Charity taking over 'mothballed' Groundlings Theatre in Portsmouth admits 'timing couldn't have been worse'

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
A CHARITY that took over the running of a historic ‘mothballed’ theatre has admitted its ‘timing couldn’t have been worse’ as it seeks funds to keep the venue afloat.

Groundlings Theatre Trust took over the running of the Portsea venue in Kent Street on April 9 after signing a lease with long-time director Richard Stride in December, who stepped aside to allow it to be ‘taken on to the next stage’.

The trust secured a small grant from Portsmouth City Council to invest in boosting trade and put the theatre in a more stable position for the future.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But the coronavirus pandemic has thrown the survival of Groundlings Theatre into doubt once more after the government announced all theatres had to close on March 20.

The Groundlings Theatre in Kent Street, Portsmouth.

Picture: Sarah Standing (021019-7981)The Groundlings Theatre in Kent Street, Portsmouth.

Picture: Sarah Standing (021019-7981)
The Groundlings Theatre in Kent Street, Portsmouth. Picture: Sarah Standing (021019-7981) | JPIMedia Resell

With no income the theatre has been left in the all-too-familiar position of battling for survival.

Helen Gibbs, chair of the trust, said: ‘In any business, timing is everything, and ours could not have been worse.

‘At the point of signing the lease, coronavirus was just making its presence known. We had no idea of the catastrophic pandemic it would become.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

‘With no chance of trading, the trust now has no way of earning an income. Even a mothballed theatre costs a large amount of money to maintain.

‘The grant from the council is not going to last more than four months. Our knack for bad timing didn’t end there. The trust does not qualify for government Covid-19 support.

‘We cannot claim the Business Continuity Grant because we were not business rate registered, on the qualifying date. We do not qualify for help for charities as we are not providing front line support.

‘We have applied for an emergency grant from the Arts Council but of course this is not guaranteed. There is no pantomime fairy to wave her magic wand.’

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Meanwhile staff have been furloughed and the trustees are working from home and focusing efforts on keeping costs as low as possible and on looking for alternative funding sources.

Events are still booked in for later in the year with the popular pantomime Dick Whittington scheduled. Drama and musical theatre classes are now being run using Zoom and email.

When schools reopen the trust will resume its programme of Theatre in Education.

Ms Gibbs thanked the council and deputy leader Steve Pitt for their support and Big Yellow storage for giving the theatre storage space it could not afford, as well as students, parents and staff for their help.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

She added: ‘We would like to take this opportunity to wish Richard Stride the very best for the future. He will be missed.’

The trust has launched a Crowdfunding campaign which is offering rewards to anyone who donates. ‘Everything from your name in a programme to free family tickets to the panto, a 1950s cocktail evening and a tour with tea and cake,’ Ms Gibbs said.

‘Every little bit helps to keep us going. If you can’t afford to donate, we hope readers will come and visit us once we are open, and get to know us a little better.’

Read More
Doctor who spent 36 days in coronavirus coma was given hours to live

A message from the Editor

Thank you for reading this story on portsmouth.co.uk. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.

With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our advertisers - and consequently the revenue we receive - we are more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription.

Subscribe to portsmouth.co.uk and enjoy unlimited access to local news and information online and on our app. With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Visit our Subscription page now to sign up.

Our journalism costs money and we rely on advertising, print and digital revenues to help to support them. By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.