Vow to capitalise on Royal Hall TV success

HARROGATE Theatre has vowed to improve public access to the Royal Hall if it takes over the venue, after complaints that the town’s “jewel in the crown” is rarely open to tourists.

One woman travelled 100 miles to visit the Royal Hall after seeing it on BBC1’s Who Do You Think You Are?, only to find that the venue was closed.

The town’s tourist information office was also inundated with queries about the venue following the broadcast of the programme in September, which featured actress Emilia Fox exploring her Harrogate roots.

Coun Jim Clark, chairman of Harrogate Theatre, said that if the theatre was able to take over the running of the venue from Harrogate Council, it would make it more accessible.

“We’re very much in favour of having as much access as possible,” he said.

“We’ve got to have more than at the moment.

“It will not be open all the time, but it will be on request or on certain days.

“We have had offers from volunteers to show people around the Royal Hall. That’s the way forward: people who are enthusiastic and know about its history, so we are able to do it without it costing very much.”

Coun Clark said the issue had really come to attention following the screening of the Emilia Fox documentary.

“After that there was quite a bit of interest,” he said.

“One woman travelled 100 miles and was amazed to find she couldn’t get in and I know that the tourist office have had a lot of enquiries following that programme.”

It is one of the conditions of Heritage Lottery Funding’s agreement with the Royal Hall that it is accessible to the public.

Angus Houston, director of Harrogate International Centre (HIC) which runs the venue on behalf of the council, said there was no problem around access.

“We currently have nine tour dates booked up until May, in terms of open days and group tours,” he said.

“It’s obviously tricky to do immediate access there and then, but what we are trying to do is have a series of days when people can go round. We are not talking about a museum, we’re talking about a heritage building. It’s rare that you would have a free-for-all, with open access all the time.”

He denied that the hall had missed a trick following the BBC programme, but said: “I think the level of interest in the Royal Hall around that was terrific and we probably didn’t anticipate the level of interest that might have generated.”

Mr Houston added that a group of mature students had been given a tour of the hall shortly before Christmas, and access was “driven by demand”.

Harrogate Theatre is currently in talks with Harrogate Council to take over the Royal Hall.

The theatre’s board will discuss the proposals at its meeting on January 16, before the cabinet makes a decision on February 1.

Coun Clark said he was “optimistic” that there would be some sort of agreement.

“We still have the vision of ‘Harrogate Theatres’, with an ‘s’ at the end. That’s how we will market the whole thing.”