The Board of the Worcester Swan Theatre is to close the theatre permanently after Worcester City Council confirmed that it will not be able to sustain the levels of funding support it has provided for the past 4 years. Over 13,000 signatures have been obtained on petitions to save the theatre, and hundreds have written in protest at the threatened closure, but the Council has refused to reverse its decision and the lease will be terminated and the theatre boarded up at the end of this month.
The Chairman and other Directors met with senior members and officers of the City Council before Christmas to discuss their proposals for the future, including the possibility of operating the theatre on a more modest scale in order to keep professional theatre alive in the city, and to provide a venue for local amateur companies. But according to a statement issued by the theatre announcing its forthcoming closure, the Council was ?dismissive? of the plans. Condemning the decision to let the theatre close, Adrian Mealing of UK Touring described the City Council as one that ?traditionally invests no imagination in its future nor value in the creative pulse of its population.?
The City Council has defended its decision, pointing to the terms under which The Swan?s funding had been allocated in recent years. According to Councillor Simon Geraghty, Cabinet Member for Corporate Services, the Theatre has always received an annual sum of £54,000 from the Council?s base budget, and this sum is still ring-fenced for the Theatre in 2003/4. But that amount was increased four years ago, when the future of West Midlands Arts?(WMA) funding of the theatre was in doubt. A feasibility study had found that the theatre?s future prospects were unstable given its location and the state of its building, which without substantial capital investment, has only a short structural life left. At that stage WMA would not commit to continued funding, so the Council stepped in with a further £83,000 a year for three years, taken from its balances and reserves. This additional funding was extended for a further year in 2002, but according to Councillor Geraghty, the financial crisis now facing the Council means that there are no longer sufficient reserves to continue with the additional support.
West Midlands Arts is criticised by the Swan, for also having declined to support it through the national Theatre Review. This saw an extra £25m given to 50 professional theatres throughout the country but notably excluded the Swan and three others. WMA has been prepared to re-consider its funding for the Swan, but not without further commitment from the Council - a fact that the Swan?s Board believe illustrates the ?unstable and polarised relationship? between its principal funding partners. Sally Luton, Chief Executive of WMA said ?We are very sorry that the situation with the Worcester Swan Theatre has reached this conclusion. The staff and board of the Worcester Swan have contributed an enormous amount to the cultural life of Worcester and we look forward to finding a way of building on this legacy for the future.?