Actors Centre North to close

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Actors Centre North is to close this month after more than 20 years of operation, blaming a lack of funding and a drop in attendances at its classes.

The Manchester-based company, which has had a variety of incarnations since its formation in 1986, said that it had “come to the conclusion we must close our doors” because its funding had now “all but ceased”.

It added that it had suffered a decline in revenues because attendance levels at its classes had fallen, revealing that several workshops it had arranged had been withdrawn owing to insufficient bookings.

Company chair Malcolm Raeburn told The Stage that ACN had been “trying to defy gravity for a good period of time and trying to find every which way we could to keep it going”.

But he said: “It has been increasingly difficult to obtain grant funding, and at the same time, while the workshops we ran were enthusiastically received, people just do not have the money to spend on their professional development, or feel that they don’t because they are anxious about the future.”

Raeburn added: “We suffered a pincer movement of both income streams being squeezed and we got to the point where we felt it would not be honourable to carry on not knowing how much longer we could do it. So we decided to close while we could still repay anybody who is owed money rather than leave people in the lurch.”

The centre’s financial problems stretch back to 2005, when an application it made to Arts Council England for funding proved unsuccessful.

At that point, it was rescued by its then core funders, including major broadcasters such as Channel 4 and the BBC, with the Corporation’s then director of drama and entertainment, Alan Yentob, praising the centre’s activities for “delivering high-quality continuing professional development”.

However, the organisation said its financial support from these funders had stopped in recent years, with money mainly coming from union Equity and the Equity Charitable Trust.

Raeburn also said there were “more private providers” in the north of England now, which he said had also put pressure on the centre.

ACN was opened by Joan Littlewood in 1986, when it was known as Manchester Actors Centre, before it became the Northern Actors Centre and later Actors Centre North.

Its patrons include former Coronation Street actresses Sarah Lancashire and Shobna Gulati.

Although it is independent of the Actors Centre in London, Raeburn said the two organisations had exchanged ideas over the years and had discussed merging when ACN’s problems came to light.

“It may be in the future that, if the economic climate ever cheers up, someone else will spring up in the north independently anyway, or the Actors Centre will do more outreach in this part of the country,” he said.