Friends group buys ‘Theatre at Risk’ Burnley Empire
Burnley Empire has been bought by Burnley Empire Limited, a company formed by the friends group Burnley Empire Theatre Trust.
The Empire is the sole survivor of five variety music halls in Burnley and the only purpose-built Victorian theatre of its kind in East Lancashire. Today, it is in very poor condition, but the new ownership means it could once again become a vibrant community venue in the heart of Burnley.
Burnley Empire Limited is a company formed by the friends group Burnley Empire Theatre Trust (BETT). BETT was established three years ago and has been working tirelessly to revive the theatre.
Burnley Empire has been on our Theatres at Risk register since the list began in 2006. The Duchy of Lancaster had offered the group the Empire for £1 in 2015, but it was not then in a position to take on the large-scale project. It was feared the building might be lost as it was due to go to auction this week.
However, thanks to support from the Theatres Trust, National Trust and David Wilmore at historic theatre consultancy, Theatresearch – and the generosity of an anonymous donor – Burnley Empire Limited has been able to take up the Duchy’s original offer, which it kindly honoured.
The group also has the backing of Burnley Borough Council and has received support of offers in-kind from local businesses.
Theatres Trust, along with other interested parties will continue to help Burnley Empire Limited to realise its ambitions for the theatre. The next steps are to carry out a full condition survey and fundraise for any immediate repair works and the longer-term restoration project.
The restoration project will take an incremental approach focusing on making the building wind and water-tight and working towards a longer-term ambition to restore and reopen the building for the benefit of the local community.
With support from Theatres Trust and Burnley Borough Council, viability studies commissioned in 2016 and 2017 demonstrated that the building has a future as a performance venue. Other stakeholders included BETT, Burnley College, Burnley and District Civic Trust and the University of Central Lancashire.
If you want to support Burnley please get in touch with Sophie Gibson, Director, Burnley Empire Limited.
Image: Burnley Empire by Mark Salmon