Futurist: Theatre and local economy

As one who has followed, very closely, the various ups and downs of the Scarborough theatre scene for the last six years, there are several very clear patterns emerging related to the council’s selective method of disseminating information regarding theatre collectively, and theatres individually depending on which theatre they are talking about. Most, in fact nearly all, of their information is derived from external consultants’ reports, individually commissioned to inform on a specific theatre, at a specific time. The Spa (pre alterations), and the Futurist, pre and post Spa alterations, and pre and post Open Air Theatre regeneration. Whenever these are discussed in council they are discussed individually and in isolation from each other, although the consultants’ reports give very clear statistics and general background knowledge relating to theatre environment and impact locally and nationally. How can this information impact on one detrimentally, and have an advantageous effect on another? The current and most contentious statistic is from the March 2013 Wafer Hadley Report that Hilary Jones keeps quoting in public but only when the Futurist is under discussion. Either it is true and factual or it isn’t, but it cannot apply only to one theatre but not any others!

In March 2013 Wafer Hadley report commissioned by Scarborough Borough Council specifically to discuss the Futurist states that the average visitor to Scarborough is a day tripper who spends an average of 0.38p per head. That is extrapolated in this report to mean that people do not come to Scarborough to go to the Futurist theatre, and also they do not stay overnight. By extension that means that the Futurist does not make any contribution to the local economy, even though it is open all year, because people don’t come specially and stay overnight.

However, the Cambridge Research Model figures quoted in the recent council report discussed by cabinet on the Open Air Theatre (November, 2013) suggests that the average spend per night for a staying visitor who comes specially to the Open Air Theatre is £63.23 (plus any Open Air Theatre costs) and that 4,807 staying visitors over only eight performances in summer 2013 have contributed a massive £303,946 to the local economy.

For the information of the readers, the belief of the Scarborough Business People generally based on their own, on the ground working experience, is that visitors to Scarborough, on average, contribute approximately £25-£30 per head, plus theatre costs.

Through the My Theatre Matters campaign we have presented the council leader with 4,200 signed postcards, of which nearly 2,000 were signed by visitors to the Futurist theatre from all over Yorkshire and the North East and various points south, during 6.5 weeks of a total of 20 performances in summer 2013. Some came to more than one performance but of course only signed one card. We spoke to each one personally, and all were horrified at the thought of the Futurist being demolished. The lady who presented these cards to Cllr Fox on behalf of the Hospitality Associations informed him of the loss there would be to the local economy if the theatre were to be closed permanently.

Cllr Fox’s reply was that decisions have to be made for “the right reasons”. Whose “right reasons” would they be? Which or indeed whose reasons are more likely to be “right” than others? Define please Cllr Fox. Is it a case of “trust me I’m...the council leader?” Show us that we can by demanding that this be debated in Full Council, to include representatives of all interested and dependent businesses, and in the presence of the public and the media. At present we are having to fight for this democratic right by producing, by Christmas, 5,000 signatures on council officially approved petitions (which in itself took weeks to gain approval) with only local people being allowed to sign. Cllr Fox has said that the 4,200 presented to him, while considered to be “unofficial”, will not be ignored. He needs to take a particular look at the boxes labelled “Visitors to the Futurist” to gain a full appreciation of what this theatre means to people and the local economy. Without these 5,000 additional signatures the Futurist will remain subject to the current cabinet decision, together with the contentious Overview and Scrutiny Committee vote and Jim Dillon’s assertion to the Theatres Trust that a decision has already been made. Oh, and let us not forget the “fact” that visitors to Scarborough only come for the day and spend 0.38p.

Patricia David

Filey Road