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SOLT publication calls for more protection of London’s historic theatres

A report published by urban design specialists Publica and commissioned by Society of London Theatres (SOLT) has revealed the needs of London’s historic theatres that must be addressed, in order to continue their recovery post-pandemic. 

‘A Call to Action – Securing the Future of London’s Theatres’ highlights the operational and access requirements of the theatre industry in London, and is calling for more protection of this cultural heritage. 

The report found that London’s theatres play a crucial role in the English capital, providing over 20,000 jobs and contributing almost £133m (€157m/$180m) in annual VAT to the UK Treasury. 

Further findings included the often-overlooked physical requirements of the day-to-day running of a theatre such as get-ins, changeovers, public and private events, box office operations and building maintenance. Councils and developers regularly fail to understand these requirements, the report said.

The document is a result of consultation between SOLT members and the Theatres Trust, during workshops, surveys and site visits between 2019 and 2021. 

It has been addressed to a wide range of stakeholders including Members of Parliament (MPs), local authorities, the Greater London Authority (GLA), Transport for London (TfL), London’s Business Improvement Districts, landowners and developers. 

SOLT chief executive Julian Bird said: “With the pandemic having placed huge strain on the theatre sector, resulting in millions of pounds of lost income and threatening the livelihoods of our workforce – compounded by Brexit issues around international movement of goods and talent – our theatres today face greater challenges than ever before.” 

Bird added: “Theatres are not just cultural hubs – they are historic landmarks, economic powerhouses and drivers to surrounding tourism, retail and hospitality businesses. They are also 24-hour buildings with a unique set of needs. This landmark report tells us that without active engagement and collaboration between politicians, placemakers and the theatre sector, we are at risk of losing these incredibly valuable assets.” 

An event was held yesterday (Thursday) at London’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane to mark the launch of the document, with SOLT president Eleanor Lloyd and CEO Bird joined by Deputy Mayor for Culture and the Creative Industries, Justine Simons. 

Simons said: “London is home to the world’s best theatres but the pandemic has had a catastrophic impact on the whole industry. Theatre will play a crucial role in London’s social and economic recovery, attracting visitors from across the world as well as supporting the economy as a whole. Which is why today’s call to action couldn’t be more timely or urgent.”

Image: Benjamin Davies on Unsplash