New community theatre to open

NBENBE120207a1 Belper school new theatre. Seen in the new changing room headteacher Trevor Harding actor Sean McKenzie and chairman of the trust Andrew Williamson.
NBENBE120207a1 Belper school new theatre. Seen in the new changing room headteacher Trevor Harding actor Sean McKenzie and chairman of the trust Andrew Williamson.

A NEW £750,000 community theatre for Belper is due to be officially opened tomorrow, February 9.

The theatre, which is at Belper School, marks a new and exciting opportunity for the numerous arts groups in the area.

It will be opened by Heage-based actor Sean McKenzie and Andrew Williamson, who is the son of benefactor Audley Bowdler Williamson.

Mr McKenzie, 41, who has appeared in Downton Abbey, Birdsong and Holby City among other things, said: “I am very honoured to have been asked to do this. It’s not often you get asked to do things like this.

“I am really looking forward to it. I want to inspire the children. I have managed to achieve my dreams and they can too.”

The renovation was only made possible by a donation from the Ryklow Trust, an independent grant-making charity that was established in 1992 by Audley, who was generally known as AB.

On his death in 2004, AB — who invented Swarfega — left the bulk of his estate to the trust.

Throughout his life, AB had a long-standing interest in theatre. He was a founder member of Belper Players, where he experienced acting, producing and building sets.

Given his level of personal involvement with theatre, trustees thought it appropriate that cash received on his death should be invested in theatre renovation as a way of continuing his interest.

Trevor Harding, the head teacher at Belper School, first met AB when he called at the school to arrange a letting for Belper Players. Trevor, who said he found him engaging, commented: “We have a large number of students who are interested in drama and music and this facility will be of great benefit to them.

“We are excited about the possibilities offered by the Belper Community Theatre, and very grateful to the trustees for using AB’s trust money to make this possible.”

The theatre had seen little improvement and renovation since being opened, along with the school, in 1973. The new theatre has a purpose-built stage, new technical facilities, raked seating and more spacious and serviceable backstage areas.

A spokeswoman for the school said: “The new equipment will be invaluable to the arts departments.”