Guarantee demanded over future of Sheffield's 'people's theatre' where Michael Palin first appeared

Sheffield library theatre
Sheffield library theatre
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Sheffield's 'people's theatre' must not become a 'side note' in the debate over proposals to turn the city's central library into a five-star hotel.

That's according to the chairman of SADATA (Sheffield and District Amateur Theatre Association), who fears for the future of the 260-seat library theatre should the hotel plans go ahead.

Phil Gascoyne, chairman of Sheffield And District Amateur Theatre Association (SADATA)

Phil Gascoyne, chairman of Sheffield And District Amateur Theatre Association (SADATA)

Phil Gascoyne is concerned about how discussions so far have been dominated by what would happen the Graves Gallery - which would remain in the listed building, under the proposals - with little attention given to the theatre's fate.

His fears were compounded when Sheffield Council's initial press release made no mention of the auditorium, and the theatre was then omitted from the council's more recent list of five 'cast iron commitments' about the project.

The council has moved to reassure people about the theatre's prospects, promising to 'look at all options to secure its future', but it has yet to make any guarantee as it has done for the central library service and the gallery.

"This is the only theatre Sheffield actually owns. It's the people's theatre, and we feel the council needs to continue to provide that facility. It cannot be allowed to become a side note in these discussions," he said.

A recent performance of Cider With Rosie, at Sheffield library theatre

A recent performance of Cider With Rosie, at Sheffield library theatre

"Thousands of ordinary Sheffield people go to the library theatre each year because we produce quality drama at a price people can afford.

"It's not just used for drama either. It hosts concerts, dance classes and even wrestling, and is also used by local groups like Peak Rail and youth organisations."

The library theatre is reportedly where Michael Palin made his first public appearance, and Mr Gascoyne says the former Monty Python star is not the only person to have used the theatre as a stepping stone to bigger things.

Although Sheffield is not short of theatres, Mr Gascoyne argues that the city's claim to have the greatest concentration of theatres outside London only adds up if the theatre library is included, as he says the Crucible Studio cannot reasonably be counted as a separate venue.

He said the average cost of a show at the library theatre is £8 or £9, which is considerably less than at the Lyceum or the Crucible, and many people were able to attend several performances a year because it was so affordable.

Although there are other venues for amateur dramatics within the city, he says these are either less accessible by public transport or unwilling to accommodate more risqué work.

"Our worry is that the library theatre is going to be forgotten. There's been a commitment to provide a library and to keep an art gallery going, but there's been no commitment to the library theatre at all," said Mr Gascoyne.

Sheffield Council has given the Sichuan Guodong Group a 12-month exclusivity period in which to weigh up plans to convert the Central Library into a luxury hotel.

Under the proposals, the Graves Gallery would be retained on the ground floor of the existing building and a new library would be created in the city centre.

The council says the library theatre may not feature in the redeveloped building but that no detailed discussions have yet taken place with the investor.

It has promised to consider options on how it can incorporate a theatre in the new library building, should the project go ahead.

Councillor Mary Lea, cabinet member for culture, parks and leisure, said: "I understand the importance of the library theatre. We have reassured the theatre group that we will look at all options to secure its future in the existing building or its replacement."

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