Save London’s Theatres Campaign to close down
19th August 2009
Save London’s Theatres Campaign, which during its 37-year history has helped secure the future of more than 20 threatened performance venues across the capital, is to close down this November. The group was launched by Equity activists in 1972 as a direct response to the imminent threat to 16 of the West End’s historic venues – including some of London’s most famous theatres, such as the Lyceum, Coliseum and Garrick.
The organisation famously held a 72-hour vigil at the Shaftesbury Theatre, where actors formed a human chain to prevent it from being knocked down. Since then, it has also been involved with campaigns to secure replacement venues for the Shaw and Westminster theatres, opposed plans for the Camden Roundhouse to be turned into an exhibition space for the Royal Institute of British Architects and succeeded in achieving listed status for West End sites, including the Duchess and the Prince of Wales.
Perhaps even more crucially, it was also successful in its calls for the foundation of the Theatres Trust in 1976, which has since taken on many of the campaign’s responsibilities and become a statutory consultee on all theatre building projects.
SLTC was involved in the unsuccessful bid to retain the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden and its work has sometimes extended beyond London, campaigning for venues such as the Redgrave Theatre in Farnham, among others. It has been headed by a number of chairmen – the founder Michael Booth, followed by Milton Johns, Graeme Cruickshank, John Levitt and, most recently, Johnny Worthy.
Levitt, an actor who “fell into the whole thing by accident” and has worked as the administrator of the campaign since 1995, said that he felt the time was now right to wind up the organisation.
He told The Stage: “We think it’s timely. Communications, the ways things are done have changed – even planning work. It hasn’t always been about saving theatres, sometimes it has been about things like securing improved conditions in planning agreements.”
Levitt said that he regarded the failure to save the Mermaid Theatre as his greatest regret during his time at the campaign, but said he was hopeful for the future of two other venues the organisation has recently battled to see retained or rebuilt – the Westminster and Arts Theatres. “I would like to see progress with the Westminster Theatre by the time we have wound up in November,” he added.
The remaining campaign funds – of around £8,000 – will be given to Equity to be held in a separate account for use in any future campaigns when theatres are at risk.
Equity’s assistant general secretary for live performance Stephen Spence said that he was “sad” to see SLTC being wound up, but stressed that the union would seek to work together with the Theatres Trust to take over some of the workload left by the campaign.
He said: “It’s very sad. They’ve done a sterling job over 30-plus years. I’m hoping to meet with Mhora Samuel from the Theatres Trust in the autumn and work out how we will cooperate going forward without the campaign. That money they’ve put across to us for safe-keeping is to be used for any campaigns that come up in relation to theatres at risk in London.
“There’s no way that we will be able to do it to the same level that the campaign did, but hopefully, in conjunction with the Theatres Trust and involving our London Area Committee, we will be able to continue the role, albeit in a different way.”
Meanwhile, Mhora Samuel, director of the Theatres Trust, also paid credit to the work of the campaign. She said: “Without SLTCs early campaigning, there would have been no Theatres Trust, as it fought to secure the future of many theatres in the West End and our establishment. It gave us the theatres that make Theatreland so successful today. Its demise is the end of an era, but the Theatres Trust ensures it has a legacy.”
Source: The Stage