It seems like Bradford can’t go any length of time without its cultural institutions being threatened with closure. There’s the long-running saga of the old Odeon cinema, now subject to two rival regeneration plans, last year’s threat to close the National Media Museum, and now The New Bradford Playhouse is at risk.
The Playhouse has had something a troubled history. I first became aware of it as The Priestley Theatre, which had recently re-opened following a fire and subsequent extensive refurbishment. That closed down and a few years later was reborn as the Bradford Playhouse, but that too failed financially.
More recently a company called Takeover Events & Theatre Ltd, trading as The New Bradford Playhouse, has been running the theatre as a going concern, as tenants. However, the building’s owner has gone into liquidation, and so the theatre will be sold at auction next month. And there’s a real risk that whoever buys it will want to convert the building into something else.
This would be a terrible shame as the theatre still has many of its original features despite the fire damage. It’s Bradford’s only medium sized theatre, seating 290 people, and also houses a small studio space. I’ve been privileged to be able to help out with some of the shows there, such as Little Shop of Horrors which Christine performed in earlier this year. The operating team is well-connected and has been able to draw upon a lot of goodwill to get the theatre to where it is now, and it would be a huge shame if their hard work came to nothing. Especially as they have some ambitious plans to re-invigorate the theatre, with a new entrance, wheelchair access and a proper café or restaurant on site, subject to funding.
If Takeover Events can buy the theatre outright at the auction, then I’m sure it will have a bright future – I personally trust them to be able to turn it around and break the vicious cycle that has seen it closed down so many times in the past. But my worry is that it will end up being sold to someone else who will turn it into flats or offices, and an important part of Bradford’s cultural heritage will be gone for good.
So, here’s what you can do to help. If you can spare some money, please contribute to the Indiegogo campaign. They need £125,000 in less than three weeks, to be able to buy the building at auction. Also, simply buying tickets and going along to their shows will help.
If you have no money to spare, then please sign this petition to Bradford Council, asking them to refuse planning permission to anyone wanting to change the use of the building. That way, if another company buys it, there is a reduced risk of it being converted into anything other than a theatre. And if you’re local to Bradford, get in touch with the people running the theatre to see if you can volunteer any of your time to cut down on their running costs in the meantime.
With the new Westfield shopping centre opening around the corner from the Playhouse in less than two years’ time, the theatre could have a really bright and sustainable future for the first time in many years. So it’s critical that the theatre is saved. It will be such a massive shame if it isn’t.
Update: Some coverage from the local paper. With two and a bit weeks to go, they are unfortunately a long way from their target.