‘Opera House will remain closed without funding’

Opera House. Dinosaur World show. Minutes before the end of the show the building had to be evacuated. People waited outside for about 15 minutes before being let back in for the meet and greet with the dinosaurs Picture: ROB CURRIE

Pierre Horsfall said that a report commissioned last year at the request of government chief executive Charlie Parker showed that electrical and mechanical defects, along with leaks to the roof in potentially dangerous areas, meant that the building was not safe for the public.

The Opera House is currently prevented from opening by Covid-19 restrictions but Mr Horsfall said that the implications of the survey meant that it would remain closed until essential safety work had been undertaken. Since the Opera House board has no funding for this, the immediate future of the building is dependent on a fiscal stimulus bid currently under consideration.

‘The Jersey Opera House cannot possibly open in the state it is in because, if the directors did open it and there was an accident, they would be deemed to be reckless and irresponsible. So long as there are issues that relate to the safety of people, I feel duty bound as chairman [to say] that we would not be able to open without running [into] legal responsibility in the event of an accident,’ Mr Horsfall said.

Last year the board made a fiscal stimulus bid, thought to amount to £1.5 million, for additional funding to pay for both essential repairs and some redecoration.

In 2009, during the original fiscal stimulus programme, the board secured funding from the same source to complete work on offices and build a studio space, projects outstanding from the original refurbishment a decade earlier.

Mr Horsfall said the latest bid did not include refurbishment of the auditorium, nor works required to make it compliant with disabled-access legislation but did include some redecoration ‘to put the theatre in good order’.

‘Inside and out, what needs to be done should be done while the theatre is closed. It can’t be done by the Opera House itself; it can only be done by the [government]. This is an opportunity that is too good to be missed,’ he said.

Although the work of all the cultural organisations funded by the government has been affected by the pandemic, the Opera House is unique among them in not having offered any activity, physical or virtual, since the first lockdown.

Mr Horsfall said that the nature of the safety concerns meant that it was impossible to use the stage for events that might be streamed without a public audience present but he confirmed that core staff were being deployed to ensure that the building was ‘kept together’.

‘There are key people who we cannot afford to lose but obviously all our part-timers have gone. For example, it took us three years to get up to speed with our technicians. We were short of technicians and couldn’t recruit but we’ve now got a team of excellent technicians who are keeping an eye on the building. We could never replace them,’ he said.

Mr Horsfall said that the board did not know how long it would take to receive a response to its fiscal stimulus bid, which it is understood they were encouraged to make following discussions with the government. Neither could he say how long it would take to complete the essential maintenance if funds were provided.

However, he said they were ‘desperately keen’ to reopen. ‘It’s a long time since the Opera House was refurbished and it belongs to the people.

‘This opportunity is one that should be taken. It should be brought back to good condition and be enjoyed be people, both performing and in the audience. It is part of the community. It is unthinkable that it won’t reopen – it will,’ he said.

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