The Mayor of Ryde has promised that the town council will do all in its power to buy back Ryde Theatre after it was trashed in a mindless act of vandalism last week.
The carnage was discovered by top Island photographer, Sienna Anderson, who was given access inside the theatre to take these pictures.
Sienna explained: “My bike had been stolen during the week and I never thought for one moment I would get it back. I certainly never thought I would witness such a despicable sight that followed two days later. Thanks to social media, friends and the Isle of Wight community my bike was found the very same day.
“It was a bizarre account of events that led to the discovery. Last Thursday (January 14) lights were seen in the Bell Tower of the theatre, a beautiful iconic building. An alert was put out to the owners and a presence was made. It just so happened that, on the night of my bike being stolen, 24-hour security was set in place there.
“Within hours of security being put in place, several individuals illegally entered the premises but were chased off leaving my bike behind. This was fantastic news to me, but what was to follow is absolutely heart-breaking. The entire building had been vandalised – but this is on another level.
“Almost every pane of glass was smashed and walls were kicked in; an entire ceiling was brought down; paint was thrown everywhere; rows of seats were mindlessly thrown off the balconies; chandeliers were smashed; toilets and sinks demolished; pipes ripped from the walls flooding the floors below; beautiful wrought iron spindles kicked from their placements; stolen goods were scattered around the floor, still with labels scattered around. The list just goes on and on. This behaviour has sickened me. I’m embarrassed to be human!
“The owners are understandably distraught. Security will now remain in place for the unforeseeable future to prevent any further act of mindless and despicable vandalism.”
The building was bought off the IW Council by Ken Gladys in 2013 for his son Joe of Phantom Productions, whose company took it over. It has remained closed and over the years concerns have been raised numerous times about issues such as falling masonry, electricity being cut off, the closure of the public toilets and several reported break ins.
However, there is hope it can be saved. Ryde Mayor, Cllr Michael Lilley, said: “I am personally appalled about the way the theatre is currently being vandalised and totally committed to getting this iconic building back into public ownership.
“I believe it should have never been sold in the first place. The Isle of Wight Council had no right to sell it as it was built for the people of Ryde. We have to get it back, renovated and reopened.
“RTC has a strong plan to bring Ryde’s privately-owned important historic buildings back into use and in the last few months purchased Vectis Hall, is purchasing St Thomas’s Church and is trying to find a way of purchasing the Town Hall from the private owner (a Gibraltar registered Company) who bought it from IW Council in 2013.”
Ryde councillor Wayne Whittle also confirmed that the town council is holding on-going discussions to buy back the theatre and explained the history of the sale. He added: “During the lead-up to the disposal of Ryde Theatre, the town council considered purchasing it as a community right to buy project, but the council was in its infancy as it had only been established in 2008. Members feared the financial risks of taking on the theatre and voted against the commitment.
“So it was sold to Mr Gladys. Since then, not much has happened although concerns have been raised numerous times about safety issues and break-ins. We tried to get funding to purchase and restore the theatre via Historic England a couple of years ago but was unsuccessful.
“The council recently voted in favour of leasing the theatre for three years from Mr Gladys with an option to purchase (subject to winning any future enabling funding bids). I believe that negotiation is ongoing but agreeable. I have continually supported RTC getting involved in taking on the challenge of making the theatre a community project and venue and will continue to do so.”
The owners of the theatre were unavailable for comment. However, a town council spokesman confirmed: “There is 24-hour on-site security in place now and the clean-up has started. We are also actively seeking insurance for the building to enable the lease arrangement to be finalised.”