Plans to lead Morecambe’s Winter Gardens into a “great and creative future” are under way with the launch of the theatre’s new board of trustees.
The Morecambe Winter Gardens Preservation Trust Ltd was formed in 2006 in order to purchase the building – which last month was named as one of the most ‘at risk’ in the UK.
Along with the Friends of the Winter Gardens, the group aims to restore the theatre to its former glories.
But following a difficult year, during which founder member Evelyn Archer passed away, the trust now has a new board who are looking to reach out to the town for their support.
Acting interim chair of trustees Prof Vanessa Toulmin was first appointed to the trust in 2017, along with Susan Lomax and Martin Shenton. And as the new board members they now hope to take the theatre forward into a profitable future.
“There’s a very positive future but we need a more formal structure to take it forward,” she said.
“We want to take it forward and reflect on what’s required, what type of events we can do.
“We are looking at bookings but we have got to be very honest with people that there’s no heating.
“The building is in a very good state, I was impressed, but it’s very cold.
“We are still open and taking bookings but mostly for later in the year.”
Prof Toulmin said the board now hopes to work with outside bodies, including Lancaster City Council, the Eden Project, Historic England and the Theatres Trust.
“The Friends and volunteers have done an amazing job but we still need support, possibly even more so now,” she said.
“We are gratified that the Theatres Trust have both highlighted the importance of Morecambe Winter Gardens and its potential as a sustainable working space.
“Due to the fantastic work of the Friends for the past 20 years we are on the verge of enabling a great and creative future.
“We welcome the support of heritage professionals, the local authority and the love and passion of our friends and volunteers to help us take the next steps.”
Prof Toulmin said she also wants the local community to have their say.
“I want to invite people to say what they want the theatre to be,” she said. “I want it to be the town’s vision and to include as many people as possible to join in the discussions. We want to listen and talk to people. “We are trying to be really open and transparent. It’s an amazing achievement that the theatre still exists but it can’t be a mausoleum. It will never return to the golden age because that’s gone now so we have to think about what people want to use it for.
“We are looking for partnerships and for people to engage with us but the priority for me is that the costs of the building are covered for the foreseeable future.
“We have got to look at an effective programme that doesn’t cost the theatre money.
“I look forward to doing creative things but at the moment it’s all about the accounting.”
A funding bid was put forward last month to Coastal Communities, to help pay for heating to be installed in the theatre.
Prof Toulmin said this could help boost visitor numbers from 10,000 to 25,000.
“It’s a long and complicated process and there’s no guarantee, but if we don’t succeed then we will try again,” she said.
“We are at a time when public funding is at its worst, but we are very committed and I will listen to everyone who has an idea for the building.
“We want to get a vision of what people want the building to be and we invite people to be part of that.”
Prof Toulmin grew up in Morecambe, attending St Mary’s Primary School and then Our Lady’s Catholic College.
A lot of her family still lives in the town and she visits often.
“I am a local girl, my family ran the Winter Gardens fairground and a guest house as I was growing up,” she said.
“I travel a lot for work but I have never seen anything as beautiful than Morecambe Bay.”
Prof Toulmin now works at Sheffield University as a professor of entertainment history – and has written 14 books on the subject – but previously worked for Blackpool Council, including on the town’s own Winter Gardens.
“I love the Winter Gardens and I know the building well, but what I have to think about is how we work with partners for the future of the building and that’s really exciting,” she said.
“Ultimately the most important thing is making sure the theatre and its contents are preserved, and to safeguard, protect and advance the theatre as a building.”
*If you feel like you can help make a difference, you can get involved and join more than 200 Friends of the Winter Gardens.
Simply pop into the Winter Gardens and pick up a membership form.
Once you’re a member, you could be called upon to help out as and when you’re available. You’ll receive a regular newsletter or email to keep you updated of all the goings on at the venue.
You’ll also be invited to attend the annual AGM, the first of which is on Sunday March 24 at 2pm.
Please note, the AGMs are not public meetings and therefore only members may attend.