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Future of Hazlitt Theatre in Earl Street considered by Maidstone Borough Council

A town's theatre faces an uncertain time as its future is 'considered' in the midst of financial pressures.

The Hazlitt Theatre, in Maidstone, has been put under review by Maidstone council's Economic Regeneration and Leisure Committee.

Hazlitt Theatre in Earl Street, Maidstone
Hazlitt Theatre in Earl Street, Maidstone

In a statement today the authority said: "We have been considering future options for many council services including the Hazlitt Theatre.

"Unfortunately, despite the positive role the theatre makes for the borough, we have had to review the way it is working due to the financial pressures that the Council is facing as a consequence and impact of Covid-19."

"The council is in discussions with Parkwood Theatres to look at the future of the Hazlitt."

The Earl Street theatre has been closed for much of this year and, last month, while other performing arts venues across the UK received government funding, the Hazlitt was notably left out.

It prompted Parkwood Theatres, which runs it, to ask for donations.

Beauty and the Beast at the Hazlitt Theatre held last year
Beauty and the Beast at the Hazlitt Theatre held last year

The company said: “Our stages have now been empty for many months and the closure is having a huge impact on our theatre. We receive the large majority of our income directly from you, our customers, through ticket and food/drink sales. When we closed our doors back in March, that income disappeared overnight.

“As we look to the future beyond this time of unprecedented challenge, our aims are to return to hosting performances that are widely enjoyed by our loyal customer base and to continue to serve the needs of our local community, to the very best of our ability."

But there was more bad news earlier this month when a replacement Christmas show had to be cancelled because of the second national lockdown.

The venue had already pushed back its pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk, due to start this month, to next year and was putting on a musical comedy called The Lost Christmas instead.

The performances were due to run from December 4 to Christmas Eve but had to be shelved.

In September it was revealed Covid-19 had seen the council face an overspend of £1million. The Hazlitt was named, alongside Maidstone Leisure Centre and Maidstone Museum as having contributed, with the council facing a loss of £142,000 on the theatre, based on the predicted budget for April-June.

The contract to run the theatre was awarded to Parkwood Leisure, the company which includes Parkwood Theatres, in 2013. It was a move predicted to save the taxpayer £3.2m over 15 years.

When it took over, dance classes, book reading and mum and baby groups were seen as key to boost numbers coming through the doors.

Maidstone council was hopeful it would "deliver a noticeable improvement to service levels at the Hazlitt Arts Centre and reduce the bottom line cost for Maidstone council tax payers".

Parkwood Leisure was founded in 1995 and runs 84 centres on behalf of 25 local authorities.

The meeting which discussed the Hazlitt's future was held in private, meaning members of the public could not hear the discussion.

The council said this was done because information on the financial or business affairs of a person or an authority should not be revealed.

Read more: All the latest news from Maidstone

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