Theatre manager confident Floral Pavilion has ‘bright future’ 

The manager of the Floral Pavilion is confident it has a “bright future” ahead of a key vote this week.

Wirral Council has been reviewing the services provided at the Floral Pavilion theatre and conference centre in New Brighton since July 2023 after the local authority was unable to make a £550,000 saving left over from 2018 when it sought a private operator to take it over.

To keep the theatre open, councillors are being asked to approve a £500,000 subsidy for the venue until March 2025 to give the local authority more time to find an operator. However, there are no plans to close the building which would cost the council more than £321,000.

The new budget would see the current subsidy for the theatre cut by £303,000 and the possibility of four job losses, but Pauline Campbell, the building’s manager said they have plans to bring more money into the venue with a wider range of shows and uses of the building.

Originally from Wirral, Ms Campbell moved away at 18 to work in the West End working with the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber and was the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA)’s head of property for nine years. In September 2022, she was hired by Wirral Council to oversee a new strategy for the Floral to bring in more income.

This strategy aims “to actively challenge the competition in Liverpool” such as the Empire and “build a reputation for original music, comedy and larger touring musicals and plays.” Ms Campbell said the theatre industry works 18 months in advance for bookings so the theatre’s new programme is only just starting.

She said, “I performed here when I was eight. That was the start of my journey into theatre really and the whole purpose was to give something back and to make this place what I see as the centre of culture for the area.”

As part of the strategy, the theatre will look to reduce the number of tribute shows. Ms Campbell said, “I do not want people to think that we are turning our nose up at our tribute shows but being more selective means we can build the rest of the business up,” adding, “They are our bread and butter. You know that if you put an Adele tribute on, it’s going to do well and your only risk as the theatre programmer is ‘Is that a good version of Adele?’”

By providing more options to the 20,000 people on the Floral’s database, Ms Campbell said they expect to be £200,000 better off this year and between £200,000 and £300,000 better off the year after that. On top of this, the council estimates the Floral provides £400,000 of social value and £5.3m to the local economy in New Brighton.

Over the next year, the theatre will soon see an opera, original plays, Anton and Giovanni’s tour, a thriller starring Casualty and Strictly Come Dancing’s Tom Chambers, Jimmy Carr, and a play directed by Coronation Street’s Gaynor Faye. Upcoming tribute acts include Luther Vandross, Michael Jackson, Taylor Swift, Elvis, and Diana Ross

There are also plans in April for Strictly Come Dancing’s head judge Shirley Ballas to host a night of entertainment showcasing a number of local and professional performers as part of the Wirral Borough of Culture 2024.

The Floral Pavilion. Credit: Ed Barnes

Ms Campbell also revealed the Floral will be the first venue outside of Liverpool city centre to host International Beatle Week this year, adding, “I think for me this is the most exciting job I have ever had and that is purely because of the change that I can make and what I can do for the area and what I can do for my home. I am not going to sit still. I haven’t sat still since the day I got here.”

Alongside the main theatre, the local authority is developing plans to increase the use of its Blue Lounge, sometimes used as a conference centre, hosting “high-end dinners” including a Eurovision screening, comedy nights, plays, live music, and a theatre festival.

Ms Campbell said, “For us it’s about diversifying that space and not think of it as a conference centre,” adding: “We have 370 shows in the main theatre so we are pretty much full. We have got about 20 quiet days and 390 shows means that we couldn’t take any more bookings so the knock on effect is that we are starting to do stuff in the Blue Lounge.”

While she acknowledged there were challenges bringing down the council’s subsidy on the theatre, Ms Cambell said rumours spread on social media the council was going to close the theatre also hadn’t helped, adding, “There’s a lot of things happening. There’s an absolutely bright future. The only challenge is to ensure that we bring that subsidy down. It wouldn’t matter who owns it. It needs to be commercially viable.”

She said, “I think for me the main thing is for everybody to get behind the Floral Pavilion,” adding, “I can bring the costs down by making more money and the way that you make more is to bring more business in.”

A vote on the theatre’s subsidy is expected to be later this week as well as future plans at a tourism, culture, communities and leisure committee meeting on 7 March. These are expected to pass smoothly as a saving linked to the Floral was part of the local authority’s latest budget approved unanimously by councillors.

Committee chair Helen Cameron said the local authority “do not want to lose the cultural heartbeat of any area,” adding, “I think that it is priceless. Pauline’s passion is infectious and for us to benefit as a regional theatre, to benefit from that wealth of experience puts us on a really good footing.

“We are trying to right size the council and I am determined to protect some of those non-statutory services. I think we have found a really good balanced position here. The subsidy for the Floral used to be bigger before Covid so they are actually going in the right direction.”

She added, “We can’t give assurances but I am pleased we have come to a balanced position on this because it’s now 10 years that possibly the council could have addressed this issue but with a new team in place, it’s already looking positive.”

Lead image: Pauline Campbell, venue manager of the Floral Pavilion and Conference Centre. Credit: Ed Barnes

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