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Petition by Amber Bytheway asks Deal Town Council to give money to keep struggling Astor Theatre afloat

The public's desire to save a struggling theatre in Deal has intensified and a petition is now calling on its town council find cash to help quickly.

Astor Theatre regular Amber Bytheway launched the petition on Thursday after learning that Deal Town Council (DTC) may be able to use its reserves to bring the venue back from the brink of closure.

Amber Bytheway's petition has collected over 1000 signatures
Amber Bytheway's petition has collected over 1000 signatures

The document has already collected more than 1150 signatures and led to an £800 spike in donations to a crowdfunding appeal that has raised more than £12,000 online towards the theatre's overheads and insurances.

Ms Bytheway says: "Please sign so we can put pressure on the council to save our venue and provide us with an adequate grant that can save our beautiful theatre from closure.

"Without swift action, we may have little left for our community."

Last week we reported how the venue's boss James Tillitt claimed DTC had "no urgency" in meeting to decide whether it could allocate cash.

His request to the town hall comes after the authority confirmed the theatre does qualify for £2,000 from its Emergency Grant Aid scheme which has new grants decided every week.

Astor Theatre Artistic Director James Tillitt has asked the council to consider giving a special grant to help the theatre stay afloat because social distancing will make the business unviable
Astor Theatre Artistic Director James Tillitt has asked the council to consider giving a special grant to help the theatre stay afloat because social distancing will make the business unviable

But Mr Tillitt has not applied for this because he says the community Interest Company's cash void - caused solely by government imposed Covid social distancing - far exceeds the capped £2,000. And it puts him in real danger of folding, he claims.

He has called for councillors to find funding outside of the Emergency Grant Aid scheme like it did in 2009 when DTC backed his plans to renovate the theatre which he had only just taken over.

Because of that past investment, he deems it 'inconceivable' that Deal Town Council wouldn't contribute to the Astor's survival given the business's demonstrable success and community support it has racked up.

The delay comes where requests for funding outside of the Emergency Grant Aid scheme are beyond the town clerk's delegated powers to decide by herself. Instead it must be considered by the full council in public if it is put on the agenda for the July 28 meeting.

Other forms of support for the theatre have come from Penny Harvey of StageCatz theatre school.

Penny Bearman is the first artist to donate a painting for Penny Harvey's Great Art Raffle in aid of the Astor Theatre
Penny Bearman is the first artist to donate a painting for Penny Harvey's Great Art Raffle in aid of the Astor Theatre

She has started a weekly art raffle of donated pieces by some of Deal's best talent.

Tickets have gone on sale and this piece (pictured) will be raffled on Friday.

The petitioner Ms Bytheway is a former member of the Astor Youth Theatre and since moving back to the town she has become a regular attendee at stage productions and National Theatre live streams.

She said: "I knew they were struggling and I had already donated on their fundraising page but I didn't realise DTC could help them with an extra pot of money.

"I wrote to James and asked if I could start a petition.It's already surpassed the £1000 mark and it's only been up for four days.

"We need to keep as much pressure on them so we get the outcome that we want..."

"We've still got to deliver the petition to the council, so they can see how many signatures we've got.

"I want to continue to be involved, I'm really passionate about this because it is out only local theatre."

Mr Tillitt told Kentonline there is no guarantee the theatre will get any of the £1.57bn funding for the arts announced by Boris Johnson on Monday.

Ms Bytheway added: "It's not for us to let this go, we need to keep as much pressure on them so we get the outcome that we want."

She and Mr Tillitt will this week decide on a delivery date for the petition in the hope it will influence the council's decision.

Town clerk Lorna Crow does not have the delegated authority to approve a sizeable grant for the Astor, so the matter must be discussed by councillors
Town clerk Lorna Crow does not have the delegated authority to approve a sizeable grant for the Astor, so the matter must be discussed by councillors

James Tillitt said: "I am feeling somewhat overwhelmed and very emotional at the outpouring of public support for the Astor. This petition, and the number of people who have signed it, is testament to the generosity of this community and the value they place on their local theatre.

"I have always felt so fortunate to be looking after this iconic venue for the town and to be able, at some point in the future, to reopen the Astor and welcome everyone back to their theatre.

"As this new government package has yet to show us the details of what the smaller venues across the country can expect, the request for emergency funding from Deal Town Council is still pending. I think the Council should still contribute something as representatives of the community.

Deal Town Council has been asked to comment.

To donate to the Astor theatre click here.

To sign Amber Bytheway's petition click here.

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