A YORK theatre is launching an appeal to track down and save precious memorabilia ahead of its 90th anniversary.

Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York’s community-run theatre, is launching an appeal to track down and collect the memories and artefacts of past performers, hirers, volunteers and audience members. 

The theatre, in Haxby Road, was built by the Joseph Rowntree Village Trustees as a place for recreation and education for the benefit of Rowntree employees and the local community. It was opened by Seebohm Rowntree in 1935, so will soon be celebrating its 90th anniversary.

Ahead of that, the theatre is launching a city-wide drive to collect as much memorabilia as possible. 

Working with The Borthwick Institute at the University of York, theatre volunteers will be running a special campaign during April to collect much loved personal items such as photographs, programmes, posters, press cuttings and the like with the view to and preserve them for future generations. 

York Press: Where’s Charley? (1978) Joseph Rowntree Youth Theatre GroupWhere’s Charley? (1978) Joseph Rowntree Youth Theatre Group (Image: Supplied)
Volunteers are in place to collect items between April 17 and 30 by visiting people at home or for anyone to drop in at the theatre and deposit items when the theatre Box Office is open (10am until 2pm daily, except Sundays and Bank Holidays.

Graham Mitchell, the theatre's community engagement director, said: “The theatre already has an extensive archive going right back to 1935 when the theatre first opened, and that is deposited with our friends at The Borthwick Institute. 

"There are, however, a lot of gaps, especially since the 1960s and we know that many people, including our hiring groups and many volunteers - both past and present - have precious items stored away at home that we would love to see stored safely for posterity. 

York Press: Joseph Rowntree Theatre in Haxby Road, YorkJoseph Rowntree Theatre in Haxby Road, York

"We do not want items to be lost forever. We already have one excellent contribution from one of our patrons, the actor David Bradley, a photograph showing him as one of the ugly sisters in a production of Cinderella from 1963!”

Dan Shrimpton, chair of trustees at the theatre, added: “This is a conscious effort to ensure that as the theatre approaches its 90th birthday in 2025, we will be able to share with people a real sense of the impact of the theatre on not only the local Rowntree/Nestle communities but also the whole city of York. 

"We are a community theatre with a real sense of place. The theatre itself was built with the specific purpose of being there for community use, it is still run by the community, for the community and we want to be able to properly celebrate how people’s lives have been impacted by being able to perform, volunteer, or just come along, sit in a comfy seat and enjoy excellent, affordable, entertainment.”

Graham added: “We understand that many people will not want to part with their precious mementoes, but in those cases we would love to be able to borrow items for a short time so that we can take copies and place the copies in the archive. 

"I have already copied a few items and scanned them into our records, including one of special interest - a programme from1966 of a largely forgotten event when a large group of young German performers visited from Berlin and staged “Der Mond”, an opera by Carl Orff, at the theatre.”

York Press: Der Mond” programme front (1966) The Walther Rathenau School & Hildegard Wegscheider School from Grunewald, Berlin, East Germany.Der Mond” programme front (1966) The Walther Rathenau School & Hildegard Wegscheider School from Grunewald, Berlin, East Germany. (Image: Supplied)
To find out how to donate items please email friends@jrtheatre.co.uk or write to Graham Mitchell at the theatre with your contact details and an outline of what you would like to have deposited.

Dan said: “Being able to demonstrate our role in the community and the impact we have had - and continue to have - over nearly 90 years is vital to our plans for the future. We have big plans to make the theatre even more inviting and welcoming, which will take at least another five years to put in place.”