Tis the Season to be Jolly? Isn’t it?
This is a rallying call to the residents of the borough of Waverley. Never let it be said that we here at the WW are only concerned with all things Farnham.
But this plea goes out to everyone in Waverley who cares about their heritage. To-day Farnham – tomorrow Godalming – Haslemere – or over there in the Eastern villages. One day it could be you?
Nothing anyone now says or does will change the sad fact that Farnham is about to lose its treasured Redgrave Theatre. Sir Michael Redgrave- for many years, a teacher at a Waverley fee-paying school would surely have been heartbroken to watch the bulldozers trashing a theatre bearing his famous family name. But the deed is done and the Philistines at ‘Your Waverley’ would rather see a load more empty shops, restaurants, and “so-called affordable homes” on the Blightwells site. And – who knows it may prove to be a huge asset to the Farnham coffee-culture scene drawing in the Wombles of Wimbledon and the Wandsworth wanderers. Who are we to judge?
But here’s an open letter to those of us who treasured Farnham’s past and fear for its future. So, if you care about our theatre – at least let the decision-makers know how you regret its demise and make some reparation for ensuring its loss. Because as sure as hell – one day someone will ask WHY DID THIS HAPPEN?
Dear Farnham Theatre Association Colleagues,
The Redgrave Theatre is due to be knocked down over a number of days between December 10th and March 4th next year, having served as a beacon and a rallying call since it closed in 1998.
To a group of keen theatre supporters, it seems fitting that those who gained so much from it should have the chance to mark its passing publicly and appropriately.
By agreement with the Farnham Herald, a number of letters are planned from different groups each carrying multiple signatures.
The plan is to send these into the Herald, to be published over 2/3 weeks as soon as the Redgrave goes down. Life is too short to alter or amend the shared letter from FTA on individual request, so if you would prefer to send in your own personal response, that would be more than welcome, particularly if it follows the opening salvo. It would help to convey the sense of public outrage if correspondence continued for some weeks and the debate opened up. Chances of publication will be greater with group letters.
If you would like your name added to the FTA letter (see below), could you email your consent to Anne Cooper on firstname.lastname@example.org The Herald accepts it is impracticable to collect so many signatures individually, so asks that each typed name it receives is accompanied by a contact email address to confirm authenticity; however these latter details will not be published.
(Letter to Farnham Herald from FTA Members and friends)
The demolition of the Redgrave Theatre causes immense distress to those who regarded Farnham’s two theatres as beacons of culture for over fifty years. However, the demolition will give some satisfaction to those who rate commerce to be more important than the arts. Paradoxically, Waverley has spent millions on pursuing a development scheme which promises little return, while the condemned theatre was built economically and sustainably for the long-term. Because the theatre was designed for low-cost maintenance, it was never praised for its external appearance, but rather for the work that went on inside that simple, functional auditorium.
Destroying part of Farnham’s heritage is a divisive act, particularly when uneconomic shops and restaurants are to replace the theatre which was once the cultural heart of the town. This destruction has, at the same time, damaged part of what made Farnham special: a cohesive spirit of community creativity. After the Second World War, the people of Farnham supported and encouraged the fledgeling Castle Theatre, to such an extent that the larger Redgrave Theatre was built with money raised largely by public subscription. This became a theatre renowned and respected nationally for the quality of its productions. At the same time, Farnham people had rescued and developed the derelict Malting buildings and this is now a flourishing Arts Centre. The town had created and supported both venues. However, when times grew hard, our local authority took the controversial decision to support only one and it was Farnham Maltings that was to survive. It was believed that theatre at the Maltings would replace The Redgrave, but this proved to be a naive and unrealistic expectation.
Our local authorities have a responsibility now to mend the cultural damage they have inflicted on the town. We respectfully ask Waverley Borough Council and Surrey County Council for reparation for the loss of The Redgrave Theatre. We ask for a commitment to demand contributions from developers towards providing a well-equipped replacement theatre/concert hall to serve future expanding populations. This should be a priority for the well-being, not only of Farnham but the whole community of Waverley and beyond.
Anne Cooper, Farnham Theatre Association Chairman
Background: A conditional contract to create a major retail and residential district was awarded to developers Crest Nicholson and Sainsbury’s in 2003. It has now begun. The theatre building is attached to the grade II-listed Brightwell House.
The plans come 20 years after the Redgrave Theatre was closed by Waverley Borough Council. It will be knocked down and the adjacent Brightwell House will be converted to form two restaurants.
When the council approved an application for listed building consent to demolish the building it attracted 260 objections and five votes of support from neighbours and consultees.
Among the objectors was the Theatres Trust. It opposed on the grounds the plans do not offer a replacement cultural facility or a financial contribution to support an existing facility.