The derelict Burnley Empire Theatre has been subjected to a “sinister act of vandalism” just days after a fundraising appeal was launched for the restoration of the venue.
According to the Burnley Empire Trust, a group working to restore the theatre, the incident was a “deliberate and coordinated attempt to cause as much criminal damage as possible to the interior”.
The 1,200-seat Burnley Empire Theatre has been disused for 20 years and is ranked at number 11 on the Theatres Trust’s Theatres at Risk 2020 register.
In April last year, it was announced that the Burnley Empire Trust would begin a long-term restoration project of the building, aided by a £44,000 grant from the National Lottery.
On July 8, the Burnley Empire Trust launched a £10,000 fundraising appeal to kick-start essential works to the building.
However, the vandalism took place just days later, and the Burnley Empire Trust is urging anyone with information to contact the police.
Burnley Empire Trust director Shaun McCree said: “We are saddened to have to report that there has been a break-in at the Burnley Empire and that serious damage has been carried out inside.
“We don’t believe that this was the work of over-enthusiastic urban explorers but a deliberate and coordinated attempt to cause as much criminal damage as possible to the interior and interfere with our ongoing restoration, just days after we launched our fundraising appeal.”
Theatres Trust architecture adviser Claire Appleby said: “It’s devastating to hear of a further break-in at the Empire, a building on our Theatres at Risk Register, particularly after the fantastic amount of support shown by the public around Burnley Empire Trust’s current fundraising campaign.
“This latest break-in, unlike previous times, appears to be a wanton act of vandalism – a wilful and determined attack on the theatre with the sole purpose of causing damage.
“We continue to stress that not only are people who enter the Empire putting their own lives at risk but that damage caused to a listed building by an unauthorised person, such as in this instance, is classed as criminal damage.”
Appleby said police had been informed and the council had been made aware of the situation.