POOLE’S Lighthouse could have to consider closing during some of the coldest weather unless government help with energy bills continues next year, its boss has said.

Energy prices and recruitment are the biggest challenges facing the venue in 2023 after government support enabled it to get through the pandemic.

Accounts recently published for the year ending March 31, 2022, showed Poole Arts Trust, the charity which runs the venue, made a surplus of £182,568.

However, its events made a loss of £2.26m despite bringing in £2.57m. Catering and merchandising brought in £346,708 and the rest of the gap was made up by grants, including BCP Council support and two rounds of the government’s Culture Recovery Fund.

Lighthouse chief executive Elspeth McBain said she had been grateful for the government’s support.

“That, over the last two years, has been the real reason we’ve been able to stay in business. Without that, we would have really struggled,” she said.

“It’s enabled us to shore up our reserves again. We’d used all our reserves in the first six months of the pandemic and we were down to our last, probably, two to three weeks of money, so that was an absolute lifeline.”

She said the organisation was “not back to normal but we are back to a far better position”.

She said the venue’s energy prices were fixed until next October and hoped the government would continue supporting businesses who faced large bills.

“But for the moment, we’re having to look at future planning to consider what would we do if there was no additional support and it would mean radically changing how we deliver our services,” she said.

“We’re seeing whether we would close the building for periods of time in the colder months next year.”

That would not mean cutting back on the annual panto, which was “sacrosanct”, she said.

The year covered by the accounts saw Covid lockdowns followed by the return of live events, although many tours were called off by the promoters.

The omicron strain of coronavirus coincided with the return of Lighthouse’s panto in December 2021 and saw many staff fall ill while Beauty and the Beast was running.

“Our senior management team stepped in to enable the pantomime to go on, covering duty management, lighting operator and cinema projectionist roles,” Ms McBain wrote in the annual report.

“Fortunately, our cast and company remained Covid free, so we didn’t have to try our hand at acting! We were one of very few venues to present a full pantomime run.”

Ms McBain said sales of this year’s panto, Cinderella, had been strong, and that its Christmas show for younger children, The Jolly Christmas Postman, had played to 98 per cent of capacity.

“Things like light entertainment, comedy, where it’s a younger audience, where it’s fun and a known quantity and you’ll have a great time going out, have come back with a vengeance,” she said.

“Things that are more challenging – smaller scale theatre and an unknown quantity – can be more challenging to bring back. The orchestral concerts season has been significantly impacted as the whole demographic took longer to return and also a lot of those concerts have been live streamed so people are watching them from home. But we’ve seen over Christmas those audiences are booking for those Christmas concerts so we’re hoping that will start to bring demand back.”

The government has said it recognises that some businesses may require support with energy bills beyond the end of the current scheme in March 2023.

But it says the overall scale of support will be “significantly lower and targeted at the most affected”.