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Bury St Edmunds: Plans to merge Theatre Royal and Apex are scrapped

14:00 23 January 2013

The Apex in Bury St Edmunds

The Apex in Bury St Edmunds

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PLANS to merge the running of two of the region’s leading arts venues have been shelved.

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Yesterday, the board of the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds announced it will no longer be pursuing a single management operation with the town’s music and entertainment venue The Apex.

Instead, it has put forward new proposals based on a partnership between the venues where both organisations will “retain their structural independence and distinctive characters”.

Under the new approach being put forward the two organisations will collaborate in a number of key areas. These include a joint box office operation, co-ordination of artistic programmes, the development of a shared vision for the arts in West Suffolk and strategic joint marketing and promotional activities.

The change of direction follows a period last year where supporters of the theatre voiced concerns that a full merger would threaten the theatre’s artistic integrity and burden it with some of the running costs of the Apex.

And yesterday, the chief executive of the 350-seater theatre, Simon Daykin, acknowledged these views had been instrumental in the decision to formulate the new plans.

He said: “Although the idea for the merger came from the right place there were deep concerns and anxieties from stakeholders.

“Forming a new entity that encompasses the running of a 200-year-old theatre and a two-year-old modern concert hall would have been a big move and there were potentially big risks involved from a financial and operational point of view.

“There were also concerns from the point of view of a public perception of what this might mean for their cherished Theatre Royal. People do genuinely care about what we do and it is essential they come along with us.

“There was a danger we had come up with a complicated solution to what is a simple problem - that is growing arts and cultural activities in the town and west Suffolk.

“So, we have decided to go back to basics.”

Mr Daykin said the proposed partnership was about “joined-up thinking” and was aimed at widening “access to a programme of quality arts activities”. He added that key funders of the theatre, such as The Arts Council, Suffolk County Council and St Edmundsbury Borough Council, backed the plans.

The news has been welcomed by members of the Theatre Support Group (TSG) – an alliance of supporters of the Theatre Royal who last year launched a “Don’t Bury Our Theatre,” campaign in opposition to merger plans.

Member and former chairman of the theatre’s board, Judith Shallow, said: “This is exactly the type of collaborative approach we have been suggesting. It makes a huge amount of sense particularly in this economic climate.”

Tony Doherty, a director at the Apex, also greeted the new proposals warmly.

He said: “Any form of collaboration is positive and we look forward to working with the Theatre Royal to seek any opportunity to maximise the potential of Bury St Edmunds as a cultural destination.

“There are various way of managing any arts organisation and this is one way forward. We will see how this goes but keep an open mind about other options in the future.

“We are happy to work with the Theatre Royal to widen the choice available to audiences in west Suffolk.”

The new proposals will now be put forward for public consultation. A public meeting is due to be held on February 12 to discuss the plans while a dedicated website www.artsandminds-tr.org, with information and an online discussion forum is to be launched on January 28.

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