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New group hopes to secure theatre’s future

It is hoped that a new group will form to explore ways to ensure the Garrison Theatre's long-term future.

ANYONE with an interest in the long-term future of Lerwick’s Garrison Theatre is being asked to attend a meeting next week to explore forming a group to help keep the building alive.

The 112 year old theatre’s short-term future had been in doubt in light of reduced funding, but Shetland Charitable Trust (SCT) confirmed in March that it would keep supporting the venue until at least its next review in 2020.

A meeting is due to be held at the theatre on 14 September from 7pm to discuss the formation of a group – provisionally called Friends of the Garrison – to explore ways to secure its future.

It follows a survey undertaken by the Garrison Theatre Steering Group alongside operators Shetland Arts and SCT last year to gather the public’s thoughts on the 280-seat theatre.

Islesburgh Drama Group is a regular user of the venue and chairman Martin Summers said it has been “overwhelmed” by the support shown for the building, which opened in 1904 as an army drill hall before being converted into a theatre in 1942.

“Yet, the hard work doesn’t stop there, and we are calling on all the supporters of the Garrison to come forward to join us as Friends of the Garrison,” he said.

“It is essential that we gather support and work with both Shetland Arts and the Charitable Trust to secure a sustainable legacy for our wonderful theatre for generations to come. It is also essential that we showcase the impact and need for amateur drama in this fantastic community resource.”

The survey was completed by around 800 and there was a strong support for keeping the Garrison open.

It “identified a strong theme of the historical importance of the Garrison Theatre in the performing arts and wider culture of Shetland” and highlighted the community benefits productions can bring.

Over 66 per cent of respondents strongly agreed that the Garrison is the only facility in Shetland suitable for traditional theatre productions, while it was noted that moving productions – which often require block bookings – to other venues could be a challenge.

Nearly two thirds of people believed that continued support for the theatre was a “good use of resources”, although 43.4 per cent of respondents strongly agreed that there was a “varied programme” of events on offer.

Those completing the survey showed a desire to see more touring productions in the theatre and there was a general acceptance that tickets costing £20 or more would be good value to see a professional show.

Nearly half of respondents said they thought the theatre could be managed by a voluntary group or trust, although there was an acknowledgement that it would still need the support of Shetland Arts or SCT.

Among the recommendations delivered to Shetland Arts and SCT after the survey was to create a group – like Friends of the Garrison – to enable continued dialogue on the matter.

The group would explore ownership and funding models, work with Shetland Arts to train a voluntary workforce to reduce costs associated with running events and act as a sounding board for new hire fee models.

Shetland Arts’ Bryan Peterson said: “The ongoing dialogue between the steering group, Shetland Arts and Shetland Charitable Trust has been frank, positive and fruitful and we look forward to this continuing with the new forum.”

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