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FEATURE: Flashback to seven months of Brewhouse Theatre closure
The move comes just over seven months after the theatre suddenly closed its doors.
Here, County Gazette reporter Daniel Milligan looks back at the events since the Brewhouse dropped its final curtain on February 20, 2013.
After battling a mounting pile of debts, the 36-year-old Brewhouse Theatre’s finances were running on fumes and it closed with unpaid debts of £501,000, leaving a crushing blow for its 55 members of staff.
Seven months on and doors at the 352-seater venue in the heart of the county town remain firmly shut.
But what has happened in those months since administrators BDO took over control of the theatre?
First, there were candlelight vigils, and then community groups and campaigns were launched to get the venue re-opened including the County Gazette’s Save Our Brewhouse petition.
Ticket-holders and amateur dramatic groups came to terms with the fact that hefty sums of money could never be returned. Then, other venues came to the fore to give performers and audiences somewhere to hold their shows.
Months of meetings followed as council bosses, councillors and administrators pondered over the script for a proposed new chapter in the Brewhouse’s history.
Taunton Deane Council then agreed to purchase the 61-year lease and maintenance of the building for what the County Gazette understands to be a whopping £1million rescue package.
The council said they do not plan to look after the day-to-day running of the theatre when legalities are expected to be confirmed with administrators soon.
But a community group, Taunton Theatre Association, which is believed to be the only bidder, has come forward with representatives from a wide range of amateur dramatic groups to bring fresh life to Taunton’s cultural scene.
This week, the group has submitted its plans to Taunton Deane Council, which is expected to make a decision later this year whether it believes the scheme to re-open the theatre is viable.
February 20 – ADMINSTRATORS BDO step in to take over the Brewhouse Theatre with key figures in the town describing it as an ‘extremely sad day for Taunton’ and ‘a great loss’.
Brewhouse chief executive and artistic director Robert Miles blamed the theatre’s demise on ‘years of underfunding’.
February 28 – A CANDLELIGHT vigil is held outside the theatre as hundreds of people remember its 36- year history. Hundreds more speak out in shock following the closure and the County Gazette launches its Save Our Brewhouse campaign along with other groups set up by Cllr John Meikle, founder-chairman of the Brewhouse, and Cllrs Eddie Gaines and Stephen Ross, who set up the Tone Theatre Association.
March 7 – TWO community groups produce business plans to revive the theatre and a proposal to cut councillors’ allowances to raise funds for the Brewhouse was rejected at a special full council meeting.
March 14 – DOZENS of acts search for new venues at which to perform following the closure. Other venues such as the Tacchi-Morris, near Taunton, and Junction 24 in Bridgwater help out stranded performers. Ironically, the Brewhouse was awarded a prestigious Employer of Year award following a presentation evening in Exeter for its work with two apprentices.
March 21 – A PUBLIC meeting is held to showcase the plans of Tone Theatre Association duo Eddie Gaines and Stephen Ross. Estate agent Chris Willey campaigns to reopen the Brewhouse by displaying large posters in his window and a PR firm made a blunder when it sent out press releases for acts set to perform at the theatre ... a month after it closed.
March 28 – ADMINISTRATORS announce they have had an ‘encouraging level of interest’ from people wanting the theatre to re-open as the first deadline for submitted plans draws near.
April 4 – TAUNTON Deane Council announce their interest in a confidential bid to purchase the lease of the building. Leader of the council, Cllr John Williams, said the bid reflects their commitment to the future of arts and culture in Taunton.
April 11 – THE two community groups bidding for control of the Brewhouse Theatre agree to team up. Cllr John Meikle’s Count Me In group and Cllr Eddie Gaines’ group Tone Theatre Association merged days before the administrator’s deadline.
April 18 – TICKET holders find out they will be left out of pocket after administrators announce there is no compensation for unsecured creditors. The news meant that £82,000 of advance ticket sales were not refunded and amateur dramatic groups are also left up to £13,000 short.
May 20 – THREE months following the closure of the theatre and all goes quiet as administrators sift through the business proposals and claims.
May 23 – THE County Gazette hands hundreds of handwritten signatures from the Save Our Brewhouse petition to administrators BDO.
Several hundred people also signed our online petition.
May 30 – FRUSTRATION grows among amateur dramatic groups as they say, despite hoping to hold Christmas and New Year productions at the Brewhouse, they are forced to choose other venues.
June 6 – JILL Venn, of Taunton Operatic Society, admits she would be ‘very tentative’ to return to the Brewhouse if it re-opens after losing confidence in the venue.
June 13 – A SOURCE tells the County Gazette that Taunton Deane Council’s bid to purchase the Brewhouse Theatre lease is £60,000 plus a similar amount for capital items like seating and the stage and more funds for urgent maintenance work.
July 18 – AFTER one month of negotiations between Taunton Deane Council and administrators, a source tells the County Gazette that the rescue package for the Brewhouse could cost taxpayers £370,000 to buy the 61-year lease of the building along with work on fixtures and fittings. The council declined to confirm the figures.
July 23 – TAUNTON Deane councillors vote to purchase the Brewhouse Theatre lease but the County Gazette now understands the figure to be almost £1million. The lease would cost £370,000 on top of urgent repairs, security, property, legal and holding costs and other maintenance work. The council insist the day-to-day running of the theatre will be done by a community group.
July 25 – TAUNTON Theatre Association – a combined community group who hoped to run the theatre rejoice after the decision to purchase the lease. Chairman Val Hammond said: “It means there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
August 8 – MEMBERS of Taunton Theatre Association, believed to be the only community group bidding to run the theatre, appeal for more support. Final legalities and contracts are still being agreed between Taunton Deane Council and administrators BDO.
August 15 – COUNCILLOR Eddie Gaines says the theatre must re-open sooner rather than later to give up and coming acts somewhere to hone their skills.
August 29 – TAUNTON Theatre Association showcase their plans to people at the Taunton Civic Society meeting. The group is looking to register as a company so they can eventually get charitable status.
September 5 – ADMINISTRATORS announce the deadline to submit final plans for the theatre. Groups must lodge proposals by September 23 (seven months and three days since the closure).
September 23 – TAUNTON Theatre Association confirms it has submitted a bid to run the Brewhouse.
Proposals will now be considered by administrators.
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