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PRESS RELEASE - "Hackney Empire’s property speculator's survival plan could now be thwarted by ancient wall; Roland Muldoon,

PRESS RELEASE - "Hackney Empire’s property speculator's survival plan could now be thwarted by ancient wall;
Roland Muldoon, former CEO and Artistic Director 86/05 who, with Claire Muldoon, led a team to save the theatre in 1986 and helped it to national prominence, protests -
"What a terrible sad state of affairs has our beloved Hackney Empire fallen into? Now, it is claimed, that its only hope of survival is to be asset stripped of its own admin building, technical store and rehearsal room. What sort of Management Board would allow such a sorry state of affairs to exist? The failure to fight for the Theatre's future should haunt them to their graves. How can it be that so many people who over these years worked so hard, who contributed so much to give this Theatre life, can be let down in such a grubby manner? The key issues are: the Board’s lack of conviction and constant hostility towards the theatre’s artistic and cultural integrity; its lack of vision with regards to understanding the necessity for the theatre to receive continued and improved public subsidy in order to sustain even the most prudent of day-to-day operations; and, even in this most acute moment of crisis, the Board seems unable to accept that, above all else, the Theatre is a bona fide arts and cultural organisation and all efforts and energies should be made to assert this position to the Arts Council and certainly to London Borough of Hackney’s Council. Millions of pounds were raised by the poor and the rich, across communities and institutions. Are those who gave so generously now to be robbed of their venue for what, in terms of current deficits, are quite small? Should a failed Management Board, made of half-hearted time-servers, be allowed to destroy our achievements? Can we save the Hackney Empire, AGAIN? THIS TIME FROM ITS OWN MANAGEMENT BOARD....? Firstly, we were told that the Arts Council had agreed on 9 months closure for 'reflection', opening again with the 2010/11 Panto season. We were promised a public Q&A meeting in late January to hear the future Arts Council sanctioned reorganisation plans. Meanwhile, the Theatre closes and key staff were made redundant. 'We are entering a grey period', states highly paid Clarie Middleton, Interim CEO Then, the planning meeting is postponed until 25th February. Suddenly this meeting is cancelled and another meeting is promised, sometime after 10th March. On which date the Hackney Councils Planning Committee will be asked permission to pull down a two hundred year old wall (This four foot wall separates Sylvester Path from the stage end of the theatre building and opposite the company’s own 117 Wilton Way, a converted warehouse, the 'Bullion Room' that serves as the Theatre’s admin office, rehearsal space and store). Their plan is to build on this site, a seven story residential building which could be blocked if English Heritage preserves this ancient wall. It’s now claimed that the celebrated Hackney Empire will be forced to close its doors forever if the planning is refused and the sale falls through. The money raised from this sale will be used to cover the loss made on the management’s ‘speculative programming'. But, short term asset sales won’t save the Hackney Empire. Since 2005, the Management Board, instead of fighting for comparable and suitable funding, have all along being counting on an asset strip sale to underwrite its dismal failures. The Theatre’s Finance Committee, led by David Robins (Ex ING Barings banker), Chair of the current Management Board, has supported a do or die policy of presenting a programme of costly 'longer runs', The Management Board is split, frightened and ill advised. However, it is the Hackney Empire Preservation Trust that holds the freehold and who has the ability to choose its next tenant. Some more Facts and Questions: Apart from the unsuitability of a seven story residential block opposite the Theatre’s Stage Door/ Scenery Dock, the sale itself, if it goes through, endangers the long term future of the iconic venue as a fully working theatre. Why doesn't Hackney Council follow the example of other authorities and offer sufficient support for its landmark venue? Currently, Hackney Council doesn't include the Arts in its Local Area Agreement and will only offer support to the threatened Theatre with Section 106 funds i.e. from its share of the 117 Wilton Way sale. Why? Even if the sale does go through – this will only pay off their past debt. We must ask what plans the Arts Council has to continue with the Hackney Empire’s successful policy of community access, now that it has made its key workers redundant, (who through their programming endeavours had met most of the bills)? How and when will the Empire be returned to a working theatre with a prudent expansion plan tied to proper funding? Shouldn’t the priority for 117 Wilton Way be to develop the site in line with the original plan (delayed by the past clamps on the Lottery fund) with modern facilities for education, rehearsal and studio rooms and administration offices? I believe the building of a densely occupied residential block adjacent to the working back stage, scene dock and stage door, is implicit that the long term plan is to dumb down the theatre. By removing its established programme the theatre will become a semi-mothballed facility for Arts Council subsidised product, expensive hires and token outreach work. Will the Board resign? Or split and throw out those who gambled the theatre’s future on this sorry state of affairs? Could a new management company fill this vacuum and what criteria would the Arts Council set it? Who is consulting with the Hackney Empire Preservation Trust? H.E.P.T (a charitable trust) owns the freehold and sets the conditions for the Tenant Company, currently Hackney Empire Ltd (also a charity). Will the Members who sit jointly as Trustees of the two charities: the Hackney Empire Preservation Trust and Hackney Empire Limited be able to make decisions on the theatre or will their position be in conflict? · Is the debt renegotiable?· Have they pursued cashing in the builders bond to pay off the soft ‘capital’ loan and if not why not?· When is the next meeting?
Stop Press - Public Meeting meeting NOW March 11th
The Hackney Empire should return to its previous practice of prudent expansion whilst seeking realistic revenue support

Roland Muldoon

Further Information:
C&R Presentations
0207 402 6087 London
01844 237937 Bucks
Mob 07957425443
roland@castpresentations.com

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