Former Burnley theatre on ‘at risk’ list

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BURNLEY’S once-great Empire Theatre in St James’s Street has again been listed as one of the country’s top theatres which is at risk.

In The Theatres’ Trust 2011 Theatre Buildings At Risk register announced yesterday, the Grade II Listed Empire is one of the top 10 most threatened theatres among 58 in the UK. They are all in desperate need of funding and public backing and face threats from demolition, neglect, local development, funding cuts and closure. Morecambe’s Winter Gardens is also way up the list.

Twenty theatres have been added since last year while 18 have been removed, many receiving support from The Theatres’ Trust to help secure their future.

The Trust is the national advisory public body for theatres and a statutory consultee on planning applications affecting land on which there is a theatre. This applies to all theatre buildings, old and new, in current use or disused.

The TBAR was started in 2006 in response to growing public interest in preserving theatres and the Burnley Empire has been on the list since the outset. It has been disused and falling into dereliction since 1995 and has been unable to move forward despite several attempts to bring it back to life. In 1997 a campaign was launched to save the theatre with a multi-million pound lottery bid backed by Burnley Light Opera Society and Burnley Council, but despite experts declaring its value and appealing for support, the bid faltered and the Empire has been left in its sorry state ever since.

The Empire building was originally a cotton mill in Cow Lane which opened as a 2,000 seat theatre in 1894. But when the heyday of local theatre passed it became a cinema in the 1930s and a bingo hall in 1970.