The Cresset Theatre Peterborough could be saved from closure thanks to a spirited campaign and encouraging support received from promoters and public. The first interview by Paul Stainton with campaigner Andy Jardine was broadcast at 07:10 on Thursday May 13th 2010 in the Peterborough Breakfast Show on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.
It is followed by an interview with Jonathan Martin from the YMCA which operates the Cresset Theatre. This second interview was broadcast at 08:10 on the same day.
PAUL: Let’s start with the big story this morning though. What is the future of the Cresset Theatre in Peterborough? Just a few weeks ago it was announced all shows would end in June. But the Bretton venue’s website is still advertising comedy nights and music acts appearing as late as November. In the next hour we’ll speak to Jonathan Martin Chief Executive of the YMCA which operates the Cresset. First though let’s speak to Andy Jardine who lives in Wansford and is one of a number of people who started campaigns to keep the theatre open. In fact, we had a look round at all the people that are doing this and starting campaigns, and we spoke to a lady, there’s about eight thousand people joined various things. Andy, good morning.
ANDY: Good morning Paul.
PAUL: You’ve started an internet campaign, haven’t you?
ANDY: It was just a small Facebook campaign, when we first heard that the Cresset was closing, and it was going to be such a shame if that was to happen. It’s easy to set a group up, so we did that. And then, like you say, there’s been several thousand other people join in various other groups. So it seems to have raised the issue.
PAUL: The strength of feeling is pretty good. The cynics would say why didn’t all these people go to the blinking Cresset? It might not have to close.
ANDY: Well we did, that’s the thing. Well I certainly did. I can’t speak for everybody, but that was the shame, you know. The shows are put on and there are people that go. The comedy shows have been sold out. I was talking to Andy Burrows (BBC) yesterday and he said about John Bishop, which was quite a big coup really, because he’s now announced a date at the Nottingham Arena. And Sean Lock was sold out, and various comedy shows sell out, and it’s such a shame that they did really well over the past years to raise it and put loads of acts on, and then all of a sudden it’s going down the pan for a hundred and fifty grand, which is exactly what they lost.
PAUL: What sort of comments have you had on your Facebook campaign so far?
ANDY: Pretty much similar feelings as me where it’s such a shame, people have seen loads of acts and enjoyed the night. It’s not the best venue in the world but it’s what we’ve got. The Key Theatre is very small. The Broadway was closed down, shall we say, and it’s just such a shame. They did all the pantos at Christmas, the kids like going there, there’s the A1 Music Festival which loads of schools went to. My daughter was singing there as well. And it’s such a shame that it was going to go. But it now appears to be very confusing. There’s various things that you could say and it’s easy to criticise, but if you don’t live in Bretton, or you don’t receive the Evening Telegraph, how do you know what shows are on?
PAUL: You think there’s a lack of advertising, a lack of publicity?
ANDY: I do, and a lot of people are saying that. Like I say it’s really easy to criticise them. They do a big pullout in the Evening Telegraph I believe. But if you don’t buy the Evening Telegraph, or as I say if you don’t walk past the Bretton Centre, where the Cresset is, you don’t know what’s on. And that’s been a common comment.
PAUL: What’s going to happen to this city if we don’t save the Cresset?
ANDY: We’ll just carry on going outside, to Nottingham and Leicester and Cambridge. That’s what we’ll do. We’re not going to not go to shows. But I think it’s really sad that we’ve built up over the past twenty, twenty five years, where we always struggled to get acts to Peterborough, and there’s been a real swell of trying to get live bands on. The Club Revolution in Peterborough, Steve Jason at the Met. Lounge have done really well just to keep these live acts going.
PAUL: He’s about the only person doing anything really at the moment, isn’t he?
ANDY: Who’s that?
PAUL: Steve Jason. He’s about the only person ..
ANDY: He’s always trying. He’s been trying for many many years.
PAUL: He’s been trying me for many years it has to be said but fair play to him.
ANDY: The Cresset has got a lot to offer still. But it was really confusing, and if these shows are going ahead .. because they did take them off the website .. and my wife went up there to get a refund for a show, and they said, well keep hold of your tickets, because it’s going ahead. So if they still don’t know if the shows are going on, and if there’s that much confusion over the closure, you can see why they’ve lost money.
PAUL: Yes. I mean they are still selling shows, advertising shows as far as I know.
ANDY: They are. I was talking to someone in the box office last week, just to see what was going on, and it appears to be that the shows are going to be self-promoted, with tickets being sold through other outlets. And the box office will be the only thing that closes. But someone needs to say what’s going on. Because why would people go down and buy tickets?
PAUL: Well Jonathan Martin who helps run the Cresset is on the show later. What would you like to say to him? He’s on the show after eight this morning.
ANDY: We want it to stay open. That’s a key thing. We want it to stay open but it needs to be clear what’s going on. There’s plenty of people that care about the Cresset, and if they want help I’ll quite gladly put my name in the ring to help anywhere, and I’m sure there’s others that would do the same.
PAUL: Yes. It would be a crime not to have that sort of venue in a city like Peterborough.
ANDY: Well it would be, and I also contacted Marco Cereste and tried to get his support.
PAUL: And what was your response?
ANDY: Not interested.
PAUL: That was it, was it?
ANDY: Not interested. So ..
PAUL: Did he actually say that, or ..
ANDY: He said in the reply to me that he wouldn’t be joining the campaign to keep the Cresset open. It’s an independent venue and he wouldn’t be joining on this occasion. But he thanked me for inviting him anyway.
PAUL: If people do want to get involved in your campaign, how do they do it Andy?
ANDY: Well there’s Facebook groups. There’s mine which is just Keep the Cresset Open for Gigs, and there’s various others, Save the Cresset, I can’t remember all the names but there are various groups on there. But there was petitions at the Cresset itself, and obviously you have to feel for the people who are going to be made redundant as well there. But it would be a real shame. the more people that show an interest in keeping it open the better chance it’s got.
PAUL: Andy, thank you for coming on this morning. Andy Jardine, who’s one of a number of people who started an internet campaign to keep the Cresset open. Around eight thouand people on various campaigns, very very angry, very very energised to keep the Cresset Theatre open.. We’ll speak to Jonathan Martin after eight. We’ll try and contact Marco to find out why he didn’t accept the invite.
08:10: The Jonathan Martin interview.
PAUL: Now back to our top story this morning about the Cresset Theatre. A few weeks ago it was announced the Bretton venue would close at the end of June to acts sparked a host of people to start campaigns to keep it open. The Cresset is still advertising shows beyond June, up until November in fact. Earlier we spoke to Andy Jardine from Wansford, He started a Facebook campaign to keep the theatre open, and said it could still be saved.
ANDY: (TAPE) The Cresset has got a lot to offer still. But it was really confusing, and if these shows are going ahead .. because they did take them off the website .. and my wife went up there to get a refund for a show, and they said, well keep hold of your tickets, because it’s going ahead.
PAUL: Jonathan Martin is Chief Executive of YMCA in Peterborough which runs the complex. He’s with us this morning. Morning Jonathan.
PAUL: Fresh hope? Have we got hope? Can we keep it open?
JONATHAN: We are working really hard to see if there’s a way that we can maintain the theatre and keep it as a venue for the city. We have been absolutely stunned with the response of the people of Peterborough to the announcement that we were going to have to close the theatre. There are many thousand signatures on the petitions. There’s a number of petitions running. There’s obviously the Facebook campaign, and bits and pieces like that.
PAUL: Eight thousand people we reckon in total that are part of these campaigns, all over the place.
Jonathan: Yes which is just amazing. I have to be honest it is a real pick-up. Because you sometimes feel that actually nobody would be that bothered, and they might be upset for a little while but then they’d move on, but actually ..
PAUL: Have you felt at some points that it’s just you? Are you sat in your office thinking it’s only me that cares, or only me and a few others?
JONATHAN: Listen the staff have always been amazing. They’ve always been working really hard to try and keep eveything going. But of course it does at times feel leading up to the announcement that, yes, it was really us fighting everybody. And it’s just been amazing to see the warmth and depth of people’s affection for the Cresset.
PAUL: So that’s the reaction from the public of Peterborough, who definitely want a venue where they can see Jimmy Carr and the likes of that.
PAUL: What’s been the reaction from the promoters, and the artists? Do they want to keep it open? Can they help in any way?
JONATHAN: Well that’s been the most interesting thing, which is clearly we have to get in touch with the promoters and agents and say, look I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to cancel your show. And we have been a bit knocked back by their reaction, which is, listen, is there another way that we can make this happen? Is there another way that we can make this show go ahead? And what we’ve tried to do is find a way forward, which sort of, if you like, passes all the risk to the promoters ..
PAUL: And are you, with some of the events?
JONATHAN: Well that’s what we’re hoping to do. And that’s why we’re continuing to sell tickets, so that the promoters will stay interested. What we need to do is .. what we talked about before I think .. what’s really difficult is we have to maintain a huge overhead to run a theatre. There are lots of elements of the business that we have to keep which are expensive to run.
PAUL: The rates, and everything else.
JONATHAN: Yes. And also you have to run a marketing department and a box office and those types of things. And what we’re looking at is look is there a way we can start to pass that responsibility more towards the promoters, and they simply hire the space from us ..
PAUL: Like a church hall, sort of ..
JONATHAN: Well .. it’s a bit more professional than that. But that sort of thing. A lot of people already buy online, through things like Ticketmaster and Seetickets and stuff, so that would be great because that’s held .. the money’s held elsewhere. It’s held by Ticketmaster then passed to the promoter directly. And that’s what we’re looking at, to sort of share the liability much more with the promoters, than the basis it was on before where we took all the risk, and if people turned up, great, and if people didn’t turn up then we lost money.
PAUL: Some shows are still being advertised past June. Are they going ahead, definitely?
JONATHAN: I would hope so.
PAUL: What about people that have already bought tickets? I would hope so is not ..
JONATHAN: No. I agree. That .. OK. My feeling is, yes, we can hack out a deal with the promoters. We are going to offer people a chance. You can have your money back if that’s what you want to do. And we’re going to write to people over the next little while and say to them, if you want your money back, that’s not a problem. We will just refund your money. However, if you want to keep your tickets, then the shows will be going ahead. And in particular the Jimmy Carr shows. He’s got three over the next few months, in September and December. You’ll be able to go to those. And I’m sure other promoters will be signing up to do the same thing.
PAUL: And you need these people to come, don’t you. You need people to put on these shows to make money essentially, and to keep open?
JONATHAN: Yes we do. Absolutely. And we do need the promoters to keep coming on this deal where they’re taking a big chunk of the responsibility too. But I think they’re quite committed to coming to Peterborough.
PAUL: There’s no risk to the public though is there? If they’ve bought the tickets they’ll get their money back, so they could wait. They might as well wait, and see. I mean, how confident are you that Jimmy Carr will go ahead in percentage terms? Eighty per cent? Seventy per cent?
JONATHAN: I’d say over ninety five per cent sure. Nothing’s absolutely sure until somebody puts pen to paper and that’s what we’re asking them to do. At the moment it’s …
PAUL: But essentially if people have got tickets for these events, they can’t lose can they, by hanging on to them?
JONATHAN: No. Because if by any chance they don’t go ahead they will get their money back. Now as I said to you if people want their money back straight away and they don’t want to take that risk, then we’ll be refunding the money. So there’s no issue about that. As we talked about before, the money is separated into a trust fund, and it’s sitting there waiting, so if people want their money back they can have their money back. If they want to hold on then I think there’s a really good possibility that acts like Jimmy Carr will be going on. The Cresset complex remains open as well, so everything else is still running in the Cresset. The pub and the cafe, our room hire and banqueting, the market, it’s still all running with the shops and the library, but we’re trying to find a way of saving the theatre as a venue for the city.
PAUL: We spoke to Andy earlier. He said he’d written to Marco Cereste Leader of Peterborough City Council, asking him to help, to get involved in his campaign. He said he couldn’t get behind it. He couldn’t .. he wasn’t interested effectively. That’s what Andy said anyway.
JONATHAN: Well I’m sure Marco’s had other things on his mind for the last few weeks, with the election and everything. Look he’s in a really difficult position, because he’s responsible to the council taxpayers of the city.
PAUL: We contacted Marco this morning. He says he was never asked. Andy says he wrote him a letter. So .. you know ..
JONATHAN: OK. Look it would be great if Marco was to put his weight behind the theatre and keeping it open. It would be brilliant if he was to do that.
PAUL: Couldn’t there have been some way you could have .. do you look at the Key Theatre and think, oh, they’ve been put in a Trust. Wouldn’t it have been nice if the Cresset was in that Trust? We could have come to some arrangement and you know we could have kept it. Wouldn’t that have been great?
JONATHAN: Yes it would have been great. And I think there are still things that we can do across the city. It would be great to have a shared box-office, instead of operating separate ones, which is costly for everybody.
PAUL: Would you like Peterborough City Council to take over the Cresset?
JONATHAN: Well it depends what you mean by take over the Cresset. Remember the Cresset’s not just the theatre, it’s lots of other things going on too.
PAUL: Would you like .. would you have liked it in the Culture Trust, with everything else?
JONATHAN: I think it would have been useful for the theatre to be part of the set-up. Not necessarily take over, but as part of the family of Vivacity, I think would have been useful. And maybe the timing has been unfortunate, because obviously this work to create Vivacity was going on behind the scenes, and at the same time we were doing what we had to do.
PAUL: In percentage terms, how optimistic are you that the Cresset will still be here as a gig venue in twelve months time?
JONATHAN: I’m really, really .. in percentage terms high nineties, I would say. Because I think we’ve been struck by the reaction of the promoters. I think they’re willing to do some work with us, and I think that we can sort it out so that the Cresset won’t lose all of its other facilities, because it’s subsidising the theatre, and I think that if we can find a way forward with the help of the people of the city buying the tickets and the promoters who are willing to do it on a more room-hire basis, then I think we’re on to a winner.
PAUL: Jonathan, some good news then, for fans of the Cresset this morning.
JONATHAN: Well lets keep our fingers crossed.
PAUL: Fingers crossed. Keep us informed won’t you?
JONATHAN: Of course.
PAUL: Let us know what’s going on, because there’s a lot of people out there who are very very interested and passionate about keeping the Cresset open in this city of Peterborough. Jonathan Martin, Chief Executive ..
JONATHAN: Billy Ocean is here next week. So we’ve still got a few tickets for sale, so please come along and support Billy on his night.
PAUL: Yes. “Love really hurts without you.” Chief Executive of the YMCA Cambridge and Peterborough Jonathan Martin, with some good news about the Cresset. Fingers crossed.