Theatre launches Friends scheme to help raise funds

The charity that owns and runs Joseph Rowntree Theatre on Haxby Road is fundraising to help finance an ambitious plan to expand and improve facilities as well as make it truly accessible to all.

York’s only Art Deco theatre, the Joseph Rowntree Theatre is a unique listed building and community asset. It was built in 1935 for the benefit of Rowntree’s employees and the citizens of York.

The theatre is a fully functional theatre capable of staging west end musicals, plays and concerts and also offers theatregoers 365 comfortable seats. It is the only community run theatre with these facilities not only in York but in large swathes of North & East Yorkshire. It is also unique in being the only purpose built theatre in the whole country (if not the world) built by members of the Quaker faith.

Over 35 groups use the theatre to stage musicals, plays, opera, dance displays, concerts and other events, and it also welcomes touring companies & artistes such as Oddsocks Theatre Company and the forthcoming Tina Turner Experience tribute show. They host the popular York Community Choir Festival each year as well.

Money raised will be allocated towards the costs of getting the designs and permissions necessary to create a modern extension to the building whilst retaining its Art Deco charm. There are four core aims for the development;

Make the theatre more easily accessible to all, including those with mobility issues.
Improve audience and back stage facilities, to create a building fit for the modern day.
Create more circulation space so people can socialise before and after a show.
Make provision for small group gatherings separate to the main auditorium.

Dan Shrimpton, Chairman of trustees of the charity explained “Our purpose as a charity is to be a vibrant community hub of activity promoting the performing arts and other entertainment. To do this successfully in the 21st century demands that we improve the facilities on offer whilst preserving the best of the past. We are at an early stage of planning and preparations, and we want to involve as many people as possible - hence our new friends scheme. Money raised from the scheme will help us to progress our plans as well as allowing us to make improvements that do not have to wait for a full scale programme of work.”

Graham Mitchell, Fundraising Director of the charity states “At the same time as modernising, it is vital that we preserve the unique heritage of Rowntree’s Cocoa Works, of which the theatre was an integral part …… and we will do.”

Graham explains the idea behind the new scheme “Over the years the theatre has built up a loyal following amongst audiences and performers alike, a great many of whom pay tribute to the part the theatre has played in their lives. We are therefore launching “The Friends of Joseph Rowntree Theatre” and we are asking those who feel our work to maintain and improve what is a significant and historic community asset to become our “friends”. Membership is open to anyone who believes that having an affordable theatre that respects the Rowntree legacy and keeps a listed building fully operational is worthy of their support; regardless of where they live, or whether they have actually experienced the theatre in action. Membership has three levels with different rewards depending on the choices made. The starting level is only £34 per year.”

He adds “The theatre has played an important part in many lives and we believe that it will continue to do so for many years to come. Looking back at the archives we see that Judi Dench’s dad was a volunteer stage hand and that many performers have gone on to successful performing careers including award winning actors David Bradley, Mark Addy & Janet McTeer, plus local radio personality YO1 Radio’s Dougie Weake.”

To find out more and to join you can visit the theatre website, call the box office on 01904 501935 or request a Friends brochure by phone, mail or by email to