Æ News – Bid to stop Edinburgh Council selling Theatre Workshop building

March 10, 2011 | By More

New campaign aims to halt imminent sale of “Stockbridge Theatre”

The Theatre Workshop building at 34 Hamilton Place

By Thom Dibdin

An eleventh hour campaign has been launched by a group of Stockbridge residents in an attempt to halt the sale of the old Theatre Workshop by its owners, the Edinburgh City Council.

The B-listed building at 34 Hamilton Place was vacated by the Theatre Workshop organisation in July last year, over a year before the expiry of its lease with the council, and has since been vacant. It was built in the early nineteenth century as a tenement and the 150-seat theatre space was previously a Territorial Army drill hall. The venue also has a 55 seat studio theatre and cafe.

The Council now intends to sell the building as soon as is practicable.

For the Save Stockbridge Theatre campaign Dolina MacLennan, a founder member of the 7:84 theatre company, says: “This is an artistic asset about to be lost after almost 50 years of cultural and community life.

“It is more important now than ever that we retain this building as a valuable arts resource in Edinburgh. There are few venues offering 150-seat capacity, in the city, ideal for smaller productions, and as a cross-cultural arts venue for the local community and the whole city. It is critical that it is reactivated as a cultural space.”

The campaign, launched on Wednesday with a facebook page, is critical of the Council for the haste with which it is seeking to sell of the building. To do so, it will have to reinstate a wall between the main theatre reception and the box office, which is in 42 Hamilton Place and leased from Scotmid.

The council, however, has robustly defended its position, pointing out that it “has a duty to sell surplus property as quickly as possible whilst maximising the return on the asset; this is especially important given the current financial pressures.”

Records show that the decision to allow Theatre Workshop to terminate its lease early was made at the Finance and Resources Committee on June 1, 2010, when possible sale of the building was first discussed. A formal proposal to sell 34 Hamilton Place was ratified by the committee on 26 October 2010.

Councillor Deidre Brock, Culture and Leisure Convener, said: “It is disappointing the organisers of this campaign have not approached our arts officers to discuss their concerns. We would have been able to explain to them the realities of the situation, which has to be looked at in the context of the extremely difficult financial challenges being faced by local authorities across Scotland.

“Unfortunately the building in question is in need of significant repairs and it will require a considerable amount of money just to get it up to a useable standard. Putting it on the open market, moreover, does not preclude any potential purchaser from exploring a future cultural use for the premises.

“Unless the campaigners have a robust business plan already drafted which could easily be pursued, the building would have to sit empty until a plan was drawn up. Not only would the Council then lose much needed funds which could be reinvested elsewhere in our cultural infrastructure, but it would also risk being hit with monthly costs of up to £3,000 just to keep the property safe and secure.”

The Rise and Demise of an Edinburgh theatre

Theatre Workshop Foyer in 2007. Flickr Photo © John Freeland All Rights Reserved

The rise and demise of the Stockbridge Theatre Building is entwined with the history of the Theatre Workshop which has took up a 40 year lease on  34 Hamilton Place in June 1975. Theatre Workshop put out press material concerning its history in the early 2000s, and the reports submitted to the Council’s F&R committee contain background details of the council’s spending.

Theatre Workshop was established in 1965 by Catherine Robbins and Ros Clark as Edinburgh’s first arts and drama centre for children. Reg Bolton was Director between 1971 and 1974, it received annual funding from the Edinburgh Corporation in 1972. Neil Cameron take over as director in 1974.

According to the current Theatre Workshop website, in 1975: “Fundraising began, hoping to acquire the necessary finances to buy the Stockbridge venue. Grants from a number of trusts, industries and private individuals meant that the premises could be purchased and in September 1975 the renovations began.”

Bob Palmer was appointed Director in 1976 with a staff of 12 full-time members. The Carnegie Trust made a generous donation to enable Theatre Workshop to begin its work with disabled people.

Andy Arnold became Director in 1980, establishing Theatre Workshop as a leading venue for small scale touring companies. In 1982, he launched TW as a professional resident and touring theatre – significant improvements made to the theatre, upgrading technical facilities and increasing seating capacity from 90 to 140.

Adrian Harris became Director in 1985 and developed a more integrated relationship between community arts and professional theatre activity. In 1987, he began forging strong international links.

In 1990 a new 21 year lease was put in place. In February, the City of Edinburgh District Council’s Economic Development and Estates Committee approved the terms of Theatre Workshop’s lease on the basis that a grant by the Council of £80,000 would be contributed towards “major alterations to the foyer, side alley and access (for the disabled) as well as the installation of a lift and other general refurbishment works . . . . . .at an approximate cost of £250,000”.

The estimate for the improvements quickly rose and was £569,100 by October. A report to the Recreation Committee says this was due to “s several factors, principally additional Theatre Licensing/Building Control and engineering requirements, and the incorporation of an adjacent shop into improvements to the front foyer area”.

All told, the council contributed Council capital funding to the project of £122,590 in 1990/91 and £50,000 in 1991/92 with a further capital grant of £37,410 for 1991/92. It also bought the adjoining basement property at 28A Hamilton Place, which at that time was owned by Theatre Workshop, for £15,000.

In 1995, Robert Rae became Director and Theatre Workshop established itself as “Scotland’s premier small-scale professional producing theatre”, according to  its own history.

In 1999, Theatre Workshop adopted the Social Model of Disability and in September 2000, with support from the National Lottery through the Scottish Arts Council,it became Europe’s first fully inclusive producing theatre.

In 2006, Theatre Workshop failed to get foundation status, essentially not getting core funding to run the building at Hamilton Place. The last piece of theatre performed at the venue was in 2008. It continued to lease the Stockbridge Theatre Building although by 2009, it had only a staff of three, which reduced to two by the time it eventually vacated the premises in July 2010.

The Save Stockbridge Theatre Building facebook page.

Theatre Workshop gives a history of the organisation, and the Stockbridge Theatre Building on its website www.theatre-workshop.com

Downloadable documents from the Edinburgh Council’s Finance and Resources meeting of 1 June are available here on the Council Website

Council report to F&R meeting of 1 June 2010 (PDF, 1.02 MB, downloads directly)

Downloadable documents from the Edinburgh Council’s Finance and Resources meeting of 26 October  are available here on the Council website

Council report to F&R meeting of 26 October 2010 (PDF, 599.03 KB, downloads directly)

ENDS

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  1. Andrew Morrison says:

    In support of campaign to save public performance space in Stockbridge (Theatre Workshop). This is being rushed through with as little publicity and time to respond as the Council can possibly get away with. In the ‘Festival City’? Shame on them! Anything I can do to help?
    Andrew.