theatres Trust’s Theatres at Risk Register 2016.
Download Burnley Empire Viability Study Phase Two.
Read the Council’s Press Statement from 2 August clarifying their involvement: burnley.gov.uk/news/town-hall-meetings-will-discuss-viability-study-empire-theatre-1