Spilsby Sessions House (Spilsby Theatre)

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

The exterior of Spilsby Theatre set in tree-lined grounds.
Church Street, Spilsby, Lincolnshire, PE23 5DY
Risk Rating
7 (Community Rating: 3, Star Value: 2, Risk Factor: 2)
Local Group
Spilsby Sessions House (charity)
Henry Edward Kendall
Date of Construction
1827 (as sessions house)
Grade II


Spilsby Sessions House became a theatre in 1984, converted 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 still exist, now used as dressing rooms. A former coach house adjacent provides rehearsal space and a workshop.

Why is this theatre at risk?

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

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

Despite major challenges and setbacks, 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 capital plans for stabilisation and essential repair work to create a semi-operational venue in the first instance; further phases would see the building fully restored and reopened.

A crucial first element to see this work progressed was transferring ownership of the building to the Spilsby Sessions House charity. This was achieved in February 2022. The transfer of ownership will allow access to public funding including eligibility to apply to Historic England for grant funding for urgent repair works.

These next few years are seen as crucial. The building is deteriorating and needs urgent repair works.

Theatre potential

Spilsby Sessions House 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. The Spilsby Sessions House charity has now been formed to lead the capital project.

The charity, together with the local community, has 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.

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 approximately £500k per year in additional visitor spending to its local area and an additional £80k in additional employment.

Current situation

Following the viability study and subsequent discussions with NLHF and AHF, it was recommended that Spilsby Sessions House undertake a further package of supporting work before embarking on its capital works. 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.

Spilsby Sessions House has also been 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 have town and district council support. The recent Institute of Place Management Vital and Viable Spilsby report commissioned by East Lindsey District Council highlighted the work as an integral project for the revitalisation of Spilsby.

Now that the ownership of the theatre has been secured, Spilsby Sessions House has been able to successfully apply for an emergency funding grant from Historic England. Theatres Trust provided support to the application. The works have been tendered and it is hoped they will start in February / March 2023 and will include essential structural and temporary repair works to stabilise the building.

Spilsby Sessions House is a key project within East Lindsey District Council’s successful Levelling Up Fund round 2 bid. Theatres Trust provided support for the bid. This will allow the main capital project work to commence in a single phase, bringing the building back into operation as an arts venue and heritage attraction.

The theatre is also looking to apply to the NLHF for a grant to support the redevelopment of the cells into a heritage exhibition space. The council is being very supportive and helping with consultant advice for the application process.

Spilsby Sessions House is also looking to apply to the government’s Shared Prosperity fund to support the development of a community arts programme.

East Lindsey District Council was successful in its application to the Arts Council for National Portfolio Organisation status. Spilsby Sessions House aims to be an integral part of the forthcoming arts and culture programme.

Spilsby Sessions House has made great progress towards achieving its ambitions and saving this important local theatre, however, there is still much work to do to stabilise and secure the building. Theatres Trust will continue to provide advice and support as required throughout the next stages of the project.

Watch a video about Spilsby Sessions House's plans with Levelling Up funding.

Watch a video about the the future plans for Spilsby Sessions House.

Main photo Spilsby Theatre, Theatres Trust