THE Bishop of Portsmouth has hit back at campaigners in the row over the closure of a city theatre.
As previously reported in The News, supporters of St Peter’s Theatre in Somers Town have asked the council if they can make it a community asset.
Acceptance of the bid would mean local people could put in an offer to buy it – but St Peter’s Church, of which it is part, maintains it wants to find another use for it.
The theatre was closed by the church at the end of January because it was costing too much to run.
Now The Right Reverend Christopher Foster has spoken out about the situation for the first time since a closure was proposed more than 18 months ago.
He said the move marked a new start for the congregation, which could now focus its time serving the people of Somers Town rather than trying to preserve a building which is under-used.
He added there wasn’t enough money to upgrade the halls where performances are held.
‘The church is all about people rather than buildings,’ Mr Foster said.
‘All over our diocese we’re running church schools, helping the homeless, patrolling at night as street pastors, organising youth groups and children’s activities, and much more.
‘The people who do this are often volunteers and they do it because their love of God and his world compels them to try to make a difference to our society.
‘That’s exactly the case in Somers Town.’
The Rev Alex Hughes is the vicar of St Peter’s as well as St Luke’s Church, in Southsea.
‘I’m delighted that Alex and his two congregations have made so much progress in reaching out to people in that community,’ said Mr Foster.
‘They are committed to that area, but have been honest that they can’t do that at the same time as subsidising theatre provision in an under-used, uneconomic hall.
‘The parish doesn’t have the money to upgrade that hall to the standards required for the 21st century, but even if it did, I would prefer worshippers to spend it helping needy Somers Town residents.’
The Save St Peter’s Theatre Campaign is looking to buy the theatre and run it as a charity, which would use funds made to maintain it.
It is also looking into leasing it off the church. Maria Cole, 69, an active member of the campaign who lives in Somers Town, said: ‘The Bishop is very short-sighted and perhaps misguided because serving the people of Somers Town does include the theatre. It’s the heart and soul of the area.
‘During the theatre’s last panto season children were coming out at the end of the performances crying at the thought they weren’t ever going to see another one there.’