A MUSIC promoter has started a campaign to reopen iconic Blackburn venue Tony’s Empress Ballroom.
Pete Eastwood, who has worked with musicians in Blackburn for more than 16 years, founded the Friends of Tony’s Empress Ballroom Facebook group in March to spark conversation about reviving the venue.
With a rich history stretching back to the 1920s, Tony’s Empress Ballroom has a cult reputation and is perhaps best known for the all-night Northern Soul events it would host.
But since 2003, the venue has been largely closed. It is currently owned by Blackburn with Darwen Council.
Mr Eastwood, 57, said: “I want to raise awareness and, once we are allowed to meet physically, I’m going to push the council and the relevant people to see what we can do.
“To have a venue with 1930s original dance floor and décor, that would allegedly be the only original Northern Soul venue open in the UK - it’s a really good selling point. It’s a good argument. We’re not just trying to open any venue, this is really special.”
Backed by a group of passionate supporters and volunteers, Mr Eastwood sees this as an opportunity to not only bring back a Blackburn institution, but a chance to reinvigorate the area’s nightlife scene.
“Blackburn, like every town, deserves some culture and deserves a high standard of being entertained and offering something,” he said.
“We’ve got this potential. Yes, it is going to take money and it’s not going to be done overnight, but what an absolute shame for Blackburn - there aren’t many venues, and the pubs are shutting. To me, Tony’s Ballroom could be the jewel in Blackburn’s night-time economy.”
According to Mr Eastwood, there are several obstacles preventing Tony’s from reopening, but he believes these can be overcome with the right people and the right resources.
“The main barrier is there is no disabled access”, he said. “It’s on the second floor and there is no disabled access.”
“So, before we are even in a position to apply for funding - art funding, crowdfunding, any funding - we have to deal with the issue of disabled access, but the fact that the council owns the buildings around and next to it mean it’s doable.”
There are also other concerns about the building, such as the presence of asbestos alongside more general repairs.
“There is always a way to make something positive happen. I know the country is in a bit of a bad state, but there are pots of money for relevant projects. I just need the right people to have the conversation with us and, from that, will come the rest.”