Blackpool’s precious Grand Theatre is consulting on its future

Blackpool Grand Theatre | Photographer Sean Conboy

Its loss does not bear thinking about, but along with all other arts institutions and practitioners, Blackpool’s jewel in the crown, the Matcham designed Grand Theatre is facing challenging times. Blackpool Grand Theatre (Arts & Entertainment) Ltd, the charity which operates The Grand, is consulting its entire team on survival options. An effective Government announcement that the legendary Blackpool Grand panto might not happen this year, or indeed any other panto, is hardly likely to help.

During lockdown, The Grand, which normally earns 91% of its income through sales, has relied on the Government’s Job Retention Scheme (JRS) and an emergency grant of £193,000 from Arts Council England to keep going.  Planned productions have been wiped out or moved into 2021.

Blackpool Grand Theatre | Photographer Sean Conboy

Addressing colleagues, the charity’s chairman, Anthony Stone, said:

‘Other social venues are re-opening, but the theatre is unique in that it must have productions in the pipeline to re-open for. This has proved impossible to manage; I’ve tried to keep you updated.  We are not alone: Britain’s world-leading performing arts sector has been pole-axed and faces an uncertain future.

So I must now announce that we will have a consultation period with all members of staff, to seek your views on how best to move forward. We will develop some specific proposals to discuss with you. To be clear, all options are effectively on the table particularly given the unknown length of time it will take to get back to business as usual.

“I am very grateful for your commitment, patience and support. We are looking to our amazing staff to get through this together, as we move through this pandemic and try and get back to as normal a state of play as soon as possible.’

Chief Executive, Ruth Eastwood, said:

‘Social distancing rules, implementing deep cleans between performances and colleague self-isolation requirements has made it very difficult for producers to invest in the creation of shows to tour to theatres like the Grand.

Blackpool Grand Theatre | Photographer Sean Conboy

In addition, as a 126-year old Grade II* Listed heritage building, with narrow corridors, cramped back stage areas, small toilet blocks and limited internal public space, The Grand faces even bigger challenges in implementing social distancing rules whilst maintaining a financially viable capacity.

With the Job Retention Scheme changing in August, when companies must begin to contribute financially, and ending altogether in October, its with regret that we must consult on options.’ 

Despite the difficulties facing communities and individuals across the town due to the pandemic, Blackpool’s community needs to prepare to support the Grand however it can. All would be worse off without it as it underpins so much, an invaluable community and economic asset that would be difficult to recover once lost. How close to destruction was it before when it could have been demolished and the site redeveloped by philistine department stores inc?

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  • David Simper

    I have worked in the housing and transport professions for several local authorities, specialising in policy, strategy preparation and bid writing.Having always had an interest in film, the visual arts in general, theatre, music and lterature, I thought it would be good to combine the writing experience with these interests to contribute to altBlackpool.In addition to writing, my hobbies include watercolour and pastel painting, photography, woodwork, cycling and vegetable gardening.

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