Council steps in to save famed Scottish theatre from collapse

The council warned it cannot continue to hand money to Ayr's Gaiety Theatre <i>(Image: LDR)</i>
The council warned it cannot continue to hand money to Ayr's Gaiety Theatre (Image: LDR)

COUNCILLORS have agreed to help out Ayr’s Gaiety Theatre by giving them £150,000 this year – but have said that the council cannot continue to hand over money to keep it afloat.

Ayr Gaiety Partnership (AGP) said it needs £150,000 in each of the next three years and, would continue to require support in future years, in order to remain viable.

Over the last few years South Ayrshire Council has given thousands of pounds in grants to the famed venue, as well as a £650,000 loan at low-interest rates.

Prior to May’s local elections, the Gaiety’s chief executive Jeremy Wyatt had told councillors that they would not only need £450,000 to keep going for the next three years, but would need support for the foreseeable future.

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At March’s partnership panel, councillors opted to delay a decision on the request until after the election.

The council had given £335,000 to the Gaiety over the last three years, plus a further £200,000 in Covid recovery funds.

The request for support stated that, outside of cities, a standalone commercial theatre is not viable without other forms of income and financial support.

AGP also assured councillors that, in return for financial support, it would aim to bring in at least £10 for every £1 it receives in council funding, provide jobs, training and attract visitors to the area – saying it brought £1.8 million into the local economy each year.

Officers told councillors that they had been unable to identify money from existing budgets for the request.

Instead, it was agreed that the council would utilise £150,000 in Covid recovery money to provide support this year.

The request for funding in the next two years, 2023/24 and 2024/25 will be considered as part of the council’s budget in March.

Councillors also indicated they would support the suggestion that future funding would be on a reducing sliding scale.

Despite not receiving the full amount requested, Wyatt remained positive about the future, having seen this year’s pantomime lauded by leading arts outlet The Stage.

He said: “Naturally we welcome South Ayrshire Council’s continued investment in The Gaiety. Since we reopened the theatre 10 years ago the Council, having agreed to a strategic partnership investing £150,000 each year into the arts through the Gaiety, has been an essential partner in our journey.

“For our part we continue to focus on delivering the best possible value for our community – today’s five-star review in The Stage for this year’s pantomime, Sleeping Beauty, being a testament to our success in doing this.

“It’s very encouraging that we are now discussing again the long-term future of the theatre within the Council’s budget – a continuing and necessary investment into the arts and the partnership, as we emerge from the fraught times of the last two and a half years.”

At the Cabinet meeting, Councillor Alec Clark said: “We have got to understand the importance of the Ayr Gaiety Partnership to the cultural output of not just Ayr but the whole of South Ayrshire.

“The important thing about this particular request is that it will help them to lever in other funding. Think that is very important.

"It is imperative that, perhaps through the Destination South Ayrshire team, we engage with officers of Gaiety to take forward their business strategy in the right direction.

“It would be a huge loss if the Gaiety were to go under.”

Councillor Bob Pollock said: “The Gaiety needs to come up with a viable business plan. We cannot continue to support them ad infinitum.”

Councillor Pollock also suggested that the AGP provide more information on the benefits it can bring to the council and to the town centre, in terms of increasing footfall.

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He added that if this was lacking, it would call the plans for the venue into question.

Depute leader Lee Lyons proposed that the council use uncommitted Covid recovery money to support the AGP this year.

He said: “The Gaiety is probably best described as being in a fragile state, where they can come to us at any time needing funding.

“I think the time has probably come that we would really need to sit down with them and use them as the resource they are.”