With a population of 120,000 in Taunton Deane and more houses been built the community need entertainment and community events
Once established this venue could contribute as much as £10m+ each year in the wider economy and create jobs, boost local business and revitalise the town centre day and night
82% of people purchase food locally when you going out for entertainment and 55% drink elsewhere before and after. Helping local businesses to flourish and grow
95% of the population of Taunton believe that the local council should invest in culture and entertainment within Taunton and they own the building and could offer a deal
What it could mean for Taunton, its people & arts & culture
About This Important Campaign Our Most Important Objective
Since 1932 this building in Corporation Street has always been a place where people meet and digest entertainment and culture and was the civic pride of Taunton.
Over 10 years ago a local man Jim Laflin and his volunteers campaigned to reclaim the Mecca Bingo Hall for the community (it use to be called The Gaumont). Though great strides were made and the local council agreed support it never happened as the company who own the building at the time did not want to sell. Now the local council own the building.
We have yet to have talks with them but with the increase of online Bingo and the drop in visitors this may be the right time to reclaim once again. While our team start these talks, we want to collect responses from those who support the reclaim so we can build a case for the community and start fundraising.
If you have never been in this amazing building, who use to show big names of the past such as The Beatles, David Bowie and many more, you should as its one of Taunton’s greatest treasures. We want to bring back civic pride and take the baton from Jim Laflin and campaign once again to make this venue the best entertainment and community space local and visiting people will love.
Negotiations, Feasibility & Funding The Quick How & Why
Here’s a quick whistle stop tour of the how we intend to kick start and run this campaign.
First we get supporters of all types to sign-up. We bring professionals on-board to assist in negotiations, feasibility and investment strategies. We launch new talks to get council support. We will actively seek private and public investors to help raise funds.
We may offer local people a piece of the pie e.g. the population on Taunton Deane is 120,000, if 50,000 people invested in £100 each we could raise £5m and we would seek match funding from other funding bodies. Though we do not know the selling or refit price we do know its estimated between £3-6m. Compare that to a new theatre build that would cost £20-25m is makes sense to bring back Mecca to the people.
Please note that we have yet to convince the council who own the building to sell and Mecca’s member’s will not be affected as campaigns like this takes years to achieve so we are here for the long term. However, in the past it was rumored that money from the sell might be used to build a new bingo facility in Taunton.
Check out our FAQ’s below to learn more.
FAQ Taunton Mecca (The Gaumont) Questions and answers to help you understand some finer details or ethos around why Taunton needs to reclaim this amazing 1000+ seater venue
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.
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.
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. Not forgetting other events throughout the year. We must reclaim this building.
For large 1000-seater venues our research has shown that they sell, as a minimum, 250,000 tickets per year. So, get those 250,000 to spend £40 in the local economy and that could generate £10m per annum.
As for the activities that go on in theatres spaces or MVP’s like Mecca, one needs to understand the marketplace. For example, Mecca is similar to spaces like Bristol Hippodrome, where big names from the comedy, live music and musical theatre circuit can perform. However, big theatre shows, such as Cats, Lion King etc. only perform in venues that have 2500+ seats.
Plus, it’s about economics of scale. For example, research we have done on other new venue proposals throughout the UK show that a 1000 or 1200-seater venue is best for bigger productions. In fact, at 1000 seats, venues present primarily one-night events; at 1200 seats, the programme is made up primarily of weekly runs. Such variants can be analysed through a feasibility study to inform the business plan.
We believe it’s also important to look at competition. At present in Somerset there are only a few venues that have 350 seats, such as The Macmillan Theatre in Bridgwater (built 2015 estimated at £7m to build). The Octagon in Yeovil has a 622 capacity. Cedars Hall is Wells has 350 and The Playhouse in Weston Super-mare has 644 seating capacity. The Brewhouse in Taunton has 350 seating and Tacchi-Morris has 250 seats. The Mecca Bingo hall in Taunton has 1100 capacity. Here we can clearly see that any MVP for Taunton should not compete with other venues but with 1100 seats it will attract different entertainment providers than these smaller venues.
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.
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.
Yes, we believe there should be an equally strong focus on non-cultural activities. Mecca as a mid-sized venue in Taunton would need to be a multifunctional hub, with other ways to generate footfall and boost income (e.g. conferencing, exhibitions, trade shows, fairs and markets, indoor ice rink, food and drink festivals, indoor sporting events (e.g. boxing, wrestling etc.), Expo’s, other festivals, venue/meeting room hire, etc.)
These ‘non-cultural’ uses would need to be included in the business plan but our research has also shown that it would be unwise to think that Taunton will attract very large conferences or trade shows as often these are associated with large conurbations and not the size of the venue. In addition we believe that there is enough non-cultural activity to deliver a robust financial plan that makes profit and supports the venue with little or no public funding in the future.
This campaign is delivered by Somerset 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.
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 taken notice and act just as we did as a country with Brexit. So, get on board today and support our campaign by signing up.
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.
To help us bring great acts and entertainment to Taunton plus provide a central point for all community activity I support the Reclaim the Mecca Bingo campaign and with Castle Green next door we can provide indoor and outdoor entertainment for the community and visitors to our town.
I have lived here all my life and with my own children and aging parents I want to ensure that they all get equal opportunities to live in a place that has community, arts and culture at its heart.
I would welcome the ability to visit Taunton to hear orchestral concerts, watch ballet and possibly opera or operetta. If the theatre were able to attract a broad and diverse programme of events I am sure it would serve all strands of society.
This isn’t going to attract the really big names who need arenas to perform in, but it will deliver the next best thing.