Major threat to future of Melton Theatre

The future of Melton Theatre is under a major threat of closure due to funding issues.
Melton Theatre, which was given a major makeover in the summer of 2022Melton Theatre, which was given a major makeover in the summer of 2022
Melton Theatre, which was given a major makeover in the summer of 2022

The 340-seater Asfordby Road venue had a major renovation just two years ago and £2million ‘levelling up’ money has also been allocated to make further improvements.

But SMB College Group, which manages the theatre as part of its acclaimed performing arts offering, confirmed this week that it needs further financial help to keep it going.

In the last almost half-a-century, the stage has been graced by showbusiness legends such as Lee Evans, Alan Carr, Ken Dodd and Paul Daniels while the likes of superstar singers Aled Jones, Shaun Ryder and Tony Christie, plus top comedian Ed Byrne, are booked to appear this year.

Dawn Whitemore - SMB College Group CEO and PrincipalDawn Whitemore - SMB College Group CEO and Principal
Dawn Whitemore - SMB College Group CEO and Principal

Melton Borough Council says it has been ‘desperately trying’ to persuade the college and the government’s Further Education Commission to retain the theatre.

Council leader, Councillor Pip Allnatt, writing in his Melton Times column this week, said: “We have pledged our support. But as things stand, they are likely to close it.

"Closure would be a disgrace, not least because the public created and paid for the college and the theatre in the first place."

Councillor Allnatt, who has led a Labour and Independent administration at the council since last year’s local elections, voiced a concern that the levelling up funding could be jeopardised by uncertainty over the theatre’s future.

Comedy legend Ken Dodd pictured at Melton Theatre with the then manager Ray Flude when he appeared there in the 1980sComedy legend Ken Dodd pictured at Melton Theatre with the then manager Ray Flude when he appeared there in the 1980s
Comedy legend Ken Dodd pictured at Melton Theatre with the then manager Ray Flude when he appeared there in the 1980s

He wrote: “Closure (of the theatre) would be morally wrong and economically bonkers."

We reported last September that SMB College Group, which has campuses at Brooksby and Coalville as well as Melton, was trying to navigate through serious financial challenges.

Virtually all of its Melton courses were relocated to Brooksby and the performing arts programme relaunched under the IGNITE brand at the town campus with the theatre a major part of its offering.

But Dawn Whitemore, principal and CEO of SMB College Group, told the Melton Times this afternoon (Tuesday): “Owning a theatre brings a number of its own challenges – no theatre makes a profit.

The view of the stage from the seating at Melton TheatreThe view of the stage from the seating at Melton Theatre
The view of the stage from the seating at Melton Theatre

“They are highly dependent upon securing external funds to support their existence.

“Unfortunately, the college has never received any financial support from any external agency, this includes the Melton Borough Council or the Arts Council.

“The college has supported the cost of running the theatre out of the funds it receives for education which has now become unsustainable – our duty is to ensure the best use of public monies to support our educational offer.

“We would welcome any ideas Melton people have around how we can secure best value for this site whilst safeguarding the much loved theatre.”

Dawn Whitemore, CEO and Principal of SMB College Group, and an interior sign at Melton TheatreDawn Whitemore, CEO and Principal of SMB College Group, and an interior sign at Melton Theatre
Dawn Whitemore, CEO and Principal of SMB College Group, and an interior sign at Melton Theatre

Mrs Whitemore added: “Currently the SMB College Group remains in discussion with both Melton Borough Council and the FE Commissioner on the future and direction of our Melton Campus which incorporates the theatre, and we are working hard to secure a positive outcome for the communities we serve.

“Our understanding at this point in time is that the levelling up funds remain allocated for the much needed improvements to the theatre.

"We just need to find a solution that enables all parties to satisfy the various accountabilities that we each operate under.”