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Future of Charles Cryer Studio Theatre at risk under council plans

The Charles Cryer Studio Theatre in Sutton
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Sutton Council is looking to resurrect the embattled Charles Cryer Studio Theatre as a commercial venture, in a move that lead to it no longer being used as an arts venue.

While the council “has not ruled out an arts or performance-based use” for the south London venue, it has said there is potential for the main theatre and its workshop building to be “put to alternative uses subject to planning consent”.

Advocacy organisation the Theatres Trust has said that expectations of a commercial rent for the 125-seat theatre are “unreasonable”, and instead believes the theatre should be let at a “peppercorn” rate as a performing arts venue if it is no longer run by the council.

The Trust has stressed that it will oppose applications to change the use of the building while there is “such clear demand for a theatre from the local community”.

In August 2014, London Borough of Sutton Council announced plans to close the Secombe Theatre and Charles Cryer Studio Theatre as part of council budget cuts.

South London theatres in Sutton face closure from 2015

Following a public consultation, the council invited bids to run the theatres, with Sutton Theatres Trust announced to take over both venues on a ten year lease in January 2016. However, in August 2016, Sutton Theatres Trust went into administration and the two theatres went dark.

The decision to market the Charles Cryer Studio, which is on the Theatres Trust Theatre Buildings at Risk Register, follows the council’s rejection of proposals from a community group to operate the theatre, citing the council’s need for a higher rental return.

A statement released by the Theatres Trust said: “These are challenging times for local authorities and they are under tight financial pressures, however the expectation of a profit from a community facility is concerning.

“The theatre was previously operated directly by the council for which they will not have received a surplus, therefore the provision of a theatre at a peppercorn rent would be an appropriate response if the council no longer wished to run the service directly.”

The statement added that any new theatre operator may face “significant fit-out costs”, as all the theatre equipment within both venues was sold off when Sutton Theatres Trust went into administration.

Tom Stickland, advisor at Theatres Trust, said: “We want areas like the London Borough of Sutton to be liveable places, with opportunities for its community to experience culture. While we appreciate the pressures that local authorities are under, total loss of all the theatres in an area will have a long term impact and should be avoided.”

A spokesman from Sutton Council claimed the council had “spent many months” trying to establish whether a performance use could be sustained at the Charles Cryer Studio.

“Despite considerable time and effort by the Council and interested parties, it became clear that subsidy would be needed and there was no budget. The council is very aware of the significance of the theatre to the arts community but in these straitened times has to consider the wider picture,” he said.

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