More than 150 years of live performances by a Spalding group could come to an end if the South Holland Centre no longer supports shows.
The stark warning came in a week when a public support event has been held in solidarity with redundancies at the centre and its been revealed three merging councils could “explore a single partnership for the delivery of their leisure and cultural services”.
Spalding Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society (SADOS) is calling for more transparency after members were told they could not book the centre for May and November performances.
Chair Jodie Schweikhardt said the organisation would not be able to stage its shows in village halls and needed a theatre and technical staff.
South Holland District Council is reducing 21 roles to seven at its venue, which opened this week for cinema screenings. But it says that live theatre is going to remain at the centre, although it has only rescheduled five dates and announced a pantomime in December.
SADOS launched a petition called Save Live Theatre at the South Holland Centre and it has more than 1,000 signatures of support.
“We just want some clarity as to what is going on. We can’t book the venue and fear for the future of live shows there. It could mean the end of SADOS after 150 years,” said Jodie.
Community arts groups and other organisations are due to join forces on Thursday for a Clap for Live *inspired by NHS Clap for Heroes) in support of staff at the centre and as a call for clarity.
Karl Gernert, director of Spalding-based Act II Theatre Company, said: “We all want to have faith in the council’s pledge to reintroduce live events. But it seems clear it will be almost impossible to stage live music, theatre and functions safely with so small a staff.
“We’re calling on the council to make a clearer commitment to live entertainment at the centre, which almost certainly means rethinking the proposed staffing cuts.”
Supporters of the centre as a live theatre venue are also concerned that it could be run by a third party once SHDC has joined forces with East Lindsey and Boston councils – a move going through at the moment.
“We did wonder if it all has something to do with the councils joining together,” said Jodie.
And a draft document due before members of the Joint Performance Monitoring Committee has done little to allay those concerns. The report outlines a potential roadmap for the partnership, the South East Lincolnshire Councils.
It will employ more than 1,000 people, serve 306,919 residents with 122 elected members and could potentially save £42m over a ten year period.
The proposed partnership between three councils including South Holland District Council says it could “explore a single partnership for the delivery of leisure and cultural services.”
A draft council partnership report says that phase one of the new relationship runs to April next year and will see a ‘common framework’ agreed.
The following year will bring a ‘transformation plan’ while phase three, in 2022/23, will see structural reform and devolved functions for all three authorities – East Lindsey, Boston Borough and South Holland District Councils.
It outlines ‘strategic ambition’ for key areas, including crime and health but no mention of arts and culture.
But there will be four assistant directors within the authority partners and one of them has a leisure and culture responsibility.
One of the corporate priorities outlined in the document is to “Lead, enable and embed the provision of improved local community, cultural and art facilities.”
But there is only one council-operated theatre in Boston and East Lindsey – The Embassy at Skegness and that’s run by a third party, the Magna Vitae Trust.
The draft report says there is the potential for the “provision of contracted leisure facilities and [the councils will}explore options for future delivery.
East Lindsey already has a “strong relationship with Arts Council England” via the Magna Vitae Trust and could take the lead in future provision.
Spalding Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society (SADOS) have started a petition calling on the future of the centre to be secured which has over 1,000 signatures.
Set up by chair Jodie Schweikhardt, it reads “The local theatre societies and theatre-loving members of the South Holland community are seriously concerned about the threat to live theatre. We want to see performers back on that magnificent stage.
“We want the local council to see how important live theatre is to the folk of South Holland and to keep the venue running for both cinema purposes and live events.”.
South Holland District Council responded with a statement that only 23 per cent of respondents to a recent survey wanted to see local theatre compared with 80 per cent who wanted cinema.
“We have said publicly on a number of occasions that we are planning the return of live theatre events later in the year.
“In fact, we are taking bookings now for live events, including this year’s pantomime Dick Whittington.
“We are also in discussions with a number of producers of live theatre events which hopefully we can announce soon.
“Our priority right now is making sure the South Holland Centre is a safe environment for our visitors for reopening.
“The current South Holland Centre programme was developed using feedback from a recent customer survey.
“We look forward to working with SADOS as part of the South Holland Outdoor Festival where they will host a theatrical walking heritage trail in Spalding on Saturday, August 28.”
Jodie said: “We just want transparency from them. It’s not a case of us not believing their goal was to open live theatre at a later date because we’re sure that is what is hoped for.
“It is great that the panto is going ahead, however we have asked but are still unable to book the venue for our usual two weeks in May and November in 2022.
“The panto is the biggest earner for the SHDC, their biggest earner for the year in fact so they will probably take on extra casual staff to work during that time. But that is just one event.
“What happens to us smaller societies when we want to put on a musical and need several tech staff to help us with sound and lighting?”
“There were seven SHC tech staff who were involved in our last musical. There will be just seven staff in total at the centre now.”
It is very scary for us smaller societies as we do not think they will take on extra staff for us, so how will the shows we put on be of the same standard as previous shows?
“The council do lots of great things for South Holland and this petition is in no way, shape or form a dig at them and we’re working in collaboration with the council for a couple of events in August.
“All of those signatures should surely mean something. Lots of theatres around the U.K. are open now for live events; proof that it can be done!”