VICTORIA Hall is one of the North West's best assets but it is in need of substantial funding to achieve its potential, say those who use it. Helena Vesty reports.

CHRISTMAS may be over – but a festive favourite is helping Bolton’s Victoria Hall to get the New Year off to a ‘flying start’.

For its New Year Concert, Bolton Symphony Orchestra will play to a screening of Howard Blake’s The Snowman – with a live performance of the score.

It's a welcome addition to the venue, which needs to bring in £500 a day just to stay open.

David Tomlinson, the managing trustee and property steward of the hall, has overseen the growth of the venue in recent years. He's hoping to secure grants which will enable them to grow and serve a bigger audience moving forward.

He said: “From a positive point of view, Victoria Hall has regained its direction. It’s rejuvenated and reinvented itself as an event centre.

“We have a business that needs to sustain itself and that’s the events and room hire. The use of the hall has increased since we marketed it better."

The Victoria Hall has the capacity to hold approximately 1,200 to 1,400 people, alongside a theatre in the building with a 250-person capacity and other function rooms.

Mr Tomlinson is looking for the funding to make the venue suitable for that number of visitors.

He said: “We can’t do these big shows because we have not got the facilities we would like to have to host bigger audiences.

“We’re applying for grants to do the big changes to the place.

“It costs £500 per day to keep the building going. We require an income of about £25,000 per annum to continue."

The Albert Halls, Bolton town centre’s main venue, closed for two years as it became the site of a £6.5 million refurbishment in 2015.

It was reopened in 2017, but groups which formerly called the halls home have had to rethink as a result of increased charges.

David Greenhalgh of Bolton Symphony Orchestra had no choice but to search for a new home for the orchestra after prices for the Albert Halls rose by approximately £5,000.

He said: “It priced us out. We’re a self-funded organisation, we rely on ticket sales, subscriptions and a bit of sponsorship.

“We had to make a decision. We couldn’t afford what the Albert Halls was asking on top of the hall and rehearsal costs.

“Out concerts cost around £3,000 to £4,000 to stage, they are not cheap affairs.”

Mr Greenhalgh added that he understood why the Albert Halls needed to raise the prices.

A council spokesman said: “The Albert Halls has to operate in a financially sustainable way, which is reflected in the pricing structure.

“And we support local charities and groups where we can - the Albert Halls’ theatre hire rates include 25 per cent discount for charity and amateur hires.

Mr Greenhalgh said: “We had already started to develop relations with the Victoria Hall.

“We reached an arrangement with Victoria Hall that means we can rehearse and put on concerts all within our budget.”

The orchestra is now planning a hopeful future at Victoria Hall, with dates already booked for 2021.

Although Bolton Symphony Orchestra has been rehomed to Victoria Hall, Mr Tomlinson says that the closure of the Albert Halls has not pushed groups to look to the venue instead, rather the two spaces are now working in partnership to bring cultural events to the people of Bolton.

He said: “The Albert Halls’ offering is different. They cater for small audiences and the acoustics of Victoria Hall are completely different.

“We have a cultural, working relationship with the Albert Halls, we’re working in collaboration.”

Mr Greenhalgh agreed, praising the venue but adding that Victoria Hall needs funding to be made more accessible.

He said: "It's a real asset for the town, it needs to get some funding to do some basic works.

"There is no lift to make it fully inclusive for all people. It needs a lift.

"It's all about funding, I really wish to make it a success and we try to support [the hall] as much as we can with fundraising on top of our concerts, but it does need some major commercial funding."

Mr Tomlinson added that the purpose of the Victoria Hall extends far beyond its role as a music venue, drawing in an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 people to its doors last year.

The hall's other activities include Christian outreach work, Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous groups, Dementia Support and the Destitution Project.

He said: "We serve the community. We have all these other activities that are happening.What we need to do is to keep a presence for all those in the serving community that support the charity causes and the worshipping community."