Asbestos discovery brings curtain down on Burnley Empire Theatre open day

Burnley Empire Theatre
Burnley Empire Theatre

An eagerly anticipated opportunity to see inside Burnley's former Empire Theatre has had to be cancelled due to the discovery of asbestos.

Burnley Empire Theatre Trust, which now owns the iconic building, had planned to give guided tours of the once popular venue as part of the Heritage Open Days event on September 22nd, however the discovery means it would not have been safe for the public.

The news will come as a blow to many enthusiasts looking forward to seeing the interior of thegrand old building for the first time in many years.

James Woolgrove, project safety advisor, reported to BET Directors that the team of professional surveyors appointed by Burnley Empire Trust had identified the presence of asbestos in a number of areas of the building.

The panels that boxed off the old benches in the circle had been badly damaged by vandals who broke into the building some months ago which had exposed the asbestos insulation board. As such, the debris from these vandalised board is scattered about the circle, balcony and stall of the former theatre.

Mr Woolgrove said: “Unfortunately the actions of a few people before BET took ownership has now led to the building being unsafe for the public to entre at this time.”

Survey work continues in areas that are not contaminated and plans are being drawn up to decontaminate the building and stop the rain from entering.

These plans and fund-raising to make them happen will be the next stage in bringing the building back to life.

Sophie Gibson, BET chairman, said: “We are all disappointed by the news of the recent findings but safety of the public and all those working on the building are of paramount importance as always.

"We’ve had such an overwhelming amount of interest for the open day and everyone has been incredibly supportive. We are grateful for the public's continued support and the expertise of the survey team. We will continue with an event at One Sixty but without the site visit sadly.

"All those who had booked tickets for the visit have now been informed by email and we will honour their visit as soon as it’s safe to do so.

"We are pleased, however, that the public will still have a chance to discuss the present and future progress as we take this as an opportunity to truly celebrate the progress and achievements of the project. In true BET spirit the show must go on.

"Thanks to One Sixty café on St James's Street who will continue to host them for Heritage Open Days this Sunday, between 11am and 3pm. The public can still meet with BET and talk about the progress of the project, and view new photographs, copies of the original plans as well as brand new unseen video footage of the interior of the Empire.

Meanwhile, the Trust is hosting a magical 125th birthday celebration of the Empire in November at Burnley Football Cub, tickets for which will be available shortly.