Clair Hall put on theatre charity’s ‘at risk register’

Clair Hall in Haywards Heath has been added to the ‘at Risk Register 2022’ published by the Theatres Trust.
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The announcement was welcomed by campaigners battling to secure the future of the venue today (Wednesday).

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The hall has been used as the district’s main Covid-19 vaccination centre for the past year.


A 12-week public consultation organised by the district council asking for views about the future of the site closed in September, with refurbishment rather than redevelopment being the public’s preferred option.

The council has set aside £100,000 to commission specialists to advise on future options for the site.

And this week Clair Hall is one of ten new venues added to the Theatres Trust’s 2022 ‘at risk register’.

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The register supports theatres under threat of closure, redevelopment or demolition, calling the public’s attention to these important buildings, their challenges and the significant opportunities they can bring to communities.

Clair Hall, Haywards Heath (Credit Colin Kenward / Lance Milton).Clair Hall, Haywards Heath (Credit Colin Kenward / Lance Milton).
Clair Hall, Haywards Heath (Credit Colin Kenward / Lance Milton).

Campaigners have described that although Clair Hall’s inclusion on the register is ‘bittersweet’, it can be seen as a positive as it bolsters their long-standing view that the venue is a much-valued asset and should remain a focal point for the performing arts scene in Mid Sussex.

Lance Milton, one of the founders of the Save Clair Hall Group, described it as ‘vital’ the hall had been included on the register because it clarifies the fact that the venue ‘is indeed a theatre space’.

He added: “I am also delighted that as the Theatres Trust is a body with statutory powers, it cannot be ignored, as the council have ignored many of the user groups of Clair Hall.”

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Colin Kenward, co-founder of the Save Clair Hall Group, added: “It is important that the plight of Clair Hall has been recognised and we thank the Theatres Trust for all the time and expertise they have put into evaluating the venue.

“It affirms our long-standing belief that the theatre is worthy of saving and investment.

“It also confirms that there is significant social and community need for Clair Hall to continue to serve the performing arts scene in Mid Sussex for years to come.

“The council have been reticent in acknowledging Clair Hall as a theatre and a venue for live performance, but now any ambiguity can be set aside.”

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Marion Wilcock, a director of Haywards Heath Community CIC, expressed her disappointment that there still remained so many unanswered questions.

She asked why the council had not applied for any of the various funds and grants which have been made available to support and revive theatres, why £100,000 is being spent on consultants when the Theatres Trust could do the work for free and why volunteers have been excluded from future operation of Clair Hall.

She said: “Unfortunately, these and many other questions go unanswered because the council has turned their face against speaking to local community groups and have refused to meet individual representatives, hiding behind council meetings.”

In response, a council spokesman said: “The recent public consultation showed that residents have a clear appetite for change on the Clair Hall site, with 95 per cent of respondents wanting modernisation. Only five per cent of residents wanted the building to stay the same. The council is acting on that mandate to ensure Haywards Heath and the surrounding area has modern, community facilities on the Clair Hall site which are fit for the future.

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“A variety of preferences were submitted to the public consultation, ranging from modest refurbishment and structural remodelling of the building through to the creation of a new community building on the site, which is the favoured approach of Haywards Heath Town Council.

“At our Cabinet meeting in December, we commissioned detailed, evidence led work to look at all the options and bring forward a proposal to allow the council to invest in the site. This work will clearly include exploring potential funding streams and considering how new community facilities could be run. The council will then be able to invest in the site in order to secure its use for the community for the future.”

The trust described how ‘strong public support for the return of the building to cultural use’ but ‘it is feared that there is little appetite within the council to retain and refurbish the theatre and that the site will instead be redeveloped’.

They added: “Theatres Trust will continue to advocate for the value of this theatre and offer support to the local authority as it investigates viable operating models for the building.”

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Actor and director David Morrissey, who is a Theatres Trust ambassador, said: “Theatres play a vital role in communities across the country and in supporting actors like myself who without their local theatre would not have developed a theatre career. The pandemic has been devastating for the whole theatre sector, but we must work together to make sure the theatres on the Theatres at Risk list are supported and protected for future generations to enjoy.”

Jon Morgan, Theatres Trust director, added: “We are now starting to see the true extent of the effects of the pandemic on the UK’s wonderful theatre buildings, hitting well-loved community theatres as well as historic theatres that had been protected by other uses like being bingo halls.

“Theatres Trust would urge anyone who owns a theatre building to consider its long-term value as a performance space and work with us to keep these buildings in use for their communities.”

All its information about Clair Hall can be viewed here.