Winchester residents celebrate 40th anniversary of saving landmark theatre

The gang of six created The Winchester Theatre Fund in 1974 and stopped the theatre from becoming a supermarket

The gang of six created The Winchester Theatre Fund in 1974 and stopped the theatre from becoming a supermarket

First published in News
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Hampshire Chronicle: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter

KNOWN as the ‘gang of six’, there was no stopping them then — and now, 40 years on, they are celebrating the anniversary since saving a Winchester landmark.

In the same year that the Theatre Royal Winchester celebrates its centenary, it also remembers how six devoted residents battled to stop its closure as a supermarket giant planned its redevelopment.

The theatre had been earmarked for an Iceland, and after months of informal discussions and meetings, The Winchester Theatre Fund was created in August 1974.

They battled to have the building listed, and eventually bought it for £35,000.

On Monday, the remaining members held a reunion in the theatre’s Garden Cafe and reflected on how far it has come.

They were David Harding, Phil Yates, Richard Chisnell, Barry Richardson and Iain Steel — who represented the group’s first president, and his grandfather, Stanley Steel.

After the popping of celebratory champagne and chitter-chatter amongst old friends, Mr Chisnell said the theatre had grown to become a staple of the city’s community.

“It’s not just about having fun and enjoying productions, it has nearly 400 children learning communication skills,” he said.

“Children are our future and it’s vital to communicate and prepare them for what lies ahead. To think in 1974 it was going to be pulled down — look how much richer Winchester is now.”

David Harding said the group had never anticipated the theatre’s success, but saved it for the love of theatre itself.

He explained: “Thinking back to the first day that we got in here and got the keys, we got to the stage and it was covered in dust and filth from over the years. We never thought it would be as grand as it is today.”

Chief executive Mark Courtice said: “Their vision and sheer determination to make sure that this place stayed open is something we really do celebrate.”

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