THE OLDEST working theatre in the UK has on May 1 launched a fundraising appeal to secure its future as it marks its triple anniversary, and is being supported by its local newspaper.

The Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond, is desperately seeking funding to help maintain it as a performance venue and from tomorrow will launch an appeal to raise £122,500 from donations – made up of a target of 10 donations of £10,000, 50 donations of £225 and 225 donations of 50.

The theatre is this year celebrating 225 years since the historic theatre was built; 50 years since it was re-opened as a theatre after being used as a wine store and auction house; and 10 years since it was fully restored following a Heritage Lottery Fund grant.

The theatre’s appeal is being supported by the Darlington & Stockton Times.

The Editor, Malcolm Warne, said: “The D&S has been a long-standing supporter of the Georgian. We have backed previous appeals. We believe it is a special place and deserves special treatment.

“It is tremendous cultural asset for Richmond and North Yorkshire and we need to make sure it continues to thrive.”

But staff and volunteers fear that without vital support from the local community it will not be sustainable as a professional performance venue in the future.

Chief executive Warnock Kerr said while the theatre is not making a loss, because it can only seat around 200 people per performance it does not generate enough income from ticket and bar sales alone to cover all the overheads as well as performance costs.

He said: “We used to get a lot of money from the Arts Council and the county and district councils but they do not have the budgets they once did for grants, and at the same time people who come to the theatre cannot afford to come as often as they once did.

“We do have application for grants in at the moment but we do not have assurances of them yet – what we need now is donations which will all go into the running of the theatre and keeping it alive.”

Sheila Russell, one of the 138 volunteers helping to run the theatre, who has been involved for more than 40 years, said the passion to keep the theatre going runs deep.

“We have to keep the theatre alive because it gives people so much pleasure,” she said.

“We have been through this before, years ago, but I think it is a serious situation. Richmond is so lucky to have the wonderful theatre and it is so well loved so we are asking for people to support us.”

Chairman of the trustees, Mac Bryant, described the theatre as a magical gem.

He said: “We thought this was the ideal time to launch the appeal to celebrate our triple anniversary.

“It does feel like a huge responsibility but we feel that it is not our theatre, we are just protecting it for future generations – and with a 180-member youth theatre we are certainly catering for the next generation.”

The theatre is supported by Richmond Amateur Dramatic Society and Richmond Operatic Society, who regularly use the theatre and help with fundraising efforts; and Richmond Town Council, which has doubled its financial support this year.

To donate, use the text donate service by texting TGTR01 £5/£10/£25 to 70070, visit the website or call the box office on 01748-823710.