THEATRE lovers in Taunton are being urged to support the town’s Brewhouse - or face losing it.

The Coal Orchard venue is facing financial struggles amid speculation surrounding a possible new ‘arena’ on the Firepool site, which is being investigated by Somerset West and Taunton Council (SWT).

In June 2017 Taunton Theatre Association (TTA), the charity which runs the Brewhouse, joined forces with the then-Taunton Deane Borough Council to reveal £20 million plans to expand the riverside venue over the next five years, with a completion date of around 2022.

The plans have been developed - and expanded - since then, and could even include the town’s library in the future, as well as an expanded theatre auditorium and other performance and community spaces at Coal Orchard.

However, the scheme was put on hold by the incoming Liberal Democrat administration at SWT in May, when councillors said they were going to investigate the possibility of building a new, larger venue on the Firepool site.

But the uncertainty, the TTA says, could put the Brewhouse at risk as it struggles to book future events and performances and to plan financially for the future.

It is now seeking financial support from the council in a bid to stay afloat while discussions continue over the future of the site.

The council is due to consider revised funding options for the theatre in October, and says it will ‘consider the feasability of both projects (the Brewhouse and any potential multi-use venue at Firepool)’ when studies into the potential for a new venue are complete.

In the meantime, the TTA has urged residents to back the Brewhouse.

“TTA offers excellent value for money, earning more than 90 per cent of their revenue, unlike most similar venues who receive significant subsidy,” a spokesperson said.

Somerset County Gazette:

STARTING POINT: A drawing of how the Brewhouse could look, released in 2017, but the scheme has come a long way since then

“The small core team of professional staff are supported by a large team of passionate volunteers, instrumental in keeping the venue open.

“The challenge of operating an ageing venue of The Brewhouse’s scale are: Limited theatre and studio seating meaning there is insufficient surplus to cover costs; at 42 years old, the building needs significant repair and refurbishment while stage, technical facilities and capacity limit companies we can present.

“TTA worked with the council, with appointed architects and theatre specialists ... to resolve these issues, revealing exciting plans for a large-scale, flexible, multipurpose venue on the Coal Orchard site.

“The designs embrace recommendations from research and feasibly studies, underpinned with a self-sustaining business model.

“TTA developed its current business growing its audiences and offer in readiness for this development, due to start in 2021.”

But delays since then - including changes at the top of the new council - have caused uncertainty for the theatre, the spokesperson added.

“Somerset West and Taunton Council put this project ‘on hold’, putting at risk the current high calibre, diverse and plentiful arts programmes that audiences demand and deserve,” they said.

“TTA does not want to be a drain on the public purse, which is why a one-off capital investment which would reap significant cultural, social and economic benefit within the region was of huge significance.

“Projects of a similar calibre elsewhere have acted as the catalyst to prosperity, inner town regeneration and inward investment, something that is sorely required in the County Town.

READ MORE: £20 million plans to expand Brewhouse theatre in Taunton revealed

“Taunton Theatre Association is issuing a ‘call for support’ and asks the public to join it in seeking additional funding from the council to sustain its artistic programmes until the redevelopment is re-activated or potentially relocated to Firepool.

“Without this support there is a very real risk that Taunton will lose its town centre theatre.”

Cllr Federica Smith-Roberts, leader of SWT, said: “We are committed to high quality arts and cultural provision in Taunton and the wider district, and recognise the enormous contribution the Brewhouse theatre has made to this over the years.

“We are continuing to work closely with the Taunton Theatre Association who have been revising their business plan for the expanded Brewhouse theatre which would require significant revenue support in addition to the construction costs.”

She added: “SWT is also commissioning a viability study for a multi-use performance venue at Firepool as part of its regeneration delivery proposals.

“An expert consultant will review the marketplace and report back to Council with a recommended way forward.

“We will need to consider the feasibility of both projects when we have all the information to hand.

READ MORE: Taunton Theatre Association trustees on why YOU should back the Brewhouse...

“In the meantime the council is due to consider an increase in grant funding to sustain the TTA which recently briefed members on the Brewhouse Theatre’s role as an arts and cultural hub for the region, as well as the wider economic benefits of their work.

“This presentation was very well attended and well received.

“Councillors are due to make a decision on future revenue funding at the next full council meeting in October.”

Somerset County Gazette: