Cash cut from public toilets budget could be given to St George’s Theatre in Great Yarmouth

St Georges Theatre on King Street in Great Yarmouth. Picture: James Bass

St Georges Theatre on King Street in Great Yarmouth. Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2014

Money cut from the budget for public toilets is set to be handed to St Georges Theatre.

Barry Coleman

Barry Coleman - Credit: Archant

Great Yarmouth Borough Council has reduced by £32,000 funding to ten toilet blocks in the northern parishes - including Caister, Hemsby and Winterton.

These savings were achieved by getting parish councils and local businesses to shoulder some of the responsibility that previously lay squarely with the borough council, and the move does not directly impact on any of the eight toilet blocks listed in Great Yarmough and Gorleston.

Cash that has been taken from the loos budget has been earmarked for St Georges Theatre, under proposals approved by the council's powerful cabinet this week.

The theatre, which closed in 2006 and re-opened in 2012 after more than £7m of work, has been paid £40,000 per year for five years by the borough council while the trust builds a 'sustainable business model for the future'.

The Cafe in the pavilion next to St Georges Theatre, Great Yarmouth. Picture: James Bass

The Cafe in the pavilion next to St Georges Theatre, Great Yarmouth. Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2014

Bosses of St Georges Theatre Trust have asked for a sixth year of £40,000 funding, which aims to help the theatre secure grant funding from other agencies as it continues to establish itself.

In a council report, officers said that if the authority did not continue to award the grant, the trust 'must consider winding down in accordance with the regulations of the charity commission'.

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The asset would then be returned to the council along with full building liabilities.

Council leader Graham Plant told the cabinet meeting: 'It's disappointing that the trust hasn't been able to get on a sustainable footing after five years, but after the problems in the first two years [with construction issues leading to a delayed opening] it's understandable.

'To approach the council at this stage for a further £40,000 is far from ideal and puts the council in a difficult position.

'It's fortuitous that at the same time councillors and officers have secured £32,000 of savings which otherwise would not have been budgeted for.'

But councillor Trevor Wainwright criticised the move to spend the hard-won savings from the toilet budget on the theatre.

'It doesn't mean that as you've saved money here you can use it elsewhere,' he said.

He added that the cafe at St George's was 'underused', you 'can't get anything decent to eat' and big changes were needed.

Barry Coleman, the theatre's chairman of trustees, admitted that the trust still had 'quite a lot of work to do' before the theatre could become self sufficient, and he could not give a time estimate for how long this would take.

But he noted that 'considerable progress' had been made, with annual ticket sales rising from £123,000 in 2014-14 to £160,000 in 2014-15, with a projected £166,000 for 2015-16.

He said people had championed the theatre, with volunteers giving up a total of 4,200 hours per year to help its smooth running.

'It's becoming very much a community theatre, which is what we want,' he said. 'But not all things we want to do will be money-making things, and we knew that would be the case. We're all aware that over the next five years we've got to be as self-sufficient as possible.' He said the £40,000 would help bring in external funding, and had already managed to 'get into the community'.

The trust estimates that each theatre goer is worth £12 to the local economy, as they may go for a meal locally, book accomodation or spend money on fuel.

In the period from April to October this year, a total of 8,858 people visited 118 shows at the theatre.

Mr Coleman said that the trust had made efforts to diversify to become more self sufficient, with its cafe, wedding licence - there has been one wedding hosted so far with plans for more in the new year - and it has hosted two beer festivals and a remembrance event.

He added that advice was being sought from the Arts Council and other theatres on how to achieve self sufficiency.

A report to councillors noted: 'St George's remains a vital cultural asset, integral to the revitalisation of the cultural offer and the regeneration of the Great Yarmouth Town Centre and King Street area.'

But it said that a budget deficit was predicted again and creating a sustainable business model had proved challenging 'given low levels of cultural participation within the borough as a whole'.

The £40,000 to the theatre would comprise the £32,000 from the northern parishes public toilet budget, and a further £8,000 which has not been identified yet.

It is recommended that it is awarded on the condition that it is used to match fund a bid to Arts Council England for strategic support and that a full five-year business plan is presented to the council by no later than July 2016.

A final decision will be made by full council.

The full list of loos affected by the northern parishes changes is: Acle Bridge; Caister Beach Road; Caister Second Avenue; Caister High Street, Hemsby Beach; Scratby Cliffs; Thurne; Winterton; Martham; North Drive.