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YOUR NEWS – Beckenham at the End of the Line

YOUR NEWS – Beckenham at the End of the Line

Founded in 1948, asbestos signals the end of 73-year-old amateur theatre venue

By Paul Johnson

One of the saddest stories I have come across in recent times concerns the demise of Beckenham’s intimate 47-seat theatre situated on the crossroad junction of Bromley Road, Manor Road and Wickham Road.
Around fifteen years ago I personally appeared in three plays over a twelve-month period at BTC, and I loved every minute of it. Cut to 2021 and Covid is not the big problem; the enemy within is asbestos.
However, there maybe some light at the end of the tunnel. Members of BTC are determined to continue despite the harrowing diagnosis, at a new premises.
Earlier this year, Malcolm Jones, Chairman of Beckenham Theatre Trustees issued the following message via the theatre’s website:
“As many of you who attended last December’s AGM and the EGM in 2019 will know, the theatre has been struggling recently in many ways. COVID has, of course, had a huge impact on BTC. We have been closed for a year and it is still unclear on a date when we could re-open without social distancing.
“But for a longer time than COVID has been around, we have had to cope with the problems of declining membership and a failing building. We need a substantial injection of money to deal with the needs of the building survey originally undertaken in 2018. We exist in an environment in which many local amateur theatres are struggling with issues of membership and audiences.
“As was explained at the AGM, before attempting to fundraise for the money needed to repair and update the building, we needed to know the basic structure of the theatre was sound. Unfortunately, an asbestos survey found that we had asbestos in several places. The worst affected area is the cellar which has brown asbestos which, alongside blue asbestos, is considered the most dangerous type. As our Gas and Electricity supplies are in the cellar, this caused further problems as utility companies will not go into the cellar to disconnect our supplies for work to begin. This meant a substantially more expensive cost of working from the street to disconnect.
“As a consequence, the cost of removing the asbestos was moving towards £20,000, and this was before any reinstatement costs were taken into account, which meant the Trustees have had to make the difficult decision about whether this was a responsible way to use the theatre’s capital, especially considering in the last two or three years we have suffered from falling membership and audiences and falling numbers volunteering to act, direct and work backstage. That said, the children’s and youth theatres are still thriving.
“We also spoke at the AGM about the various options open to us, which include selling the land to a developer who will incorporate a community space in the new build (this would give us less money but a possible space to perform in in two years’ time, although not a like-for-like theatre) or simply selling the land to achieve the most money we can from the site.
“We are still awaiting full costs in order to make a final decision but, so as not to stand still and to try to be positive in the situation we find ourselves in, we are having presentations from three estate agents later this month who will explain how we will go about selling the land on which the theatre stands.
“In the meantime, in accordance with the membership’s wishes at the 2019 EGM, we are also investigating the best method of setting up a Trust Fund to use any monies from the sale of the land responsibly and to form a lasting and positive legacy for Beckenham Theatre.
“If the theatre is to sell the land, it does not necessarily mean the end of Beckenham Theatre. There is still money to allow the children’s and youth theatres to hire premises so they can continue and for adult productions to take place elsewhere if there is enthusiasm for this.
“In the end, we need to remember that BTC is not just a social club but a legally registered Charity and we, as Trustees, must be able to report to Companies House and the Charities Commission about our decisions and demonstrate due diligence as Trustees on how we manage the Charities assets, both financial and physical.
“We will keep our membership updated as we continue to explore the options available.”
Despite the grim news, BTC members have been carrying on regardless, conducting online social evenings, play readings and even entering regional online drama festivals.
The bottom line is still that the physical theatre is being sold for redevelopment of the land and, to that end, will not open again as a theatre.
We will bring you more news when it becomes available.