‘Call to action’ for politicians and placemakers to protect London’s theatre buildings in new Publica report commissioned by SOLT

A new report has been published today (Thursday 3 February) raising awareness of the specific needs of London’s historic theatres and their role as a vital asset to the city’s night time economy, central to pandemic recovery.

 ‘A Call to Action – Securing the future of London’s theatres’ sets out the unique operational and access requirements of the London theatre industry, and calls for better collaboration between theatre operators and those responsible for London’s public realm, highways and land usage, to protect the invaluable cultural heritage that has been part of London’s identity for over 350 years.

The report, commissioned by the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) and created by urban design specialists Publica, found that London’s theatres play a crucial role in the city’s ecosystem, supporting over 20,000 jobs and contributing £133 million in annual VAT to the Treasury. 

It also found that the significant physical requirements for the day-to-day running of a theatre – which include get-ins, changeovers, a variety of different public and private events, box office operation and building maintenance – are often overlooked by councils and developers.

The document was created in consultation with SOLT members and the Theatres Trust during workshops, surveys and site visits between 2019 and 2021, and is addressed to a wide range of stakeholders including MPs, Local Authorities, the GLA, TFL, London’s Business Improvement Districts, landowners and developers.

An event today at London’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane saw Deputy Mayor for Culture and the Creative Industries Justine Simons joined by SOLT President Eleanor Lloyd and Chief Executive Julian Bird, as well as representatives from Publica, to launch the document.

Justine Simons OBE, Deputy Mayor for Culture and the Creative Industries, said: 

‘London is home to the world’s best theatres but the pandemic has had a catastrophic impact on the whole industry. Theatre will play a crucial role in London’s social and economic recovery, attracting visitors from across the world as well as supporting the economy as a whole. Which is why today’s call to action couldn’t be more timely or urgent.’ 

Julian Bird, Chief Executive of SOLT, said:

‘With the pandemic having placed huge strain on the theatre sector, resulting in millions of pounds of lost income and threatening the livelihoods of our workforce – compounded by Brexit issues around international movement of goods and talent – our theatres today face greater challenges than ever before.  

‘Theatres are not just cultural hubs – they are historic landmarks, economic powerhouses and drivers to surrounding tourism, retail and hospitality businesses. They are also 24-hour buildings with a unique set of needs. This landmark report tells us that without active engagement and collaboration between politicians, placemakers and the theatre sector, we are at risk of losing these incredibly valuable assets. 

‘Theatre operators want to be engaged as early as possible in any plans, policies and developments which might affect them. We hope that this document facilitates greater communication, coordination and understanding, with the aim of safeguarding our remarkable theatre heritage for future generations.’