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Historic Walsall theatre group could fold after being forced to shut its own venue

By Charlotte Callear | Walsall | News | Published:

A long-running theatre group could fold after being forced to shut its venue of 67 years over health and safety risks.

Chairman of The Grange Players Pete Smith in front of the the Grange Playhouse which has shut due to health and safety risks

The Grange Players are now appealing for help to raise £60,000 to carry out vital works that will allow them to reopen the Grange Playhouse in Walsall.

The building in Broadway North, used by the group since 1951, is in dire need of repairs that will cost thousands of pounds.

Bosses of the registered charity now expect the Grange Playhouse will be closed for at least six months until they have raised the money and have had to stop performing. And they have launched a Save The Grange appeal.

Temporary chairman, Pete Smith, aged 72, has been part of the group since 1967.

He said the group has done around 400 plays since they opened in 1951 including their most recent one, Touch and Go in July.

Their production this year would have been Funny Money written by Ray Cooney.

Two years ago patron and actor Jeffrey Holland did a one-man show for them.

Tragic

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Mr Smith said: “It is tragic because we did not see it coming and it happened so quickly.

“I’ve directed plays and been in 40 or 50 of them.

“It is a big part of my life as it is for many members.

“It is very much a family thing and some of the people who are part of it have have grown old together and we are still friends. It is the bulk of our social life.

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“Any tradesman who is willing to give materials and time free of charge feel is welcome and it would be much appreciated.”

A risk assessment of the building was done back in July by the fire service and it revealed there were a lot of health and safety issues. As a result the group has decided not to do any productions since then.

The venue needs necessary maintenance including new fire doors, a safety curtain for the stage, rewiring, holes to be fixed along with other general building and maintenance works.

Two years ago patron and actor, former Hi-de-Hi! star Jeffrey Holland did a one-man show for them. He said today: “I back the fundraising appeal. It is a tragedy they are in such a state, I have offered to do some fundraising activities to help as much I can.”

The building belongs to Walsall Borough Council but the group leases it off the council.

Really sad

There are more than 300 members with around 50 active, including actors, actresses, and backstage crew. Secretary Louise Farmer said: “A lot of people are affected.

“It has not gone down well at all. A lot of the patrons got in touch to say they want to donate and it is nice they are supporting us. It is really sad because for the elderly patrons, the theatre is their time to get out of the house.”

The group is arranging fundraising events and the first will be a Burns Supper on January 25 but the venue and time is yet to be confirmed.

Tickets cost £10 which includes a buffet and poetry will be read out for the event that celebrates the Scottish poet Robert Burns on his birthday. The Grange Players formed over 65 years ago to encourage the local community to take part in drama and theatre through productions they regularly put on.

Anyone who wants to buy a ticket for the Burns Supper, make a donation or help can find contact details at www.grangeplayers.co.uk

Charlotte Callear

By Charlotte Callear
@CCallear_Star

Reporter based at the Express & Star's Wolverhampton head office

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