Theatre Trust slams Sutton Council over stage closures

BELLE MONT, our Sutton reporter, on the latest independent body to find fault with the south London council

Carshalton’s Charles Cryer Studio Theatre, closed as a result of Sutton Council mismanagement

Sutton’s polluting, thieving and cage-fighting Liberal Democrat councillors and ex-councillors have now attracted the anger of the usually mild-mannered Theatres Trust.

In a report published this week on the fate of Carshalton’s now dark Cryer Theatre, the Trust has condemned the council, accusing it of being “unreasonable” in trying to get a commercial rent for the community venue.

The Theatres Trust has put the Charles Cryer on its Theatres at Risk register.

The Theatres Trust is governed by 15 Trustees who are appointed by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. The trustees include comedian and TV presenter Dara Ó Briain, former Spandau Ballet singer Gary Kemp, and Richard Johnston, the chief executive of Delfont Mackintosh Theatres.

The Trust issued its statement in response to Sutton Council’s decision to make the Charles Cryer Studio Theatre available for a commercial rent.

The theatre has been vacant since Sutton Theatres Trust, the council-appointed operators for the Cryer and the Secombe Theatre, went in to administration in August 2016.

“This leaves Sutton,” the Theatres Trust notes, “as the only London borough with no theatre provision.”

Rubbish council leader: Ruth Dombey

The Theatres Trust report is damning of the mishandling of public property by the Ruth Dombey-led council.

The Trust says, “Due to the terms of their agreement, when the operator went into administration, all of the theatre equipment within both venues was sold off. This will mean any new operator may face significant fit-out costs.”

According to sources around Sutton Council, the theatres closures also cost local voluntary groups large sums of money, with one youth group nearly folding as it lost £7,000 as a consequence of the closures. Meanwhile, Sutton’s Liberal Democrat councillors were handing a £1million discount on the value of a council-owned property to EcoLocal, a charity of which one of the trustees is the LibDem MP, Tom Brake. Not that Brake has any pecuniary interest in EcoLocal, of course.

“This decision to market the venue follows the council’s rejection of proposals from a community group to operate the theatre, citing the council’s need for a higher rental return,” the Theatre Trust’s report states.

“These are challenging times for local authorities and they are under tight financial pressures, however the expectation of a profit from a community facility is concerning. The theatre was previously operated directly by the council for which they will not have received a surplus, therefore the provision of a theatre at a peppercorn rent would be an appropriate response if the council no longer wished to run the service directly.

“The Theatres Trust believes the council’s expectations of a commercial rent for this community asset are unreasonable and Theatres Trust will oppose applications to change its use while there is such clear demand for a theatre from the local community.”

Croydon Tories pulled the plug on the Warehouse Theatre when they were in power

The creation of a situation in which a community theatre has been forced to close will be familiar to Croydon residents, who witnessed the then Tory-run council pull funding for the Warehouse Theatre in 2012. The Warehouse, which had a long and well-regarded reputation for staging new plays, also had all its fixtures and fittings sold off on the cheap by the administrator.

In Sutton, opposition politicians have been very critical of the LibDems’ handling of the closures of the Cryer and the Secombe, with one accusing the council of “mismanagement and incompetence”.

Neil Garratt, the deputy leader of Sutton’s Tories, said, “LibDem Sutton: the only London borough without a theatre. Our LibDems killed two last year by demanding a full commercial rent. Yet they allowed LibDem Tom Brake’s EcoLocal to buy The Lodge at mates’ rates because of all their supposed ‘community value’.

“It was appalling the way the council just let the theatres fold, with no more than a shrug and a look of indifference. They just didn’t do anything to help, and in fact made it worse by allowing the company running the theatres to own all the fixtures & fittings, so when they went into administration, the buildings were asset-stripped by the administrator.”

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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4 Responses to Theatre Trust slams Sutton Council over stage closures

  1. Nick Mattey says:

    A big thanks to Inside Croydon for publicising this attack on the borough’s theatres.

    Lord Tope needed a vanity project to mark his contribution to the life of Sutton. He and his felllow LibDems managed to get hold of around £6million of tax-payers’ money to build the Life Centre. This attraction was meant to bring in thousands of young people to have a day learning about all the different types of sexually transmitted infections and a chance to go rock climbing.

    Needless to say, it has proved to be incredibly unpopular and it has lost money year on year.

    The council has thrown good money after bad propping up this white elephant. The council needed money, so it decided to close down the borough’s two theatres. It needed a reason, so the LibDems commissioned a survey of 250 theatre goers. This concluded that they were mostly white, elderly and middle-class.

    Then forgetting that hundreds of performers were often young from diverse backgrounds and ethnic groups, the council engineered the shut down.

    To kill off the theatres completely it arranged a fire sale of all the equipment to make sure that these buildings would remain thespian-free.

  2. sed30 says:

    Reblogged this on sed30's Blog and commented:

  3. I’m sad to say I’m a liberal (small L) and once upon a time I was a LibDem, but nowadays since the failed coalition, most liberals have become very Conservative (with a large C) in the way they govern things. It’s all about money making.
    Once liberals (and some socialists) would campaign ferociously to save such a venue,but now its all about commercialism and the share holders profits.
    It’s sad times we live in nowadays, the only way we can restore it is to give Corbyn the mandate (even though I hate the Labour group) .
    SIGH 😟😟

  4. Lewis White says:

    I hate to pose a thought that will impart sadness and / or anger in the breasts of people who have been performers or loyal audiences of the Charles Cryer theatre, but I do know that in the 70’s and 80’s , almost every council in the UK opened their own theatres. Were there too many theatres opened, and were the audiences of those decades sufficient then to fill these venues, but have they subsequently dropped away, leaving the venues under-supported? I think that I am probably correct in saying that various am dram groups have continued to play in their traditional haunts of Church and Public halls, and did not use these new theatres.

    Sutton had the Secombe Centre, later rebadged as a theatre, AND (maybe a bit later on) the Cryer.

    Sutton has gone from these 2 council- funded theatres to ……… now …….. none !

    Surely they could have kept one of them going ?

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