Sutton’s Liberal Democrat council has made it clear that it will do all it can to keep the borough’s two theatres - the Secombe and Charles Cryer - open for community use if it can possibly do so. And the council has called on local groups and organisations to come forward with ideas and proposals to help meet the challenge.
As a result of a substantial reduction in the government’s grant to the borough, Sutton Council was forced to transfer the running of the theatres to a commercial company, the Sutton Theatres Trust, last year. However the trust recently went into administration, placing the future of the two theatres in considerable doubt.
The Lib Dem Chair of the council’s Environment and Neighbourhoods Committee, Cllr Jill Whitehead, told a recent meeting of the committee that the council was committed to supporting theatre provision in the borough. However she said: “The drastic cuts which the government has forced on us, linked with the increasing costs we’re having to meet in caring and supporting the growing number of vulnerable children and older people in Sutton, it became clear some while ago that the Council could no longer afford to run both theatres.
“That’s why, after a formal bidding process, we turned to the Sutton Theatres Trust to run both theatres. The Council agreed to provide some 'start up' support, offered an initial rent-free period of 15 months, and transferred fittings and other equipment in the theatres to the Trust.
”The Trust assured the Council in January that the business was running well and their finances were in a strong position. As they were an independent commercial business, the Council had no right to inspect their finances and I am as disappointed as others that the new theatre venture did not succeed.”
Cllr Whitehead said the council would welcome any ideas or proposals from community groups for a sustainable long term use for the theatre buildings, whether as theatres or for other community activities. The council would discuss these further and look seriously at any viable ideas.
“No decisions can yet be made until the administrators have fulfilled their obligations, and returned the buildings to the council. Once that happens, a deadline for formal expressions of interest will be announced.
"The Council recognises the value that many residents place on both buildings and their community used, and we hope groups will come forward with ideas of how we can best retain them for the benefit of local residents.
"The Council will be looking at its overall arts, cultural and heritage strategy shortly, and how arts and cultural life in the borough can be enhanced, in times of financial austerity. We value the support and participation of local groups in making that happen,” Cllr Whitehead said.