Theatre fits state-of-art loop

The historic Devonshire Park Theatre has moved into the technological age with the installation of a revolutionary system to help hearing aid users.

Gavin Davis, manager of Eastbourne Theatres, said that they had listened to their patrons who had been unable to enjoy performances at the Grade II listed building, which was built in 1884.

Now over the summer the theatre has installed a low spill, phased array hearing loop system, which was this week receiving a good work-out by visitors to the Eastbourne Stagers’ production of “The Wizard of Oz”.

“We have listened, and it was thanks to the first few meetings organised by the ‘Let’s Loop Eastbourne’ group that we realised even though we already had provision in the theatre for the hearing impaired with an infrared system, many of our visitors were finding quality problems.

“We found that a large number of hearing-impaired visitors were not returning to the theatre because they did not enjoy the experience.”

Mr Davis explained that there were “sound economic reasons” for installing the loops in a bid to get patrons returning to the theatre.

The Devonshire Park Theatre worked in conjunction with the company Contacta who fitted the system.

And on Sunday, the BBC’s Breakfast Time programme visited the theatre to film what was happening in the town for those with a hearing loss, and which was due to be broadcast today (Friday).

“I am absolutely delighted with what the Devonshire Park Theatre has done,” said Cllr Janet Coles, Eastbourne Borough Council’s disability champion.

“It is a wonderful opportunity for people whose lives have been changed because of their hearing loss to enjoy the theatre. That is really great.”

The news falls at a time when Eastbourne is due to host an international conference on hearing loops next month, which has been organised by the charity Hearing Link.

It is part of a wider “Let’s Loop Eastbourne” initiative, backed by the Herald which aims to create Eastbourne as the best looped town in the UK.

Andrew Thomas, Contacta’s business development manager, described the set-up at the Devonshire Park as “unique”.

“Other theatres in the country have hearing loops, but this is one of the best,” he said.

The Devonshire Park Theatre will maintain its infra red system when visitors wear headsets or neck loops - the Friends of the Devonshire Park Theatre provide an audio description service for the visually impaired every Friday evening and Saturday matinee.

“However, with this system it means you have to take out your hearing aid to put on the headset, and for some that is not ideal,” added Gavin Davis.

Cllr Coles said she was hopeful that hearing loops would be installed at the £35 million Devonshire Park development, unveiled last year and which will feature a complete refurbishment of the Congress Theatre, Winter Garden, plus the building of a new conference centre.