2.1 East Riding of Yorkshire Council
The Council has determined as part of a rationalisation of its capital assets that the Picture Playhouse is surplus to its requirements and therefore wishes to dispose of the building. In the spring of 2003 it invited expressions of interest in all or part of the building and indicative bids to take it over, including the option of freehold or leasehold purchase.
Elected members of the Council indicated at that time that they were likely to have a preference for proposals which maintained a premier entertainment venue for Beverley. However, the Council stated that it would consider proposals for alternative uses.
The building lies within the development limit of Beverley as defined in the Local Plan in an area termed the Secondary Shopping Zone within the Town’s Central Shopping Area. This is a Conservation Area. In planning terms its usage is defined as a cinema or concert hall. Certain changes of use for leisure purposes (e.g. casino, dance hall, bingo hall) would not require a change in planning status. The Council has indicated that change of use might be considered acceptable.
The Council received a variety of expressions of interest, including proposals to retain the building for arts and entertainment use and others aimed at converting it into a retailing or catering outlet. The Council assessed the bids and shortlisted five submissions. It concluded that the majority of those wishing to retain the building with a high degree of arts and entertainment usage preferred short leases and would require Council subsidy. They were not therefore shortlisted.
It agreed that the preferred option was to offer the building to an independent or commercial operator on a 125 year premium lease.
2.2 Beverley Arts Context
Beverley has a variety of arts festivals which are held in the town, all of which bring professional performers to the town and attract visitors from outside Beverley. These consist of:
Beverley and East Riding Folk Festival – a nationally established festival with attenders from all over the UK and abroad, presented over a weekend (3-4 days) in June using several venues in the town but with main concerts at the Playhouse.
Beverley Chamber Music Festival – a well established festival over 3-4 days which uses St Mary’s Church and Longcroft School.
Beverley and East Riding Early Music Festival – presented over 3 -4 days in May with performances at the Minster and in churches
Beverley Comedy Festival – a new addition to the festival scene in 2003 lasting a week with performances at Longcroft School and other venues, including the Playhouse
Beverley Jazz Festival – presented over 4 days in September at the Playhouse and Nellie’s (a popular pub also used by other festivals)
Beverley Literature Festival – lasting ten days in October, using St Mary’s Parish Hall and various other venues including the Picture Playhouse
Other live arts activities consist of:
· Classical concerts presented by the East Riding of Yorkshire Council at the Methodist Church
· Other live performances and events promoted by the Council
· Amateur operatic and theatre performances presented at the Memorial Hall or at other venues
· Performing arts workshops run by the Arts Development Service at the Memorial Hall
It is evident from the above that the town’s festivals provide the backbone of live arts provision in Beverley. They also support the local economy by attracting visitors in to the town, including people who stay in the area for several days during particular festivals, and supporting the town’s evening economy.
It is noticeable however that the Playhouse is not used as a venue by all of the festivals and that its prime importance is as a venue for the Folk Festival. Despite its importance to the Folk Festival as a central focus and venue, only six of the 18 main concerts in 2003 and four of the twelve concerts in 2001 were held at the Playhouse. (They were however on some occasions held in parallel with other concerts therefore more than one venue was required at those times). Four of the festivals do not use the Playhouse at all.
All of the Festivals were invited to comment on the study and on facilities in Beverley. The following summarises some of their views:
· The Folk Festival sees the Playhouse as being of critical importance, particularly for its ambience, location, historic position in the town and acoustic
· the Playhouse is inadequate for the majority of festival needs in its present condition and would be in need of capital investment and re-design to improve its facilities if it is to continue to be available as an arts venue
· the Memorial Hall is a poor venue also in need of investment
· The Festivals strongly favour town centre locations
· With the exception of the Comedy Festival (which is promoted by the school) the Longcroft school site is viewed as a poor location by most of the festivals – the School Theatre is used reluctantly
· The proposed new Music and Dance Centre on the Longcroft school site would suffer the same locational disadvantages as the School Theatre as far as festivals are concerned
· Most of the festivals would use a refurbished Playhouse for some of their activities.
2.2.2 Local Amateur Societies
We consulted Beverley Amateur Operatic Society and Beverley Theatre Company, both of which use the Memorial Hall. The Hall was considered just about acceptable in its present condition, but in need of re-design and refurbishment. Neither group used the Playhouse as its facilities were inadequate, in particular the lack of a suitable stage and dressing rooms. Both indicated that they would be interested in using a refurbished and re-designed Playhouse with up to date technical and ancillary facilities.
2.2.3 Other Arts Provision
The Picture Playhouse was the town’s cinema. Since its closure there is no venue for film in Beverley. Though there is now a new multiplex cinema about five miles outside the town.
Other arts provision consists of participatory activity, dance, drama and music workshops, organised by East Riding of Yorkshire Council which caters largely for young people, and activities linked to educational establishments and the Schools Music Service, which bases its youth music activities at Longcroft School.
Overall arts activities are provided for all ages, but in terms of professional music provision, there is an emphasis towards the 40 plus age group. Cinema (which was presented at the Playhouse) tends to attract more young people. There may be a perception therefore that arts provision in Beverley caters largely for the older group.
There is however a strong case to be made for extending arts provision in the town to provide a greater range of performances and activities targeted at younger people. This would include different types of music, mainstream film, dance and theatre and activities engaging young people with new media.
In considering future venue requirements it is important that the needs of all the town’s residents are considered and that opportunities to expand provision and attract a wider range of audiences and participants are not ignored. Past provision is not always a reliable guide to the range of future provision which might be made available.
2.3 Tourism Overview
A study produced for East Riding of Yorkshire Council by YTB Research Services in 2001 provided a profile of tourism in Beverley and confirmed the importance of tourism to the town. Key points were:
· The overall value of tourism in Beverley in 2001 was estimated at £85.2 million of which £15.5 million related to overnight stays
· There were approximately 150,418 trips accounting for 453,290 overnight stays of which 269,285 were holiday visits
· There were approximately 2.3 million day trips
· Tourism supported an estimated 1,899 f.t.e. jobs of which 18% were in the attraction/entertainment sector (when part-time and seasonal workers are included the total number of jobs supported is 2,647
· 23% of those staying in the town stayed in local hotels
· 59% of tourism nights related to holiday stays
· There are 1,098 beds available in the hotel and guest house sector.
It is evident from the above study that tourism is of major economic importance to the town. Furthermore there is a high level of overnight stays and a large hotel and guest house sector which relies on tourism. The majority of overnight stays are by people on holiday.
The above figures carry implications for the town and its range of attractions. With over 450,000 overnight stays per annum, the evening economy and the town’s entertainment offer should be viewed as of critical importance. Arts and entertainment venues and festivals offer visitors a choice in terms of evening activity (and in the case of festivals daytime and weekend activity too) and can greatly enhance a visit to an area enriching the visitor experience. They can affect a visitor’s decision in terms of accommodation location.
It is important therefore that Beverley is able to offer a regular programme of evening entertainment, which should ideally include arts and cinema, in support of its tourism economy, as well as in providing for the local community.
2.4 East Riding Cultural Strategy 2003-2007
The Cultural Strategy provides a framework for cultural development in the East Riding including the performing arts and film. The Strategy includes the following aims and priorities of relevance to this study:
· Create local opportunities for artistic performances and develop venues
· Encourage active participation in culture
· Establish more localised facilities
· Promote and monitor increased use of existing facilities and develop new uses for appropriate redundant or empty buildings
· Enhance the ambience of facilities to encourage greater participation
· Upgrade tourist attractions and cultural amenities in the East Riding
· Support existing festivals and create new festivals and events where appropriate
· Support local ambitions for cultural and heritage developments.