What is the history of the Mecca Building?
The second cinema in Taunton to bear the name Odeon was initially opened as the Gaumont Palace Theatre on 11th July 1932 with Renate Muller in “Sunshine Susie”. It was built for Albany Ward, a division of Gaumont British Theatres. It featured a restaurant at first floor level above the main foyer, which had decorative freizes of birds and flowers painted by artist Frank Barnes. In the auditorium, the decoration was elaborate with shell-like wall sconces and a highly decorated ceiling panel. The proscenium was 50 feet wide and the stage was 74 feet wide, and 21 feet deep. There were eight dressing rooms.
It was renamed Odeon in 1969, and was closed by the Rank Organisation on 5th September 1981.
From November 1981 it was converted into a Top Rank Bingo Club, which later became a Mecca Bingo Club. The former projection box has been converted into offices, but the auditorium and foyers remains pretty well intact. It also retains many of it’s external features, the canopy has been enclosed in light blue metal cladding.
The former Gaumont Palace is a Grade II Listed building.
Why not build a new theatre in Taunton?
We believe that the location of the Mecca building is ideally suited for many reasons and any new build will have to be away from the town centre and hence will not benefit the town centre, which we believe is an essential element in keeping our town centre alive for those that live and trade there. Moreover, it is cheaper to create as a new build would be around £25m, its next to Castle Green and Museum making the location a cultural quarter and next to all transport links. Additionally, large theatre builds only happen where there is an infrastructure to support it so any theatre that seats 2000+ would require a whole rethink of roads, services, hotels, transport and many others. Taunton can’t do that now but it can take on the Mecca building and Taunton needs a 1000+ seat venue and we have one. We just need to reclaim it.
How does the economics workout?
Raising funds will be a challenge but once achieved the place will need to make money and find regular support. This can be achieved through many means and we have a team of people who know this landscape well. With possible community shares and match funding we can achieve great things. Moreover, the impact on Taunton economically is massive. If 1000 people attend an event and each spend locally £40 per person on food, drink, transport, etc. that would equate to £40,000. Times that by 25 big events each year that would bring £1m into the local economy. Not forgetting other events throughout the year. We must reclaim this building.
How will the community benefit?
With options to have smaller rooms, cafe, restaurant and smaller local events the community will have access to an array of services and events. We intend to make it community focused and will ensure the community can use it to create their own arts and culture. With cinema options, dance hall, workshops, meeting rooms, conference facilities and rehearsal space it will be a thriving hub for people of all ages and economic standing. Reclaimed by the people for the people.
How can you make it purpose built for today's theatre and music events?
We can’t deny that it will be a challenge to retro fit a new stage and all the mod cons that today’s performance requires, but with many innovations and design in this field it is not something that can’t be overcome. Yes, large music events are much easier to achieve and happens to be the most common type of performance people attend, but with some great design we can deliver a range of lighting and sound that fits with most performance types.
Who is involved in this campaign?
This campaign is delivered by Taunton Arts Business Cultural Alliance, with many local people on the board. Chair Andrew Knutt and its board is key in driving this forward and all have the capacity to see this through and take on the building and deliver all that’s required. There will be a range of public meetings in the future and we suggest you signup to our email newsletter or as a member to ensure you stay updated and have your say.
Will Taunton Deane Borough Council support your campaign?
In 2010 the council did support the original campaign for reclaiming the Mecca building but this will require a revamp and new consent from the council. However, we remind local people that councils are not owners or our communities but custodians, and therefore if the community voice is big enough they have take notice and act just as we did as a country with Brexit. So get on board today and support our campaign by signing up.
What did others say about reclaiming the Mecca building in 2010?
There was some interesting responses back in 2010 but most were positive reaffirming the relaunch of this campaign. BBC website has the best which you can find here.