Campaigners who are fighting to save one of Lancashire's last surviving theatres were dealt a major blow with the news that it is to be put up for auction.
News of the auction of Burnley's Empire Theatre, due to be take place tomorrow (Sunday October 16th) has come “out of the blue” for conservationists who are just a few steps away from applying for funding for the restoration project.
And if the late-Victorian theatre in Cow Lane is sold it could signal the death knell for it.
Sophie Gibson, a member of the Burnley Empire Theatre Trust committee said: “News that the Empire Theatre has been put up for auction without warning by the Duchy of Lancaster’s solicitors, Farrer and Co, has come as something of a surprise.
“Burnley Empire Theatre Trust have been working tirelessly against the clock for months to save this Grade Two listed building, designed by the renowned Victorian architect, Bertie Crewe, and we have had so many people contact us supporting the project to save this lost gem.
“That they would put it up for auction at this key moment, knowing a viability study is actually underway to find the best future for a community facility and a part of Burnley’s heritage, is a disappointment, to say the least.”
Conservationists are pinning their hopes on positive results from the viabilty study that would allow the to move onto the next stage, the architectural planning phase, when they can also apply for funding.
Sophie said: “All of this could have been for nothing if the theatre is auctioned off before we are able to get that far.”
The theatre has risen to number five in the most recent Theatre Buildings at Risk Register and the the BETT has working with Burnley Council and The Theatres Trust on ambitious plans to preserve and re-develop the building.
The Theatres Trust has congratulated people in Burnley for their support as a “shining example” of how a community can throw its weight behind a project.
Sophie said: “The council and all our supporters contributed generously to the project and this does seem like a slap in the face for them aswell as us.
“Burnley has lost so many of its historic buildings so for the Duchy of Lancaster to disregard the public support for the project to save one of its proudest is surprising.
“The Empire could be a multi-purpose venue and an asset to Lancashire, not just Burnley.”
For more information contact BETT on Facebook/The Burnley Empire Theatre Trust, Twitter @BurnleyEmpire by email to saveme@burnleyempire theatretrust.co.uk or www.burnleyempire theatretrust.co.uk.