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South London Theatre in urgent need of funds

Feature by Lizzie Guilfoyle

South London Theatre in West Norwood needs to raise £1m in order to secure its future as well as that of one of London’s most popular and successful amateur theatre companies. Also affected by an enforced closure would be more than 200 children who regularly take part in the theatre’s many activities.

Accordingly, a fundraising campaign is being launched on Gala Night, Thursday, June 7, 2006 (at 8pm) during the week-long run of Joan MacAlpine’s adaptation of Henry Fielding’s novel Tom Jones. b>Read more

South London Theatre, which is housed in the old fire station on Norwood High Street, is south London’s most successful amateur theatre, presenting 22 shows a year. These include both classic and contemporary works, as well as a spectacular annual pantomime (which this year received five out of five stars in the Croydon Advertiser).

Other recent shows of note are the youth group’s Stay With Me which shortly transfers to Greenwich Playhouse where it will run from July 26 to August 19, 2006; and Throwing Stones which also transferred to Greenwich Playhouse where it was well received by critics.
b>Read more on Stay With Me

South London Theatre has operated for almost 40 years without any outside funding, the entire operation being run by dedicated volunteers. This includes all marketing, PR, fundraising and, of course, the acting and directing of plays.

But the building in which the theatre is housed – built in the early 19th Century and in desperate need of repair – requires almost £1m in order to restore it.

At present the theatre is run as a private members’ club, but Bob Callender, the group’s chairman, sees the current situation as a unique opportunity to build for the future. As he explained:

“At the moment we are a private members’ club, which
means that only members and their friends can participate in theatre, and watch the shows we put on.

Our building was put up in the 19th Century, and despite a small amount of re-working in the 60s when it was converted into a theatre, it’s pretty much “as was”: which means that our provision for disabled access falls well short of modern requirements.”

And he added: “The plan is to not only repair the building, making it watertight and strong for the next two hundred years, but to bring it up to date with modern access requirements. Once this is in place, the company can apply for a public entertainment license – and open the space up to the whole community.

Lambeth Council has offered us a long term lease, and this will enable us to apply for decent funding. We’ve set up a Building
Preservation Trust, and a fantastic team, led by Malcolm Crowder of the Heritage of London Operations, Don Bianco and Pam Gray from the Industrial Building Preservation Trust, and Paul Latham of The Regeneration Practice as chief architect.”

But he admitted: “It’s going to be a long hard slog for the group, but it will be worth it.”