Byre Theatre may temporarily re-open but no solution for long-term future

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The Byre Theatre may re-open temporarily for a number of special events next year but the long-term future of the theatre looks bleak.

On Wednesday 6 November, local community members met with Grant Ward, head of leisure and cultural service for Fife council, to discuss the future of the theatre.

Around 140 invited guests from groups who use the Byre were invited to hear the update on what is happening with the theatre.

Mr Ward gave some hope for supporters of the theatre: “We are talking to StAnza and the Jazz Festival about the possibility – and that’s all it is – for big events like that are critically reliant on The Byre to deliver the events that they want to deliver to see if it might be feasible to do a short-term arrangement with each of those early next year, February and March. Beyond that it’s highly unlikely that we could get it to stack up for wider community use.

The reason why we’re looking at those two particular events is because they are of a strategic importance both to St Andrews and Fife in terms of what they do for profile.”

The Byre, on Abbey Street, had been struggling to make a profit for a number of years. Problems increased after the removal of the annual grant from the former Scottish Arts Council in 2011. Despite staff cuts, a decrease in the amount of shows and attempts to increase the number of volunteers working in the Byre, the theatre was finally forced to close its doors in January last year.

A Save the Byre social media campaign was launched and supported by students and the local community but a solution to the problem has yet to be found.

At the meeting, Moira Cockburn, from Friends of the Byre, described the last nine months as “difficult for anyone associated with the Byre.”

The groups discussed options for funding, including talks about a £100,000 funding offer for three years from Creative Scotland. However, this would pinch the Fife Cultural Trust’s annual budget by almost £1.5 million.

Many also see the University of St Andrews as a source of funds but Ward stressed that the Council would prefer to look for a viable option with Fife Cultural Trust and Creative Scotland.

Ward also faced anger over the absence of sufficient cost information given to the community. Without this information, it is difficult to start fundraising for the theatre.

Ms Cockburn responded to the criticism from the representative:

“Sorry that you feel let down by the committee. But as I said earlier, whilst the theatre was being wound up we wanted to wait – rightly or wrongly – but we wanted to know whether the Council was actually going to take over the theatre. And we also – rightly or wrongly – hesitated to run fundraising events until we knew the Council would be taking over and there would actually be the likelihood of a theatre to raise money for. Otherwise we’re raising money to stick in a bank account and sit there for no purpose. And then, if there was no theatre being opened, what happens to the money?”

Discussions for how to find a long-term solution for the popular theatre will continue into the new year.

With thanks to Adrian Wale of the Byre writers group. 

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