The spiralling losses of our ‘crown jewel’

A BOLD plan to tackle mounting losses at the treasured Royal Hall has been revealed by the chairman of Harrogate Theatre.

The theatre hopes to take over the 1,000-seat venue from Harrogate International Centre (HIC) in April, as Harrogate Council searches for a solution to the hall’s problems, following a £365,000 loss last year.

Coun Jim Clark told the Advertiser that the Royal Hall, which reopened in 2008 after a £10.7m overhaul, would host more performances and boast a panel to protect the interests of community groups.

The move would also safeguard the venue’s future, he said, while providing the chance for improved marketing, frequent exhibitions and the possibility of Easter and Christmas festivals.

“My view is that the Royal Hall is unique,” Coun Clark said. “It’s really a national treasure and a tremendous community asset for the whole of the Harrogate district.

“My vision is that people will have the benefit of a Victorian theatre and an Edwardian Kursaal - or Royal Hall - and that they will work together, creating a thriving programme of cultural and entertainment events vital for the future of Harrogate.

“At the moment it’s a council liability and we have got to turn that round. It would be disastrous now if we had to mothball it, having done all the work.”

The director of HIC, Angus Houston, said this week that the drain of the Royal Hall was taking HIC away from its core business.

He said 40 per cent of the HIC’s losses were down to the Royal Hall. “Ultimately that cost has to be absorbed somewhere,” he said.

“The Royal Hall is the jewel in the crown, and we want to do the very best for it. But we simply don’t have the expertise to run it. We must have a solution quickly, and use expertise which is already on our doorstep.

“We want to keep it close to the town, and we would never consider ‘hiving it off’ to some unknown organisation. It has a key role in the community and that will be maintained.”

The theatre assumed responsibility for the Royal Hall’s box office this month. It is now compiling a bid to take over the running of the venue, which will be considered by Harrogate Council in September.

If the theatre is granted “preferred status”, it will discuss with the council how much money the authority plans to put into the venue, then spend six months consulting the community before taking charge in April.

“We would hope to engage with the community and all the community users to make sure that it is a community asset and can be used by the groups that use it at the moment,” he said.

The Royal Hall would become the base for the Harrogate International Festival and feature a busier year-round programme, as the theatre management used the skills they have acquired in “transforming” that venue.

Coun Clark said he would only take on the challenge if he could ensure it would not jeopardise the fortunes of the 500-capacity theatre, which has made a profit for a fifth consecutive year.

“I have absolute faith that we can make a go of this,” he added.

“We know how to run a theatre in Harrogate.”

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