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Working for a regional theatre in Farnham

The Financial Case

The FTA Holden Theatre Report and Business Study suggests a commitment of 1,000 Farnham residents to advance purchase of theatre tickets to show that FTA could generate working capital to operate a theatre - the Redgrave - if Waverley made it available to the community.

There is no suggestion that a new theatre could be provided for £2million. However, the recovery of the Redgrave would be possible for about this figure with assistance from Heritage Lottery or another body to compensate for the neglect of the Listed Buildings. A new theatre would cost around £4 - 5million.

The Financial Case (cont.)

The people of Farnham, in 1974, made a contribution to capital for the Redgrave equivalent to £2,625,000 at today's building costs (together with a similar sum from the former Farnham Urban District Council and the Arts Council of England), a sum which Waverley has written-off in its proposals for the East Street development.

It is a considerable financial disservice to the Council Tax payers of Waverley and particularly to the residents and businesses of Farnham, that Waverley did not maintain the original public investment. Indeed there is a statutory responsibility for ensuring the maintenance of Listed Buildings. Had this been done and the community been given the chance to re-open the Redgrave then commercial development of the East Street area would have followed in the good development years of 2000-2007, rather than leaving the derelict site as a target for gross development to which Waverley will have to make a substantial cash contribution.

FTA makes the case that, with proper maintenance of Grade II Listed Brightwell House and its associated theatre, Waverley would be free of charges on the theatre, would have respected and regarded the original public investment and would have a core daytime and evening economy in the East Street area of the town to lead a series of commercial developments by established landowners and a ready market for the redevelopment of unused Council properties.

It is still not too late to do so. A transfer of the listed building and theatre to the community (with compensation for failure to undertake statutory responsibilities for the maintenance over 11 years) would ensure the generation of a self-sufficient daytime and evening economy in Farnham and a buoyant development market for the surrounding properties as the market improves.

What was Waverley’s contribution to support the Redgrave?
There is a misapprehension that Waverley funded the Redgrave to some £500,000 at the time of its first closure. Here are the facts to dispel that notion:

FTA has figures received last September from Waverley's Finance Director for information on Waverley's Redgrave funding. This shows that from 1993/4 to 1995/6 the revenue funding was £169,173 with £75,000 capital funding for the same period. However, according to the minutes of the former Farnham Theatre Trust (FTT), who were responsible for the buildings, the situation was extremely complex and these figures may not give the complete picture, but would be very unlikely to reach the sum of £½m being bandied around.

An independent report on the Redgrave dated April 1995 by Positive Solutions, highlighted the following weaknesses of the Redgrave at that time:

‘Unclear policy and lack of focus
lost touch with audiences
inadequate budget
unsophisticated marketing
historically low level of subsidy
weak administration’.

The report noted the following on its qualitative research:

‘89.9% of respondents had attended the Redgrave within the last 12 months, the majority between 2 -4 times.
47.6% had attended less often because recent productions did not appeal.
This is the one strong identifiable thread running through the individual responses - choice of production and the 'turn off' effects of a production which did not appeal running for up to 4 weeks.’

The situation at the Redgrave was not improved after the re-opening by the appointment by WBC and South East Arts Council of a local TV executive of Farnham Theatre Productions Ltd. In papers held at the Surrey History Centre, he is reported as having had ‘an outside business project which took up a lot of his time’. In a letter from the Waverley Chief Executive 28 April 1998 it appears that ‘a whole 6 months grant had been taken up by one production and that a second request had been made for sight of a business plan’. In May '98 the theatre closed permanently.

It is quite clear from the above, and other FTA research that the failure of the Redgrave resulted from poor decision making especially in its administration, despite Waverley's earlier attempts to keep the theatre afloat. The Times 19 Nov. 1994 noted that The Farnham Redgrave was one of several leading regional theatres in financial trouble (Salisbury Playhouse, Cheltenham Everyman, Exeter Northcote, Harrogate Theatre, Birmingham Rep, Liverpool Playhouse and the Royal Shakespeare Company included). The Redgrave was the only one of these to close and to stay closed - the rest are still running.

The Waverley Finance Director also addressed the Waverley purchase of the old Castle Theatre from the FTT in 1996 which had brought the Council a cumulative rent of £472,982 by 2008 and that the £21,125 passed over from FTT for dilapidations was put into the general fund and not used for that purpose. Waverley has received far more from this debacle than it ever contributed, leaving the sorry spectacle of the Redgrave Theatre kept dark through a policy of disingenuous misinformation.