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Fears and opportunities over proposed partnership of The Apex and Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds

Theatre Support Group meeting outside council offices on Western Way in Bury.

Theatre Support Group meeting outside council offices on Western Way in Bury.

The financial positions of the Apex and the Theatre Royal have been defended this week as they prepare to strengthen through a new partnership.

The £750,000-a-year subsidy to The Apex has seen the venue much criticised.

But at a meeting of St Edmundsbury Borough Council’s overview and scrutiny committee last night (5) Alex Wilson, a council director, admitted much of it was the council’s fault and not a reflection of performance of The Apex, which has now been open two years .

“There is no doubt that the subsidy that The Apex is currently receiving is higher than what was envisaged,” he said.

But he said £100,000 of its subsidy was down to a council decision to put money aside each year for maintenance costs, £50,000 was down to higher than anticpated service charges, while both arc developer Centros and the council had failed to land a caterer from the start, costing another £80,000 in lost income

Tony Doherty, director of The Apex, said it had achieved its target of £1 million a year income, while audience figures were slightly above target at 43,000.

Cllr Ian Houlder, who expressed concern that tax payers could be put at risk if the council went into partnership with the theatre, said: “I think The Apex and its management need to be given a proper chance.”

There was some sceptism from both sides and a ‘Don’t Bury Our Theatre’ campaign group held a silent protest outside ahead of the meeting.

But Simon Daykin, chief executive of the theatre, said despite its troubled financial past, the theatre broke even for the first time in years last year and was enjoying a good year this year as well.

Both organisations heard from The Arts Council how grant funding will get tighter and how they could strengthen by working together to make a cultural offer for Bury that could compete on both a regional and national scale.

Stephen Bourne, the new chairman of the theatre board, spoke of the need for a partnership ‘that benefits our joint public’ rather than a ‘management merger’ which had spread fear.

“I’m not going to pretend what we are offering is a propostion that will dramatically reduce funding over five years,” he said.

But he said it would reduce its grant dependency and create a cultural ‘hub’ for the region.

The committee resolved to carry on looking into the partnership idea. “I’m not in favour of a marriage but we should carry on dating,” said chairman Cllr David Nettleton.

 

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