Blackburn Empire Theatre was built on a dream on by a group of local volunteers to convert an abandoned cinema into a community theatre and asset.
It took nearly 20 years to realise that dream, having raised over £800,000 with support from local people, companies and an enthusiastic band of volunteers.
Operating as a charity, with a handful of staff and a large band of willing volunteers, the theatre has been able to bring nearly 300 shows to the public every year and is the home for Blackburn Drama Club, Blackburn Gilbert & Sullivan Society, Blackburn Musical Theatre Company, Junior Dance Schools, The Gos Entertainment Group and professional production company Pendle Productions.
The theatre welcomes a host of professional, amateur, local and school productions as well as the longest run of pantomime in the area. With a varied programme music, comedy, dance, variety and family shows, it has become the main community hub for arts in the area.
Now, 18 years on from reopening the 332 seat theatre, the COVID pandemic hit the theatre and the impact has been dramatic.
Income generated from tickets sales dropped to practically zero and all the staff had to be furloughed.
The theatre operates as a non-profit charity and uses excess funds to maintain and improve the theatre, so therefore cannot not rely on reserves.
Getting no ongoing support from the local authority or any other funding body, the theatre is fully self-sufficient, but this year will see a shortfall of over £100,000 which simply is not sustainable.
So it’s a simple message, the theatre needs your support.
Chairman Michael Berry said: “We are moving forward and reopening for shows in late October. Pantomime will return from the end of November and we are one of the few theatres in the whole of the North West that are doing this.
“This is good news, but it does not create a long-term future for the theatre. With a capacity of only 40%, these shows, at best will break even. But we want to do it. People want to come back to theatre, they want confidence that it can be done safely and they want to support the theatre. So we are reopening to give people confidence in the theatre and to show support for our local community.
“This is not a sustainable way to operate moving forwards and it does not magically fill the massive gap that COVID has left. With Blackburn having one of the lowest levels of cultural engagement in the country, we simply can not afford to lose this asset.
“It took us 20 years to build the dream and we’ve been at the centre of arts productions in the area for the last 18 years and that’s why we need your support.
“Even if you can’t afford to donate a few pounds to help us, sharing our posts on social media, telling your friends and just talking about our theatre is a great help. Please show your support in whatever way you can.”
To donate to the theatre you can visit the website at blackburnempire.com and click on the “Support by Donating” link in the menu or click on the GoFundMe link here
Let’s keep the dream alive!