YORK'S Joseph Rowntree Theatre is planning a day of celebrations on Wednesday to mark the 150th birthday of the theatre's founder - philanthropist and social reformer Seebohm Rowntree.

There will be a fund-raising champagne tea in the afternoon, followed by a party for invited guests from the theatre and civic world in the evening.

As well as being the founder of the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, Seebohm - who was the son of Joseph Rowntree - was the saviour of the Theatre Royal in the 1930s. He was also well known for his philanthropy and involvement in politics.

A friend of Lloyd George, he wrote pioneering studies of poverty in York which ultimately helped pave the way for the modern welfare state.

But it is his contribution to the arts in York - and specifically his founding of their theatre - that Rowntree Theatre members will be celebrating on Wednesday, which would have been Seebohm's 150th birthday.

As the chairman of Rowntree and Company, Seebohm was responsible for building the theatre. Opened in1935, it was intended mainly for Rowntrees’ factory workers and their families. It incorporated many of the most modern technical elements of its time.

Graham Mitchell, the Joseph Rowntree Theatre's community engagement director, said: “The theatre was opened on Monday November 18 1935 by Seebohm Rowntree with the ambition of it being a 'fitting centre for those recreational and educational activities which make for a full and happy life'. It has certainly lived up to that aspiration - welcoming thousands of people a year to enjoy all types of entertainment by performing, helping backstage, or simply by sitting and enjoying wonderful shows.”

The theatre is showing its age, though. "We are in the middle of a big appeal to fix the roof and make the building watertight so our 150-plus volunteers can continue fulfilling Seebohm’s ambitions for a true community theatre," Graham said. You can support the appeal by visiting the theatre's website - josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk - and 'buying a tile'.