Ambitious development plans for Barony Theatre in Bo'ness
The Barony Players will celebrate 65 years in their Bo'ness home next year.
Formed in 1954, the first play the group performed at the Barony Theatre – formerly Borrowstoun Primary School – was The Amarous Prawn.
But while the theatre has retained the wonderful vibe of an old-fashioned theatre – thanks in no small measure to the seats picked up from former cinemas – the venue is not stuck in the past.
In the last 18 months, the hard-working, nine-strong Board of Trustees has spent £30,000 on improvements, including new heating, carpets, decoration and wi-fi installation.
And plans are in the pipeline for more radical renovations to ensure the theatre remains at the heart of its community.
Wendy Turner, who is chairwoman of both the Players and Trustees, talked us through the plans during a theatre tour.
She said: “We are very grateful to Falkirk Council for giving us a 25 year lease on a peppercorn rent of £1 a year.
“That means any profits from ticket sales and events can be ploughed back into the theatre, both exterior and interior, for which we are responsible.
“The long term lease also means we are able to apply for Heritage Lottery funding which we plan to do for the next phase in the theatre’s refurbishment.
“We’ve just completed phase one, spending £30,000 on the likes of new toilets for the public and actors.
“The actors now have hot running water for the first time in years!
“The theatre has also been fully rewired with new heating installed too.
“The work has been funded by the income from ticket sales and fundraising events, like our annual pop-up shop in Grangemouth.
“We get a lot of support for the shop, which is open for one week every year.
“My hubby Duncan Waterston is an electrican so we can sell electrical items as he can PAT test them.
“But the next phase in the theatre’s refurbishment is going to take more than just our own income.
“We want to improve the front of the theatre, with a new glass frontage to include a foyer and ticket desk, extend the coffee room and bar to create a community space for meetings during the week and create a new workshop and store.
“To do that, though, we will need grant funding.”
With that in mind, the team received a Coalfields Regeneration Trust grant earlier this year to conduct a community consultation on the theatre’s future.
Wendy explained: “We employed a consultancy company to gauge public opinion about the theatre and its future use.
“When you’re applying for grants, it’s not enough to say you are part of the community – we need evidence to prove it.
“It has given us valuable feedback, from both the public and members, about what the future of the building should be.”
Accessibility is one of the main sticking points.
Wendy said: “One of the biggest issues we have is access to the theatre for those with disabilities.
“Just now, they have to come in via the bottom door and there’s no designated area for wheelchairs.
“The new foyer would resolve those problems and we could install removable seats to provide wheelchair access too.
“We’re also keen to see the building utilised more during the day.
“We have something on every night but the building sits empty during the day.
“That’s why we want to create a community space which other groups could use for meetings and events such as coffee mornings or toddlers’ groups.
“It would be fantastic to see it used as a community space, both day and night.”
Meantime, the Trustees still have a big to-do list before next spring.
A Falkirk Council grant will enable them to install a new stage system which may, in turn, attract more professional shows.
And there’s the small matter of a show to put on – the Players have been taking to the stage in The Steamie by Tony Roper from November 26 to December 1.
The dates were sold out weeks in advance, so two performances were added last weekend which were also a sell-out success.
Wendy added: “We’ve got a big to-do list but the Trustees will sit down in the spring to discuss plans for taking phase two of the refurbishment forward.
“We’ll also be celebrating our 65th next year with a fantastic preview screening as part of the Hippodrome’s silent film festival.
“One thing is for sure, though, I’m adamant we won’t be resurrecting The Amarous Prawn!”
To keep up to date with the group and what’s on at the Barony, visit the website www.baronyplayers.co.uk.