Key venues in crisis?

PUBLISHED: 11:00 15 April 2013 | UPDATED: 11:11 15 April 2013

Winter Gardens Pavilion, Royal Park.

Winter Gardens Pavilion, Royal Park.

Copyright Archant Ltd

WESTON’S Playhouse theatre and Winter Gardens could be under threat of closure amid reports that one of the venues is haemorrhaging thousands of pounds a month, while job losses have pushed staff morale to an all-time low.

This week marks the two-year anniversary of Parkwood Community Leisure winning a 10-year contract to run the two key Weston buildings and the town’s Tourist Information Centre, but questions are being raised over the company’s ability to keep the venues afloat.

Insiders tell the Mercury the Winter Gardens is losing around £30,000 a month and many senior managers inherited by Parkwood have either been made redundant or quit their posts.

A spokesman from Parkwood Community Leisure admitted: “In the current challenging economic climate all businesses will be considering efficiencies and possible cost savings while striving to maintain standards.”

The buildings, which are still owned by North Somerset Council, have been heralded as some of Weston’s main tourist attractions, while staff excellence has previously been highlighted as a key strength.

But a former senior manager says changes have undermined many of the venues’ past successes, and now staff and customers are suffering.

The source said: “Under North Somerset Council’s reign, the review process highlighted that one of the greatest assets of the venues was the passion, dedication and knowledge of their staff.”

“However, with so many senior staff changes in the past two years, staff morale is low and loyal, hard-working staff are fearful of their job security.

“The result may be a financial saving but it has led to a reduction in customer service and safety.”

According to the insider, in the first two years of Parkwood’s contract, all of the senior managers of the Winter Gardens Pavilion and The Playhouse – who have more than 100 years combined experience in running the venues – have resigned, retired, been relocated or made redundant.

The most recent resignation was that of The Playhouse’s programme and marketing manager, Matthew Tilke, who has worked at the venue since the late 1990s.

He joins Playhouse front-of-house manager Barry North, who left in January 2012 and senior Winter Garden managers Jim McQuarrie and Julie Taylor, who were made redundant last year.

Resignations have also come from former head of Parkwood Theatres, Nick Mowat, and Playhouse technical manager Peter Magor.

Our source added these redundancies mean many staff have been forced to take on a host of extra responsibilities in running the venues in a bid to save money, but this has led to a reduction in customer service levels.

Cost-cutting measures have also had an impact on the venues, with delayed payment to suppliers, a reduction in the times the buildings are heated and the Friends of the Playhouse needing to buy staff equipment.

The Parkwood spokesman added: “As a market leader, Parkwood Community Leisure has substantial experience of operating large leisure venues during these tough economic times, and is also able to identify where opportunities exist.

“As a result, the Winter Gardens will soon be announcing a range of exciting new developments to add to what is already on offer to residents and visitors.”

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