The Salford Victoria Theatre and Cinema opened its doors in 1900 playing host to hundreds of star names and stage productions, however the building last screened a film in 1958 and hasn’t hosted a theatre production since 1971.
After its original closure in the late 1950s it became a clothing store then a furniture outlet before returning to live theatre productions throughout the 1960s when Philip Bernard and owners Abraham Goldberg brought stars back to the footlights in several productions, local amateur theatre groups also utilised the building for their low-budget stage shows.
The original Save the Victoria Group, which had been elected by the local community, and patrons of the theatre, interested in saving the building, disbanded in December 1971 as the final pantomime took to the stage. A lack of funding was cited at the time by the community group for the committee ceasing its involvement. Eventually the lavish building, designed by architect Bertie Crewe, re-opened in 1973 as a bingo hall, which it remained as until 2008. During the 1980s the building was severely damaged when its third floor was removed and replaced with a less ornate brick wall. In recent years its canopy was destroyed after a truck collided with it.
However the interior remains in reasonable condition which has kept the Victoria as a Grade II Listed building. The once lavishly furnished auditorium however currently faces an uncertain future. A new unelected steering group has taken it upon itself to try and save the local landmark ‘for the good of the community’, which has been met with a mixed reception.
The current owner of the former entertainment complex is co-operating with all parties concerned to attempt to make sure the Victoria Theatre isn’t demolished. This makes a refreshing change for such a building; after all it wasn’t that long ago the owner of the similar grade listed building, the Derby Hippodrome, felt ‘repair work’ involved demolishing the roof and outer walls. (pictured right, the theatre closed down and in a state of disrepair in 2009.)
David Dewsnip, unelected chairman of the Steering Group, said recently, “I personally believe that the steering group is a very strong group with the key members in place to move this project forward. We have been advised that the next crucial step is to form a Friends Group to help with the campaign. The Friends Group will have its own committee and sub groups as the project develops, for example for fundraising, research, history and heritage and community liaison. As we are now at the stage of forming the Friends of Salford Victoria Theatre .”
It is believed the friends group will have to pay a subscription to become part of the organisation, in order to begin the fundraising. Lower Broughton resident Maria Brabiner believes this shows they want the community’s help when money is required, but the community having a say hasn’t been an option with the leadership. Brabiner adds that she feels political motives may also be in play, due to three ‘former Liberal Democrat’ associated friends being on the Steering Group.
“Lib Dems have never been elected in Broughton because they are not popular… I’m cynically thinking back to 2005 when homes in Lower Broughton were under threat of demolition.
“A certain Lib Dem councillor Norman Owen came to the meeting to ‘try and save the estate’. He only came to the meeting for his own publicity ends. He ensured he got himself a mention in the Salford Advertiser. I’m concerned, very concerned, that the same thing is happening again in Broughton. People who have no connection with Lower Broughton, getting involved for the sole purpose of getting press/media attention for political gain, or something to put on their CV.”
“A bad decision was made [with] the formation of the Steering Group – I am sure it was done with the best of intentions, however there are one of two things that can happen. Now either people accept that this is the way it is (unlikely from what I can see) or there is a special meeting held and the SG is formed in the traditional manner. Or two this split gets bigger and bigger and totally distracts from the campaign possibly jeopardizing it completely. Funding bodies may not want to fund a project with possibility of failure if they become aware of voices of dissent.
“There needs to be a compromise – perhaps an election where all those who were selected are just ratified and other new members who want to be a part of the SG get elected at the same time legitimizing all ? I don’t know – All i do know is unless there is some kind of compromise this will remain an issue and it will damage the campaign.” Said one poster on the community groups Facebook page.
The steering group have avoided any official response to the questions of how the group was decided upon, nor revealed what credentials were required to become part of the group. Two from the committee did however state,
“Running a gauntlet of heckling here, which is unhelpful, could be perceived as rude and is an unnecessary distraction.” Said former Liberal Democrat candidate Cathy Connett, avoiding the issues raised, while fellow ex-lib, Mary Ferrer added, “If you all feel this way about the group, what is stopping you from setting your own up and let us get on with it.”
The PR disaster has made the situation roll on longer than needed and publicly made the management appear unprofessional and unable to converse with fans of the Victoria who want answers. The irony that some on the committee have been involved in the past with democracy are now defending the lack of it hasn’t gone unnoticed. But the issues began long before the latest developments.
The Salford Star publication was the first to be critical of the motives of the unelected management as to why they were so concerned with the theatre, the fact the public keen to be involved – almost sixty people – had no say in who was to lead the project adds further suspicion to the reasons.
The star stated, ‘Ten minutes into the meeting, feeling a bit confused by the lack of vision, I was wishing I hadn’t bothered… … Whilst I am in full support of anyone restoring this beautiful building and putting it to use, if this is for the community why wasn’t the meeting held in the community, making it easier for Salfordians to come and have their say?’ The initial meeting was held at Salford University. All following meetings have been unannounced and held in private. The Salford Star summarised, ‘Lower Broughton needs better community facilities but I can’t see that happening with this group.’
(Pictured right, a computer generated idea of how a restored Salford Victoria Theatre could look). Save Salford Victoria Facebook member, and former Mayoral candidate for Salford’s Community Action Party, Michael Moulding told ATV Today;
“I have been involved in many campaigns over a 20 year period. I was extremely impressed by the proposal to restore this theatre because of its architectural merit for community use and its heritage value.
“In mobilising the local community, I was astounded to see that having been mobilised, which in this day and age, can be an extremely difficult thing to do, we find that the majority of the local community that took the trouble to attend the first public meeting have been totally ignored, excluded and in effect told their opinions on how this theatre should be saved are not even wanted.
“To select a small group of people and exclude the majority is elitist, which some would say is normal in the “theatrical” movement. However, excluding local people in trying to save a local amenity or a building of such importance to them will not only alienate them but will make even more difficult to save the building at all, which would suggest that they may be not concerned whther it can be saved for the local community anyway ?
“The obvious way forward is to be inclusive, democratic and allow everyone who wants to contribute to saving the building/theatre to get involved and by doing so will maximise the chances of the campaign being successful.”
The uncertain future of the Victoria venue follows the recent closure in Salford of the Willows Variety Club which, after 46 years, closed down in February.
[Despite several requests for the management of the group to provide information on the process of election to the Steering Group none have given any information to ATV staff.]