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TOPIC: The future of the Intimate Theatre: Claims and counterclaims

The future of the Intimate Theatre: Claims and counterclaims 05 Feb 2019 17:16 #4374

Basil Clarke Basil Clarke's Avatar Topic Author
[Original article]

This is an amended version of a report originally issued on 6th February, which included some erroneous information.  This new version removes some of the original comments and adds the content of a letter received from St Monica's church which contradicts some of the claims made by the Save the Intimate Theatre campaign.

Statements relating to the future of St Monica's Large Hall (also known as the Intimate Theatre) have been issued by the leader of Enfield Council, the parish priest at St Monica's Church and the Save the Intimate Theatre campaign.  Additionally, the parish priest wrote to me in connection with the original version of this report. Consequently, I have decided to withdraw the original article and instead simply publish the full text of the leader's reply, the press releases and the letter without futher comment, along with a photograph of the Large Hall/Intimate Theatre taken on 6th February, which clearly shows that the "Intimate Theatre" sign has not been painted over, as erroneously reported..

London Borough of Enfield

Council

Wednesday 30 January 2019

Item 12 Councillor Question Time

12.1 Urgent Questions

The Mayor has agreed to accept the following urgent questions:

Urgent Question 1 from Councillor Ian Barnes to Council Nesil Caliskan, Leader of the Council

The Intimate Theatre in Winchmore Hill has been a huge asset to the people of Enfield for many generations. Indeed, the theatre has recently been granted the status of 'Asset of Community Value'. Despite this however, the doors of the theatre are now locked, and the owners are no longer taking any bookings.

Can the Leader tell us what steps the Council can take to support the efforts of the 'Save The Intimate Theatre' group who are asking the owners of building to permit English Heritage to undertake an assessment for a national listing?

Reply from Councillor Nesil Caliskan:

The Intimate Theatre is an Asset of Community Value and Locally Listed building. I am aware that a nomination for statutory listing is currently under consideration by Historic England and the building has also been included on the Theatres Trust, Theatres at Risk Register. I understand that the Heritage and Urban Design Team have been in contact with Historic England in regard to providing further information on the theatre building and the Theatres Trust have also been given the opportunity to comment.

I can confirm that pre-application advice has been submitted to planning by the site owners, regarding potential proposals for the site, however at this stage nothing has been concluded regarding any potential use of the site. Officers are arranging a site visit to undertake an inspection of the interior of the building.

Whilst local listing gives no additional planning protection, the fact that a building or site is on the Local List means that the Council considers that its conservation as a heritage asset is an objective of the National Planning Policy Framework and therefore a material consideration when determining the outcome of a planning application. In addition, an asset's status as an Asset of Community Value should be treated as a material consideration in the determination of any planning application for any development that would involve its loss.

If the building were to be statutory listed that would provide greater planning protection. The Council has no property interest in the building so has no control of its use from that perspective.

From a personal perspective I know how cherished the theatre is to the people of Winchmore Hill and Enfield as a Borough. The theatre has been a training ground and inspired many professionals in the entertainment industry — David Bowie and Steven Berkoff to name two, and still does today!

Reason for Urgency

The reason for urgency is because the situation is time dependent. English Heritage is trying to gain access to the theatre, but the owner, the Church is refusing entry. It would be a terrible shame to lose this historic theatre and have it replaced by another bland structure and flats.

Letter to St Monica's parishioners

1st February 2019

Dear Parishioners

I am writing to update you with regard to our parish project.

The following statement is our press release:

“The Large Hall (known by some as the Intimate Theatre) was built as a parish hall by St Monica’s Church in 1931. It has always been owned by the parish and its primary function has always been as a space for parish events, although we have allowed local theatre groups to use it over the years. This use by theatre groups has represented about 20% of total usage over recent years. Furthermore, on these occasions, the theatre groups have hired the Hall at greatly reduced rates.

It is unfortunate that some of these groups have misunderstood the function of the Large Hall, and have further created the perception that it is a theatre, which it is not. As a consequence of their actions, the parish now faces the possibility of having to maintain a building which is not fit for purpose at great expense to parishioners. This is a considerable disadvantage for the parish, both functionally and financially.

St Monica’s is a thriving parish with a large and active community of parishioners and, like most parishes of its size, requires a parish centre that meets the needs of both current and future generations. The Large Hall does not meet the parish’s current, let alone future, needs. The parish community needs an accessible, flexible, multi-function building near the Church where all parish activities can take place. While it has not been an easy decision, we believe that the only way we can achieve this is to create a new building on the current site at St Monica’s.

We are deeply disappointed that some individuals and groups are now obstructing our ability to create a space that is fit for our community outreach and parish activities. Nevertheless, we are continuing a conversation with our parishioners about our proposals and have welcomed a dialogue with others affected by this decision. (ends)”

At present we are in dialogue with Enfield council.

Best wishes

Fr Mehall Lowry

Save the Intimate Theatre Group’s response to St Monica’s press release dated 1st February 2019

4th February 2019

We have seen the latest press release from St Monica's Church and would like to respond to say that our door is always open for dialogue and our hope is for reconciliation and an inclusive way forward.

We believe the existing building can be the accessible, flexible, multi-function building the church desires with refurbishment not demolition. We have put forward cost effective proposals that are lower than the proposed budget and meet all of the needs of the Parish as outlined at the Parish meeting we attended. These plans have been worked on by chartered surveyors and architects. We submitted these to the Church and to the Diocese of Westminster in October and are waiting for a response.

The Intimate Theatre was a working professional theatre from 1935 - 1987 and some of the proceeds from this time went towards building St Monica's school. The Intimate Theatre has a wonderful, rich, inclusive history that the Parish and the wider community should be proud of.

With regard to the confusion over the buildings functionality, in 1987 Enfield council accepted a change of use proposal. The proposal was listed as a “Change of use of premises from theatre to parish community centre incorporating smaller theatre and facilities for arts crafts discussion groups and social centre activities.” The permanent stalls tip-up seating was removed at this time to make the space flexible. Prior to this its use had been exclusively as a theatre for over 50 years.

Regarding the building being a financial burden for the church, at the meeting held on the 18th September during a presentation from Father Mehall, the parish centre, small hall and large hall were each reported to have returned over £1000 profit through their hire. The plan submitted to the parish meeting included the intention to build a number of flats, there is no mention of them in this press release. We don't know if this means this idea has been dropped.

We have a great shared history of working together and we'd like to make it a great shared future for the Parish and the wider community.
---
Save the Intimate Theatre Group

Letter from St Monica's church

St Monica's Hall Palmers Green February 2019

7 February 2019

Basil Clarke
Palmers Green Community

Dear Mr Clarke

Thank you for the link to your article and for the opportunity to respond.

Let me firstly point out a small, but significant point about the Large Hall which you mention in your email and which requires clarification. It is not an 'adjacent building' but is an integral part of the property of St Monica's Church. This is an important distinction, which seems to be missing from most of the submissions of other parties and which has already caused considerable confusion among Enfield councillors and the public in general. It is misleading to give the impression that that Large Hall is a separate building or that it is owned by other parties.

Let me also clarify some points raised in your article and the accompanying statements. You state that the 'Intimate Theatre' sign has been painted over. This is entirely untrue, as can be seen from this photo taken yesterday.

You speak of the 'church's interpretation' about the primary function of the building and the campaigners' response. The fact that it was built as a parish hall, for which there is historical evidence, is conveniently omitted. One need only look at the photo to see that the sign that is built into the fabric of the hall clearly states 'St Monica's Hall' and the date of foundation of 1931. Furthermore, that its primary function for over 30 years now has been and continues to be as a parish hall is minimised. Let me add that the reason that it reverted to use as a parish hall in 1987 was that the Intimate Theatre was clearly not a sustainable project. It was not able to meet its rents nor to maintain the space adequately, thus it was an easy decision for Enfield Council to grant the request for a change of use of the premises.

Since 1987, the space has been occasionally hired out to the theatre group at a greatly reduced rate. While the campaigners claim that the parish has been able make a 'profit of £1,000', this is in fact not true. This amount falls far short of what is required for the day-to-day running of the hall, let alone for the maintenance of the fabric of the building. If all costs are taken into account, then the parish would actually be running a loss on the hire of the hall.

As for their proposed plans, they appear to be hastily cobbled together. The options put forward are not realistic and, in the opinion of our professional architect, have been prepared by someone who has no sense of scale or three dimensional buildings. It is highly unlikely that they were prepared by a chartered surveyor or architect. Fundamental grasp of space and how floors stack on top of each other, and how people move through a building are not present, demonstrating that the designs fall far short of what is expected from a professional. These proposals do not work and cannot be made to work, and would result in a building which cannot be of any use to either a theatre nor the parish.

Nowhere is there any mention of costing for these proposals and, as for funding, the suggestion would be to rely on grant applications. In other words, this is no more than wishful thinking. Furthermore, they presume to incorporate plans for the rest of our property, i.e., Cannon House, into the proposal. Cannon House has nothing to do with the so-called 'theatre'. If there is a clear demonstration that this group's sole interest is to usurp our parish property for their narrow aims, this must surely be it.

I challenge the assertion made in Councillor Nesil Caliskan's reply to Councillor Ian Barnes that we are refusing to provide access to English Heritage. This is in fact untrue, as representatives from Historic England (as English Heritage is now known) visited on 21st November 2018 and met with me. Furthermore, let me point out that this is not their first visit. They previously visited the site in 2012.

While you say that you sympathise with both sides of the argument, you state positively in your article that the campaigners call for 'dialogue, reconciliation and working together' but when you report that we have stated that we welcome dialogue, you make what is clearly a negative reference to our intentions by questioning whether or not this includes the campaigners. You also repeat your reference to the hall as a 'parish centre next to the church', when it is clearly part of the church property. This statement alone shows a clear bias.

Once again, I have to say that it is deeply disappointing that the same misinformation and false impressions are being repeated to promote the point of view of a particular group who want to maintain a building that is not fit for purpose at great expense to the parish.

It's unfortunate that you chose to publish an article based on spurious statements and misinformation, rather than verifying the facts first. If you really wish to present an unbiased story that takes the true interest of the community into account, then I suggest that you begin by correcting the facts in your article, and by publishing the photo and my response in full.

Yours sincerely,

Fr Mehall Lowry
Parish Priest

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The future of the Intimate Theatre: Claims and counterclaims (amended report) 11 Feb 2019 18:38 #4383

The Save the Intimate Theatre Group have provided the following comment on the letter from Father Lowry that was send on 7th February.

We are concerned that the tone of this letter appears to be confrontational and we do not wish to enter into conflict with the Church. We do not dispute the Intimate Theatre also being the Parish Hall and have clearly stated that we have a shared past and our hope is for a shared future.

We are a group of volunteers who care deeply about preserving the rich history of the Intimate Theatre for the whole community. We would like to work with the Church for the benefit of everyone.

The plans put forward were indicative and in response to plans involving Cannon House and the Intimate Theatre shared at the Parish meeting in September for a new Parish Hall and flats. However, we feel that we have been clear that we would need to enter into a dialogue and receive further information from the Church in order to present complete plans.

Our aim has never been to upset the Church in any way, only to try and be included in decisions on the future of the theatre that affect our community.

In order to avoid further negative dialogue, we have reached out again today to Father Mehall and sent him a copy of our response. We hope that this may lead to us having an opportunity to have meaningful dialogue and move forward together.

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