Leaked council email casts doubt over Brookside theatre's future

Brookside Theate in Romford has won a most welcoming theate award. Jai and Harri outside the theatre

Jai and Harri Sepple who run Brookside Theatre say their future is looking evermore "unlikely." - Credit: Ellie Hoskins

A leaked email from a high-ranking town hall official appeared to mock a struggling Romford theatre for wanting Havering Council to "constantly hold their hands".

The disparaging remarks were revealed when the council's chief operating officer Jane West accidentally copied the award-winning Brookside Theatre's artistic director into a private email.

Ms West, who earns between £114,888 and £131,301 in a role responsible for the arts, also took a swipe at the borough's residents for not being "self-reliant" enough.

Jane West, Havering Council's chief operating officer.

Jane West, Havering Council's chief operating officer. - Credit: Havering Council

The email, seen by the Recorder said: "It is a bit frustrating that the theatre appears to remain of the view that the council should simply fund all their requirements and constantly hold their hands.

"It’s not just our residents who we need to encourage to become more self-reliant over time."

The theatre's artistic director Jai Sepple said Brookside had also been left with "few options" after not qualifying for essential grants amid the coronavirus crisis.

He said: "A while back we contacted the council for help - advice, not financial - and while a few members of the council were sympathetic to our plight, we were copied into an email not meant for us, who we understand from the council’s website is actually responsible for the arts.

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"I don’t think we were meant to see the email but nevertheless, we did, and it does make you wonder how we are likely to survive."

An online petition has been launched, calling on the council to step in and stop the theatre becoming the latest casualty of the pandemic.

But with all shows cancelled throughout the indefinite third national lockdown, the situation has now reach perilous for the 194-capacity venue.

Mr Sepple added: "The theatre is struggling throughout the pandemic - we’re just falling through the cracks every time and it just looks more and more unlikely that the theatre will survive.

"This would truly be catastrophic for the community .

"It just seems that every lifeline that we could, and should, have access to is taken away from us."

The theatre has also been unsuccessful with Arts Council grants and Local Restrictions grants, after being told that it did not qualify due to not being a charity or registered business.

It only received charity status last year, meaning it does not meet the government's criteria of operating as a charity for two years to receive support.

The Local Restrictions grants could not help as the theatre was categorised as a 'halls or premise', a category not eligible for recovery grants.

"For almost 10 years, we have had no support," he said. "With my own money, and the hard work and dedication of my wife, friends and I, we were able to not only reopen these long-forgotten, historic war memorial buildings, but Romford’s first and only theatre.

"If that’s not 'self-reliant', I don’t really know what is."

Mr Sepple added that Romford MP Andrew Rosindell requested assistance from the council and emailed its leader Councillor Damian White, asking to change the category listing of the theatre.

He added: "We are all volunteers here and have worked so, so hard to open the theatre and keep this cultural hub alive and thriving.

"Now, we just don’t know what to do or who to turn to. 

"We are entirely self-funding and since March 2020 have lost all of our income streams and there is still no light at the end of our tunnel. If we don’t get help, then the theatre will be lost."

A Havering Council spokesperson told the Recorder the email had been taken "out of context".

They said: “This is a fragment of an email chain and is taken out of context.

“The full context of the email includes a request from Jane for officers to look at whether grants for businesses are applicable to the theatre or whether other support, including help on bid writing or crowdfunding can be sourced.

“Havering Council provides a range of help to businesses, including businesses working in the culture sector.”

To view and sign the petition, which has so far received almost 500 signatures, click here.