Worthing Theatres Trust finally reveals rejected theatre plan

Jon Woodley leads the meeting

Jon Woodley leads the meeting

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A CHARITABLE trust which came within touching distance of running Worthing’s theatres has decided it has no choice but to shift its focus.

Worthing Theatres Trust held its first meeting in more than a year, at Broadwater Manor School in Broadwater Road, Worthing, to inform supporters what it planned to do following its unsuccessful bid to take control of Worthing’s theatres.

Jon Woodley, who heads up the charitable trust, said it was a “sad day”, as the trust had decided it had no option but to wind down its original purpose.

He said: “We feel like every door has been closed to us – what’s the point in continuing, we have got nowhere. We’ve offered the council free advice and help to develop its plans, we’ve tried everything we can with no result.”

Worthing Theatres Trust was one of three organisations whose bids were considered by Worthing Borough Council last year, during its public tender process. The council wanted to reduce the subsidy it was paying of £1.2million per year – equating to about £3,000 a day – by at least 25 per cent. However, the council decided to retain control of the venues after none of the bids demonstrated the “levels of savings required”.

Mr Woodley told the meeting the trust had not been able to speak about its position for the past year, because of confidentiality constraints during the process.

He said: “We submitted a 123-page financial proposal, a business plan, to the council and became one of three final bidders to run the theatres.

“We said we wanted to be the hub of the arts scene in Worthing.”

Plans

The trust said it wanted to give an identity to each of the venues, that related back to their original purpose, such as using the Connaught as a playhouse.

Among its other plans was improved use of the venues by dramatics groups, corporate hire and training use and to improve negotiations with visiting production companies.

The trust said it had given a detailed and substantiated budget and forecast on the theatre’s running costs over the next five years, demonstrating how it could reduce the subsidy to about £300,000 in five years.

Mr Woodley said: “We came second out of the three bidders, which was fantastic, but the council decided to retain control themselves. Then, suddenly, a press release went out saying the council had all these fantastic ideas and so we obviously felt a little bit cheated. It was basically disbelief at the whole long process.”

Unwilling

On the day the council’s theatre’s working group presented its own business plan to the joint strategic committee in March, the trust was asked to give its views on the plan.

Mr Woodley said: “We were asked to do this just three hours before the meeting – we found the business plan to be very disappointing and fluffy. We gave up our free time, we tried to help and raise money, and they were then aggressive towards us, saying ‘why should we listen to you?’

“There were people around the table who were actually pretty rude and unwilling to collaborate.”

Following the meeting, the trust decided to change its role to act as an “oversight and lobbying group, keeping the issue front of the public mind”.

Response

COUNCIL leader Paul Yallop said he was “embarrassed” by the way some officers had spoken to the Worthing Theatres Trust board.

He said: “When we last met with the trust I was embarrassed by the way some officers spoke to them. I called the chief executive, Peter Latham, to express my concerns after the meeting, as well as calling Jon Woodley to apologise on behalf of the council. I hope the trust have not suggested that elected councillors have been anything other than supportive. We have been and remain very keen to work in partnership with them.”

Mr Yallop said the financial package proposed by the trust fell short of what was needed to cut the subsidy in the first few years, and the council would have had to step in to bridge the funding gap.

The council’s chief executive, Peter Latham, added: “These have been challenging times for the council, theatres staff and the trust and for all those residents and businesses in the town who value the theatres.