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.
Address
Church Street, Spilsby, Lincolnshire, PE23 5DY
Risk Rating
7 (Community Rating: 3, Star Value: 2, Risk Factor: 2)
Local Group
Spilsby Sessions House Ltd (charity)
Architect
Henry Edward Kendall
Date of Construction
1827 (as sessions house)
Listing
Grade II
Capacity
113

Significance

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. This had included capital plans for a phased approach commencing with 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.

In February 2022 ownership of the building was transferred to the Spilsby Sessions House Ltd – an important move that opens up access to public funding including eligibility to apply to Historic England for grant funding for urgent repair works.

The charity’s major capital works plans were given a massive boost in 2022 when Spilsby Sessions House was selected as a key project for East Lindsey District Council’s application to the Levelling Up Fund round 2. In January 2023 it was announced that the bid had been successful. The funding 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 works are currently at a very early stage.

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 included successful funding applications in 2018 to enable the commissioning of a viability study, jointly funded by the Architectural Heritage Fund  and the Heritage Lottery Fund, now National Lottery Heritage Fund, to assess the options and establish the cost of renovating the theatre.

The study concluded that there is demand and potential  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.

A further package of supporting work funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and part-funded by the Theatres Trust Theatres at Risk Capacity Building Programme, included a review of phasing options for the capital works, the scoping of a heritage activity plan and an economic impact assessment. This concluded that 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

Since its formation, the Spilsby Sessions House charity has 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 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.

In addition to the Levelling Up funding secured for the main capital works, the Spilsby Sessions House was granted emergency funding from Historic England, an application supported by Theatres Trust. The works, which are now complete, included essential structural and temporary repair works to stabilise the building and protect it from further deterioration whilst awaiting the full restoration works.

Spilsby Sessions House has also been successful in its application to the government’s Shared Prosperity Fund to support the development of its community arts programme, Sessions Arts. The programme is further supported by East Lindsey District Council through its  successful application to the Arts Council for National Portfolio Organisation status.

Spilsby Sessions House has made great progress towards achieving its ambitions and saving this important local theatre, however, the capital works programme is still in its very early stages and, until further progress has been made, it is considered prudent to maintain the theatre on the Theatres at Risk register. 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 Spilsby Sessions House's plans with Levelling Up funding.

Main photo Spilsby Theatre, Theatres Trust