Taunton groups link up to save Brewhouse

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Local groups in Taunton have joined forces to make a bid to run the Brewhouse Theatre as a performing arts venue.

Recently formed group Tone Theatre Association, led by councillors Eddie Gaines and Steve Ross, has linked up with Taunton Association of Performing Arts – led by former leader of the local council and founder member of the Brewhouse John Meikle – alongside other community groups to present a joint bid to administrator BDO, which is in charge of the building.

The Somerset venue went into administration last month citing funding cuts for its closure, with visiting companies claiming they were owed thousands of pounds in fees.

Taunton Deane Borough Council, which owns the land the Brewhouse Theatre is on, has also made a bid to secure the remaining 61-year leasehold for the venue but has said it would need an organisation to operate the theatre.

The unified proposal from the groups, now known as The Association, includes plans for a paid workforce consisting of a core of professionals such as an artistic director, finance director and technical staff, and volunteers. This set-up would be similar to how the theatre was run when it opened in 1977.

The programme would comprise mainly of professional shows with some amateur productions and the organisation would look to rename the theatre.

Long-term plans include expanding the 352-seat theatre to attract top touring companies and creating a wider music programme.

The council has agreed to continue to provide its annual subsidy of £152,000 to the theatre if the new operator can produce a viable business plan.

Gaines said The Association would need this subsidy to begin with but would want to wean itself off council funding over the next few years.

He said revenue would be raised through ticket sales, enlarging the audience base and hosting additional events such as a regular flea market to increase the venue’s footfall.

Gaines said: “Theatre and the arts are currently homeless in Taunton. There are other venues but they have less capacity. If you have a theatre of 300-plus seats you can do much more.

“The Association is being set up to look after the interests of all arts and theatre on the River Tone. I’ve seen many great productions at the Brewhouse in the past that made me think about the world around me and I’d like to use may managerial expertise and knowledge of charities to support that in the future.”

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