A week ahead of its first birthday, the Rose Theatre in Kingston-upon-Thames has been saved from closure by a £2.7 million loan over three years, funded jointly by Kingston Council and Kingston University. 

As part of the deal, the theatre will be made available to the Borough for events including school concerts and workshops, while the University will also have access to the facilities, including using it for graduation ceremonies. The venue has also agreed to establish a youth theatre and participate in free ticket schemes for children.

The Rose, which cost £11 million and was over six years in development, opened in January 2008. It has faced many financial difficulties since its conception, primarily due to a lack of subsidy (it receives no Arts Council or Lottery grants). It was spearheaded by Sir Peter Hall who envisaged the venue as an ensemble-led Elizabethan-style playhouse modelled on the original south bank venue. Hall has since been replaced as artistic director by English Touring Theatre founder Stephen Unwin (See News, 21 Jan 2008).

The decision to grant the funding was a contentious one, with the council only voting 20 to 19 in favour at an emergency meeting. The primary opposition came from the Conservatives, with Kingston Conservative party leader Howard Jones labelling the decision "scandalous".

However, support for the theatre was vocal at the meeting, prompting Grove ward councillor Chrissie Hitchcock, a supporter of the loan, to address the gallery: "We have never had a whole public gallery of protesters about the theatre and that speaks volumes to me. It's the same as a marriage - you have bad times and good times, better and worse but you always stick together to make things work." 

The loan constitutes three annual payouts of £600,000 from Kingston Council and £300,000 from the University. As part of the deal the Council also waived £160,000 of interest accrued on a previous loan to the Rose.

Reacting to the news, Rose chief executive David Fletcher said: “We are thrilled that the new funding agreements ... have allowed the Rose Theatre to continue to operate beyond its first year. The theatre can now concentrate on developing its audiences further and producing rich and varied programmes. In return, the people of Kingston will have greater access to the theatre, a wide range of community projects will take place on the theatre’s stage ... and education activities will take place at the theatre. We look forward to celebrating our first birthday on 16 January 2009 and to a busy and happy year ahead at the Rose.”

- by Theo Bosanquet