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Burnley Empire gets critical green light in viability study

Inside the derelict Empire Theatre in Burnley. Photo: Fragglehunter Inside the derelict Empire Theatre in Burnley. Photo: Fragglehunter
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Burnley’s derelict Empire Theatre could become a functioning venue once more after a viability study confirmed it was possible to restore it.

The news has been hailed as a “big moment” by a campaign group that is aiming to restore and reopen the theatre, which has been dark for more than 20 years, with the help of the local community.

The Empire Theatre became the fifth most at-risk theatre building in the UK earlier this year, rising 17 places up the Theatres Trust’s annual ranking.

Burnley Empire Theatre Trust was bolstered with funding from the Theatres Trust and the local council to get the study up and running – after one councillor claimed the theatre was in the “last chance saloon”.

Welcoming the positive findings, BETT acting chair Shaun McCree said the study paved the way for a second, more in-depth viability study.

This will involve a full architectural analysis, an outline of possible funding strategies for a restoration, and ideas for how the theatre could be operated.

“We originally had to agree that if they said there was no possibility of it being restored, that was the end of the project. However, despite the fact that it’s not easy to find the way forward, they’ve found ways,” McCree said.

He added: “A year ago today I was sharing the petition to get people involved… it’s been a remarkably eventful year, let’s put it that way. I don’t think any of us anticipated being where we are now. But it is a big moment.”

After being given the green light, the second half of the viability study is expected to go ahead in the new year.

While McCree said any restoration would take several years, he confirmed the trust hoped to open the building before it was fully refurbished to host some theatre and other performances.

“As soon as possible in some way shape or form we want to open the doors and see it as a venue again, but whether it’s only part of the building we’ll have to wait and see,” he said.

In October the building was put up for auction after a misunderstanding between BETT and the Crown Estate, which owns the abandoned building by default. It was later removed.

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