Emergency public funding could save Byre Theatre

Byre Theatre
Byre Theatre
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EMERGENCY funding is set to be used to snap up the assets of a theatre facing certain liquidation this week as part of a bid to reopen the venue within months.

Fife Council leaders have agreed with administrators handling the stricken Byre Theatre in St Andrews to draw up a joint valuation of “essential” facilities.

The bail-out of the theatre - which could involve a six-figure sum of public money - is being pursued urgently as Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop threw her weight behind efforts to save the venue.

The assets, including stage equipment and sound and lighting facilities, all of which would be need to reopen the venue, face being sold to pay off as-yet-unknown debts run up by the company, which pulled the plug on the venue last week due to a massive cash shortfall.

The Byre building, which opened 12 years ago on a site occupied by the theatre since the 1930s, is owned by Fife Council and was due to transfer to a new Fife Cultural Trust, which has already taken over the running of four theatres from the local authority.

Council officials have confirmed they are in talks with arts agency Creative Scotland about snapping up the various assets in order to try to reopen the venue over the summer under the umbrella of a new cultural trust for the area.

The Scotsman has learned the Byre was due to run out of cash in the middle of next month, despite being awarded almost £600,000 by arts agency Creative Scotland over the last three years.

The board of the theatre - which employed up to 30 staff - blame the loss of regular grant funding from the agency for “acute” problems meeting its annual running costs. Accountants brought in by the Byre board last week to advise them on the crisis effectively ordered them to close down with immediate effect.

Grant Ward, head of culture at Fife Council, said: “There is a due process to go through at the moment, involving a voluntary liquidation, and the administrators will be taking charge of the assets of the building early next week.

“There are a number of things that are fairly critical to the running of the building that we would be looking to secure and that’s why we’ve just agreed to pursue a joint valuation of them.

“We are in discussion with Creative Scotland and they may be in a position to help us purchase the assets once we know what the cost of that will be, We wouldn’t necessarily need everything in the building but some of the assets would be essential to get the theatre reopened, but at the moment’s it’s looking fairly optimistic.

“Fife Council already provides the theatre with a grant of £258,000 which we would obviously have been transferred to the new culture trust anyway in the new financial year. With a scaled-backed operation and funding to secure the assets of the theatre we are optimistic it could reopen by the summer.”

Frank Quinault, chair of the Byre’s board, said: “The transfer of the theatre to the new trust was going to happen, and I’m sure the Byre will reopen, but it’s just a shame that this is causing so much heartache and agony for those who worked there.”

A spokeswoman for Fife Cultural Trust said it was “saddened by the closure of the Byre Theatre”, but was already working on securing the venue’s future.

In a statement, it said: “The broad-based ‘Byre community’ has worked immensely hard to support the Byre Theatre. The ongoing support is an indication of the esteem in which the Byre is held, not just in St Andrews and Fife, but across Scotland and internationally.

“We are committed to working closely with those seeking to secure a future for the Byre and is already providing support to relocate events affected by the closure: the Fife Jazz Festival and StAnza, Scotland’s International Poetry Festival.

Culture secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “It’s clear from media reports and social media conversations that this has been an extremely unsettling time for staff at the Byre Theatre and the community that use and love the venue.

“Therefore I’m heartened that Fife Council and Creative Scotland are optimistic that the theatre will re-open and that its future can be secured.”