News not so Grand for Doncaster theatre campaigners

The Grand Theatre, Doncaster.
The Grand Theatre, Doncaster.

Hopes of re-opening the Grand Theatre have been handed a boost as campaigners have been promised first refusal on the building.

Friends of Doncaster Grand Theatre have confirmed they have already put in two bids for the building and are optimistic a deal can be struck, but both bids so far have been rejected by the building’s owners.

Friends of the Grand chairman Margaret Herbert said: “Now we are in negotiations, which hasn’t been the case in the past. It does raise hopes for the possible reopening of the theatre in the future.”

The Friends group, which has long campaigned for the restoration of the historic building, made an offer for the building in August but it was turned down last week by the owners, Belfast-based property company BTW Shiells.

However the Friends are still optimistic about the chances of taking over the theatre - because Shiells has offered the group first refusal on the building, should it choose to sell.

Mrs Herbert said the group was disappointed that its bid had been turned down.

She said: “We had put in what we considered a reasonable offer.

“The price offered was on the advice of a recent local survey.”

The August offer was an increased bid - the Friends had previously seen an slightly lower offer rejected.

The group believes the offer is reasonable for what is a property in the town centre, because the Grand would need a very significant amount of restoration work to return it to its former glory.

Mrs Herbert said: “The building is in such a state that it will take an awful lot of work and money to get it right - basically we need to rip it up and start again.

“Shiells have certainly kept the theatre in a reasonable state of repair but there was a great deal of damage done before they bought it seven years ago.”

She added that, if the group did gain possession, she was confident that the cash for repair work would be available.

“We’ve got good backing - leading businesses in town are interested in assisting us financially once we have bought the building,” she said.

BTW Sheills declined to comment.

The Grade Two listed Grand Theatre was constructed in 1899. It closed as a theatre in the 1960s and was later converted into a bingo hall. After the bingo hall also closed, it was threatened with demolition until a campaign by the friends group eventually led to the reversal of a decision to permit it to be knocked down in 1994.

The Theatres Trust has is also keen to see it re-opened. It has stated in the past: “The Grand could quite readily be restored and reopened. It could serve both amateur and professional drama and musical productions, small scale touring and other activities to complement Doncaster’s new venue, Cast.”

Cast, the theatre complex which is part of the Civic and Cultural Trust, at Waterdale, was opened earlier this month during the St Leger Festival.