National Trust backs Burnley's 'hidden gem' theatre

The crumbling facade of the building
The crumbling facade of the building
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The show may well go on for Burnley’s Empire Theatre with the news that the National Trust has lent its backing to plans to restore the historic venue.


The conservation organisation, which described the theatre as “a hidden gem”, has now joined the Theatres Trust and TheatreSearch in a campaign to bring the late-Victorian theatre back into use.

Ambitious plans were first mooted in 2015 when residents united to form the Burnley Empire Theatre Trust in aid of the abandoned cultural asset to raise awareness of its existence and prompt restoration.

The National Trust interest will be a welcome boost to the Trust which was disappointed earlier this year to discover that plans had been approved to create a cafe bar in the entrance foyer at the theatre, potentially putting at risk hopes of the venue re-opening as a theatre.

Last year a Viability Study revealed that a new use for the Empire as a multipurpose entertainment venue was viable and restorable through a phased and incremental project based within the community and with training at its core.

BETT member Shaun McCree said: “The task ahead will be far from easy but it can be done and theatres in far worse condition have been brought back to life and naturally regenerated the areas surrounding them.

“It has taken almost three years to build a credible campaign along with awareness to attract likeminded support. Having the National Trust onboard with the campaign is a great asset for the future of the Burnley Empire and town.

“It is very important that the building is secured as soon as possible. If the building was to be listed for auction at some point before new ownership is established, and were it to be bought by a speculator it could lie unused for another decade or so as it did before due to it’s nature and value as a Grade II Listed building.”

Matt Doran, head of External Partnerships Team at National Trust, said: “The Empire is a real hidden gem in the heart of Burnley. We want to work with others to explore how the restoration and future use of this wonderful building can be achieved. Success would give a real boost to that part of town and give Burnley a unique venue.”

The auditorium

The auditorium

Tom Stickland, theatres adviser at Theatres Trust, said: "Projects of the scale of Burnley Empire’s restoration are never straightforward but we are encouraged by the number of key local and national stakeholders working together to support this theatre. While it remains a Theatre at Risk, we hope a long-term sustainable solution can be found to reopen this historic space."

For further information about the campaign follow online @BurnleyEmpire or email saveme@burnleyempiretheatretrust.co.uk

Burnley Borough Council has previously stated that there are no funds available to demolish the building although the council is currently responsible for the building.

Costs for demolition are estimated from £2.4m., similar to the figure originally estimated for the recent demolition of the Futurist Theatre in Scarborough. Those costs have spiralled from £2m. and are currently in excess of £4.7m.

The Burnley Empire was built in 1894 and redesigned by renowned theatre designer and architect Bertie Crewe in 1911. The auditorium of the building is architecturally unique and its heritage value is irreplaceable. This is the only venue of its kind in East Lancashire and one of very few examples still standing across the UK.

A view of the seating area

A view of the seating area