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Derelict Burnley Empire could be given new lease of life as music venue

Inside the derelict Empire Theatre in Burnley. Photo: Fragglehunter Inside the derelict Empire Theatre in Burnley. Photo: Fragglehunter
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Burnley’s Empire Theatre could be transformed into a music venue and club.

Ranked among the most at risk theatres in 2016 by the Theatres Trust, the Empire has lain disused for the past 20 years.

More than 1,500 local residents signed a petition to save it in 2015, with the Theatres Trust commissioning a viability study to assess the future of the building.

Stage one of the study found that it was possible to restore the grade II-listed building, but it was not viable to restore it as a traditional theatre.

Now the second stage of a viability study has found that the Empire could be developed into a community business, comprising a music venue and club, a space for artists, and a venue to be used by the community.

According to the study, carried out by Bonnar Keenlyside and Theatresearch over the past 18 months, the former theatre could be restored and developed in stages over several years, with the first step to form a Building Preservation Trust to take over responsibility for the building. It is currently under the jurisdiction of the Queen’s private estate, the Duchy of Lancaster, but the study suggests that several different organisations could come together to form the preservation trust.

Burnley Council has said it would welcome the building becoming operational once more, but is not willing to take on the financial risk of restoring the theatre.

In a statement published online, the council said: “The council would be pleased to see the local group bring the theatre back into use. However, the council would not be able to commit capital or revenue funding to the building and its operation”.

The council added: “The viability study does not present a compelling case for the council to risk significant financial resources, which are scarce and which could be invested in different projects that would be more beneficial in terms of developing jobs, employment and Burnley’s cultural offer.”

Burnley Council said that it would still welcome a viable community operation or partnership operation within the Burnley Empire, so long as it did not compete with Burnley Mechanics theatre and would not require funding from the council.

The viability report suggests that it would cost £2 million for the building to be demolished if a viable future for the building was not agreed, which is a cost the council could be required to meet.

Claire Appleby, architecture adviser at the Theatres Trust, said: “The Burnley Empire Viability Study has been vital in establishing that there is a clear opportunity and a viable future use for this significant building, that can not only protect the building, but that will breathe new life into an important piece of local history, as well as bring economic benefits to the area.

“The proposals are innovative and will provide a great opportunity for local heritage skills education and vocational training for young people.

“We are just at the start of what will be an incredible journey for the Empire and look forward to continuing working with the stakeholder group to develop new partnerships and to drive this project forward.”

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