Morecambe Winter Gardens comedy triumph but cold was no joke

Crowds at the Morecambe Winter Gardens had to wrap up warm to see Lancaster comedian Jon Richardson. Picture by Andy Cruxton.
Crowds at the Morecambe Winter Gardens had to wrap up warm to see Lancaster comedian Jon Richardson. Picture by Andy Cruxton.

It was the Winter Gardens’ biggest comedy event for more than 30 years and it was a roaring success – but the cold temperatures were no laughing matter.

Comedian Jon Richardson, from Lancaster, and guests hosted the comedy show in aid of Lancaster St John’s Hospice on Saturday.

Matt Forde, Pete Firman, Angela Barnes,  Lucy Beaumont and Jon Richardson. Picture by Andy Cruxton.

Matt Forde, Pete Firman, Angela Barnes, Lucy Beaumont and Jon Richardson. Picture by Andy Cruxton.

Yet the lack of heating meant hundreds had to wrap up very warm for the two hour shows at 3pm and 8pm, prompting many complaints from audience members and Jon Richardson himself.

Temporary portable gas blowers were used during the show but these had to be turned off when audience members began to arrive due to health and safety rules.

The Morecambe Winter Gardens Preservation Trust has been trying to secure heating for months but has had to overcome many hurdles.

The Trust was due to receive electric heaters from Wakins Hire Limited for a reduced price of £15,000 but this has now fallen through due to the planning application delay.

The blower used during the show. Picture by Andy Cruxton.

The blower used during the show. Picture by Andy Cruxton.

Evelyn Archer, chairman of the Winter Gardens, said an alternative heating system would cost the theatre £50,000 which they cannot currently afford.

The planning application to install two external heaters and an oil tank has been delayed due to objections from English Heritage and The Theatres Trust.

English Heritage disagree with proposals to feed a duct through the wall to heat the 700 seater auditorium saying it would “permanently scar” the Grade II* building.

They are also worried the creation of an oil tank off site would not be properly secured and said their proposals were a “very ugly and intrusive temporary solution”.

The Theatres Trust said plans are likely to create a “visual intrusion” and recommended a meeting at the theatre to look at alternatives.

But the planning delay has meant no heating has been made available during the theatre’s performances over the past few months.

This has resulted in the open-flame blowers being used in the meantime.Mrs Archer said: “It is frustrating. We were expecting to have the heating in but English Heritage are blocking it.

“They’re stopping us putting a hole through the wall even though we have got planning permission for the fire door and the new toilets. English Heritage are not doing anything to help us.”

Audience members and Jon Richardson noticed the blowers were not on during the performance as temperatures began to drop.

Mrs Archer said the entire situation left her feeling “frustrated”.

She said: “We can’t leave blowers on while there is an audience due to the gas and health and safety, the fire department has advised us.

“I felt awful because I sat in the audience myself, I was aware of the cold.

“People were asking me to put blowers on but I said It was out of my hands.”

David Morris, Morecambe and Lunesdale MP, said: “I am really disappointed that English Heritage are being so obstructive in the regeneration of the Winter Gardens.

“Evelyn and the Trust are doing a fantastic job with the work and putting on shows again at all times of the year.

“I will be requesting a meeting with the Head of English Heritage in the North West and inviting Evelyn along to ensure that the top priority for English Heritage is getting the building to a workable state with heating for the performances.”

The planning application for the Morecambe Winter Gardens is still being considered.

Morecambe Winter Gardens trustees will be holding a meeting to discuss their next move.