Regent owner Allan Webb in his number one theatre – his favourite for its opulent collection. Photo / Dean Taylor
It has been a question asked many times over the past few years: What will become of the Regent Theatre when Allan Webb QSM finally retires?
Now that time is fast approaching, but there is an answer.
In an act of incredible generosity Allan is gifting the theatre building, equipment and museum-like collection to the town where he has been in business almost half-a-century.
A small and dedicated team has been working over the past few months with Allan to put a structure in place to ensure a seamless transition. That team comprised: Alan Livingston, former Waipā mayor and Waikato Regional councillor; Marcus Gower, Waipā District councillor; Campbell Stewart, partner at law firm Tompkins Wake; Chris Lane, director from Big Kid Film Productions; Gina Scott, Waipā DC community advisor; Dean Taylor, editor Te Awamutu Courier.
The goal was to ensure the treasure that is the Regent Theatre was not lost to the community, and that the tireless, and often unseen, work that Allan had put into the theatre, the town and into preserving and recording the history of the motion picture industry in New Zealand was preserved.
The task looked enormous, but we agreed the effort was worth it. The trust also wanted to fully honour Allan’s generosity.
We looked into a number of models for running a community owned theatre, and liaised with some established operations, to find a structure that best suited the needs of Te Awamutu.
The Allan Webb Theatre Trust has been established and incorporated under the Charitable Trusts Act. Current trustees are Alan Livingston, Brooke Alder, Campbell Stewart, Chris Lane and Dean Taylor.
Brooke is a part-time Regent Theatre staff member and she initiated the well supported Givealittle campaign for the Regent Theatre. Marcus and Gina will continue to work with the group and Merv Gyde and Lance Fielder from GFA Accountants have also offered to be involved and support the project.
The gift from Allan will be made to the trust on March 31 next year. Operating the theatre from April 1, 2022 will be the responsibility of The Theatre Beautiful Limited, a charitable subsidiary of the Trust, reflecting one of Allan’s nicknames for the Theatre.
The trust will be on the hunt for a manager who can help to realise commercial opportunities to grow and develop the facilities to being a hub for community activity and gatherings. The plan is to retain existing staff and also possibly have a volunteer component.
Working closely with the trust board, the manager will continue to keep the movies rolling and investigate ways to diversify into others forms of entertainment.
The challenge will be to bring people out of their homes and away from their on-demand, at home viewing. We are going to need the community’s support to draw upon our entrepreneurial nous to make this happen.
The trust is excited and eager to be recruiting a manager to start in March. It is likely this will be a flexible part-time role.
Trustees are working with Catherine Stapleton, the lead consultant for the local HR business, Stapleton Consulting to develop the role and our search for the right person.
They say it is great to be partnering with Stapleton Consulting for this project.
“Catherine and her team are well-equipped to seek out the right person for us but to also help develop the job scope and purpose for this new role.
“She has developed a reputation for finding and helping to retain the right people for many local Te Awamutu businesses of all sizes and industries.”
Catherine says she believes community projects such as this need great people to get them off the ground and make it happen.
“The trust board have the passion and experience they just need to be supported by a manager to help make it all happen,” says Catherine.
“It’s a privilege to be using my expertise to help the trust make a project like this happen.”
The volunteer aspect has yet to be finalised, but the trust is keen to have a ‘Friends of the Regent’ group to assist with maintaining and growing the support base for the movie theatre, and possibly fulfil any volunteer requirements.
While The Theatre Beautiful Ltd will look after the commercial running of the theatre for the trust, keeping separation means the trust can also apply for funding to maintain the heritage listed historic building and undertake improvements and upgrades.
The charitable commitment of the trust will be to find ways to support the community. Plans are still being developed, but ideas include providing educational and fundraising opportunities.
The trust is also open to diversifying the use of the theatre – but always maintaining the commitment to Allan that first and foremost it is a movie theatre, and that the collection of memorabilia and artefacts will be preserved.
While the trust continues to work on recruitment and setting up the new model, Allan and the Regent Theatre will celebrate another milestone on March 12, 2022 when the theatre turns 90.
While the Regent isn’t the oldest movie theatre in New Zealand, Allan says it is the longest continuously operating.
It opened on March 12, 1932 and has never been intentionally closed. In the almost 90 years, the doors have only shut for Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.
With the new model in place from next year, the aim is to see the Regent Theatre maintain a vital and important role in Te Awamutu to 100-years-old – and beyond.
Lovers of the Regent who would like to share memories of and ideas for the Theatre, or register their interest for becoming a Friend of the Regent are invited to drop a line to the trustees via the Facebook page – Regent Theatre Te Awamutu.