Empire fights back as 2017 looks set to be its year

The interior of the Empire Theatre, Burnley

The interior of the Empire Theatre, Burnley

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2017 looks set to be the year to bring Lancashire's only grade two listed theatre, which is in Burnley,  back to life.

The first phase of a viability study for the Empire Theatre has now been completed to establish there is a potential market to transform it into a successful community project that could benefit the whole of East Lancashire.

The next step of the study can now begin and this will involve exploring funding options and drawing up plans and costings for the project. It is hoped this will be completed by mid 2017.

The viability study was commissioned by a stakeholder group which includes the Burnley Empire Theatre Trust, Burnley Borough Council, the University of Central Lancashire. The study was carried out by Bonnar Keenlyside and Theatresearch, leading consultants in the re-development of theatres.

Shaun McCree, the acting chairman of BETT, said: "It has been an amazing journey so far and we have only just started down our path.

"Just over a year ago we were signing petitions and organising public meetings and now we are about to start the second phase of the viability study to find out how, not if, we can potentially save and re-build the Empire into something that Burnley, and indeed all of East Lancashire, can be proud of.

"We have a long way to go but we really want people to get involved and join us on this journey. When the Empire was in its heyday some of the biggest known acts in the world performed on stage so who knows who could perform there in the future?"

Vacant and derelict for the past 20 years, the Empire was last used as a theatre in 1938. Built by Burnley architect G B Rawcliffe the Cow Lane building was reconstructed and enlarged in 1911 by renowned theatre architect Bertie Crewe.

It has been on the Theatre Trust's theatre buildings at risk register for eight years and in September was the moved into the top five at risk.

The Empire is owned by the Duchy of Lancaster which has said it is willing to gift it to the BETT.