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Unloved Black Country theatres added to 'at risk' venue list

Two Black Country theatres have been added to a register of venues 'at risk'.

Netherton Arts Centre has been added to the 'at risk' venue list
Netherton Arts Centre has been added to the 'at risk' venue list

Both Netherton Arts Centre in Dudley and Imperial Theatre in Walsall were added to the Theatres Trust's list, bringing the total across the UK to 41.

The list deems Netherton Arts Centre at risk of 'local authority disposal' and Imperial Theatre at risk of sale.

Netherton Arts Centre is a 322-seat Victorian theatre which was originally built as the Agricultural Hall in 1868 and converted to a theatre in 1947.

Netherton Arts Centre has been added to the 'at risk' venue list

Theatres Trust architecture adviser Claire Appleby described the centre as an important community and entertainment space for the local area since it first opened.

She said: "Sadly, Theatres Trust has taken the decision to add it to our Theatres at Risk Register as it currently lies vacant after operator Dudley Performing Arts moved out last year.

"Conversations with the council who own and had operated the venue indicate that it has no capacity to continue to do so.

"It is understood that the council is looking at alternative options for the building, including reopening for community use.

"There had been initial discussions about reopening the theatre as a community-run venue with Dudley Little Theatre, a group with long associations with the theatre, these are currently paused.

"While the building remains vacant and plans for its future uncertain it is considered at risk."

Councillor Shaun Keasey, cabinet member for digital, commercial and customer services has moved to assure residents that the council are committed to looking at how we can bring Netherton Arts Centre back to life.

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

"The Theatre Trust recognises the centre has potential and I have to say, I completely agree."

In Walsall, The Imperial was last used as a Wetherspoons pub before it closed in 2016, and has sat empty ever since.

The Imperial was last used as a Wetherspoon pub
The Imperial was last used as a Wetherspoon pub

An application submitted last year by Lodge Housing Ltd outlined plans to convert the building into affordable housing which was met with friction from the Cinema Theatre Association.

Since the Theatre Trusts register began in 2006, 80 of the 187 theatres that have featured have been reopened as live performance venues, are under refurbishment or have a "suitable replacement" planned.

Theatres Trust director Jon Morgan said: "We are now starting to see the true extent of the effects of the pandemic on the UK's wonderful theatre buildings, hitting well-loved community theatres as well as historic theatres that had been protected by other uses like being bingo halls.

"Theatres Trust would urge anyone who owns a theatre building to consider its long-term value as a performance space and work with us to keep these buildings in use for their communities."

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