'We are committed to finding a way forwards': Leyland theatre group face uncertain future amid pandemic

A Leyland theatre company described as a 'backbone to the community' now faces a 'crisis' after new rules by church wardens have left members worried they may never take to the stage again.
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The St Ambrose Players, based at Leyland St Ambrose Church, Moss Lane, were hoping to celebrate their 80th anniversary with a glitzy performance of Sister Act.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, all shows were put on hold, but publicity secretary for the society Sarah White has said the amateur dramatic group have continued to face difficulties from church wardens that have left them unable to use the church venue.

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A statement to their Facebook page, that received hundreds of responses, said: "In addition to Covid and the restrictions this placed on us and on societies up and down the country, we are unfortunately facing additional difficulties by new rules and restrictions put in place by the St Ambrose Church Wardens.

"These rules will seriously impact our ability to perform at the hall in future."

The society claims that restrictions put in place include them being unable to use the hall office space as changing facilities for the cast, meaning that children will be unable to perform in future shows because they cannot be segregated or meet the council's safeguarding laws.

Their statement also said that the removal of a fire escape backstage by wardens has meant the cast would see a 'delayed evacuation time' in the event of an emergency, and has been deemed unsafe by a health and safety officer.

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And they added that the church choir master now needs access to the choir vestry, the main cast changing room, leaving adult members feeling uncomfortable when getting dressed.

David White and Kimberly Barker of the St Ambrose Players theatre groupDavid White and Kimberly Barker of the St Ambrose Players theatre group
David White and Kimberly Barker of the St Ambrose Players theatre group

Their public statement said: "Some of you may be aware of the difficulties we have faced with restrictions and rules put in place by the church over the last few years.

"We feel that, whilst we have been prepared to discuss and compromise where possible, these latest rules are hugely damaging to our Society and our ability to perform at the hall in future.

"This is particularly sad in light of the fact we are facing added difficulties; currently unable to perform due to Covid and in light of the fact we do not know how long social distancing will be necessary. Safe spaces and the ability to distance has never been more essential.

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"As a committee, we feel incredibly sad that it has come to this point, however, as it stands we will be unable to perform at the hall with these new restrictions. In our 80th anniversary year, this is particularly painful.

Church wardens say they need access to rooms that the committee use during their performancesChurch wardens say they need access to rooms that the committee use during their performances
Church wardens say they need access to rooms that the committee use during their performances

They went on to accuse the church wardens of 'disregarding' their 80th year association with the hall when they were eager to continue supporting and entertaining their local community.

The St Ambrose Players have been putting on four show-stopping performances every year since 1941 - but for the first time, face uncertainties about their future and are seeking out public support and alternative venues.

One Facebook user commented: "This is shocking. St Ambrose players is a great part of the community. It brings people of all ages together as well as bringing much needed revenue into the church. It seems 80 years of bringing laughter and drama to the community counts for nothing."

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Another said: "St. Ambrose players are a backbone of the community we live in here in Leyland. You bring people of all ages together and give entertainers of all ages a platform."

The Leyland theatre group are now worried for their futureThe Leyland theatre group are now worried for their future
The Leyland theatre group are now worried for their future

Dave White, chairman of the group added: "We are currently faced with a crisis in many ways, above and beyond the pandemic which is bad enough in itself.

"We have been presented with church rules which mean that we can't adhere to legal requirements, so our future with the hall is in jeopardy unless they remove the rules for only four weeks a year."

St Ambrose Church currently runs a 'Halls for all' programme, in which rooms can be rented out for different purposes by community groups and businesses.

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In response, Reverand Marc Wolverson, Area Dean of Leyland said: "Halls for all is run as an independent business from St. Ambrose Church. Following the recent retirement of their Vicar, the Wardens of St. Ambrose Church made the decision that any hirers of the hall should be denied access to the Vicar's Vestry, the Vestry Corridor and the Church Office.

"This is because St. Ambrose is a busy parish where church services and activities often take place at the same time as activities and productions of those renting the hall.

"Clergy and church members need access to these rooms at all times. If St. Ambrose Players wish to discuss the situation further they are very welcome to contact the church wardens."

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