Supporters asked to help raise £250,000 to ‘Save Our Stag’ as future of Sevenoaks theatre is under threat again

The future of The Stag Theatre hangs in the balance as campaigners call for an urgent cash injection of £250,000. Without this level of funding the future for The Stag is bleak.

The Sevenoaks venue has been hard hit by the Government imposed closure during the Covid 19 crisis which began on 21 March, with costs continuing despite the doors being closed and not having any income.

People can donate to The Stag via the website: www.stagsevenoaks.co.uk and clicking on the Donate to Us box.

Under normal circumstances, the not-for-profit charity is open 364 days a year, hosting a range of live shows, cinema screenings and community events as well as being a space to meet and take part in activities for local people.

It is 99% grant free and relies on hiring out its facilities to professional and amateur shows, its cinema, donations and the sponsorship and support of businesses and individuals.

The impact of Covid-19 has seen theatres across the country close down permanently but the people who now manage The Stag hope Sevenoaks residents will fight to ‘Save Our Stag’.

The annual Sevenoaks Business Show is held at The Stag

Stag CEO Andrew Eyre said: “We have been heartened by the support from local people and hirers and we are determined to bring back The Stag for the community, but we need help.”

An economic impact assessment report in 2017 showed that The Stag generates more than £9million for the local economy and has created nearly 200 jobs within its organisation and the wider area. The venue attracts around 300,000 visits per year which in turn creates spend in the town.

The Stag was also found to provide vital cultural opportunities in Sevenoaks through locally produced productions, youth and community engagement, amateur productions and touring productions. It provides a community meeting space in the Stag Café, Stag Plaza Studio and other meeting rooms. The arts centre promotes a high number of volunteering opportunities, with approximately 6,000 volunteer hours per annum. This provides opportunities for social inclusion, exposure to cultural activities, work experience, and promoting engagement with the local community.

The Stag has had a chequered history and several different owners since the building was erected on the former site of the Royal Crown Hotel and opened as the Majestic Cinema on Saturday August 22 1936.

It was taken over by Sevenoaks District Council in the 70s and briefly became ACE Cinemas, which was part of the Rank cinema organisation. It later looked like the cinema would close for good until it was leased to a local action group, the Sevenoaks Theatre Action Group (STAG), which has been set up to provide Sevenoaks with a theatre.

In the early 80s, Rank offered the group the cinema so they could turn it into a theatre. The Stag originally took its name from the action group although it is now said the name has more to do with the deer the Sevenoaks area is known for.

Work experience students at The Stag Theatre in Sevenoaks

Various improvements were made and the theatre was run by volunteers, but in 1991 the District Council had to step in again to save the entertainment centre. It wrote off the losses the bankrupt operators had incurred and invested around £3.3M on the 450 seat theatre.

Financial losses meant The Stag had to be mothballed again following its second bankruptcy by another management company, but in 2008 Sevenoaks Town Council took the bold step to take over the management of The Stag using a different business model. The Stag was reopened by Sevenoaks Town Council in 2009 and became a not for profit charity in 2010. As well as the theatre, it now includes the Stag Cafe, Plaza Studio, two screen cinema, and The House in the Basement youth centre.

The Town Council’s original aims were set out in its 2008 Business Plan:
i) Assisting the sustainability of the local economy of the town, particularly the night-time economy and tourism economy
ii) Retaining the valuable social and leisure facility for both performers and audiences.
iii) Enabling the development of youth services both in performing arts and youth outreach services
iv) Retaining an iconic building in the town and preserving the street scene

An independent charity was created to operate The Stag and Sevenoaks Town Council supported the facility annually with a £27,000 grant.

Town Councillors, trustees, staff, volunteers, customers, and local businesses invested considerable time and effort to make maintain the Stag as a vibrant local leisure facility underwriting the local economy. Unfortunately, the Stag as per many leisure facilities finances are now critical due to the impact of COVID 19 and social distancing restrictions. Without financial support the Stag will not survive this crisis.

On Monday 29 June, Sevenoaks Town Councillors will be considering whether it can grant aid the Stag to provide funding to see it through its current financial difficulties. The Town Council is once again also calling on local support and other Councils to also assist with this gap in financial funding needed.

Cllr Nicholas Busvine, Mayor of Sevenoaks said: The Stag Theatre is the cultural heart of Sevenoaks. It also has a vital part to play in supporting the town centre’s night-time economy. Sevenoaks Town Council saved the Stag in 2008 – and we are determined to do so again. But for this to happen we will need the support of the local community. This is an SOS – ‘Save our Stag’ – call to all of you.”

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