Express & Star

Theatre group fears for future of historic Dudley venue

An amateur theatre company believes performing arts in the area are slowly being squeezed out of existence with its base of many years under threat.

Netherton Arts Centre

Dudley Little Theatre gave the first public performance in the newly opened Netherton Arts Centre back in 1947, but are now concerned for the future of the building in Northfield Road.

Dudley Performing Arts, who had managed the building on behalf of the council, moved out last year to be based at Resonance on the Waterfront in Brierley Hill.

Initial discussions had taken place about reopening the Netherton site as a community-run venue with Dudley Little Theatre, but these are on hold.

Rebecca Clee, chairman of Dudley Little Theatre, said: "We put in a proposal in May of last year to ‘manage’ the building on behalf of the council and to draw in previous and new hirers for the building.

"It seems that the council do not wish to discuss any proposal other than a direct Asset Transfer.

"They do not want to be financially responsible for the building but expect a local group or collection of local groups to take on the entire responsibility."

The venue has now been added to the Theatres Trust's list of venues 'at risk'. The list deems Netherton Arts Centre at risk of 'local authority disposal'.

Dudley Little Theatre getting ready for 'Old Mother Hubbard' at Netherton Arts Centre in 2019

Rebecca added: "We welcome this move because it means we can now discuss publicly the closure of the building.

"Now, more than ever, people need to get out and be active in the community after the long months of Covid incarceration, all they will find will be empty buildings.

"Netherton Arts Centre has now been unused for two years and the potential risk from just one act of vandalism could render the whole place unusable.

"Personally, I performed on the stage at Netherton Arts Centre with my dancing school at the age of five and would, if it were open, be performing on it at the age of fifty.

"I am not the only one, there are many local residents and groups to whom Netherton Arts Centre is so very important."

Dudley Council has moved to reassure residents it is trying to get the centre back in action.

Councillor Shaun Keasey, cabinet member for digital, commercial and customer services, said: "I can assure our residents that we are committed to looking at how we can bring Netherton Arts Centre back to life.

"We recognise the building needs some TLC and are in the early stages of assessing what would be possible in the building."