Ledbury’s Market Theatre is raising funds for an air conditioning system that will allow it to open fully for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

The theatre has been opening to smaller audiences since it reopened in June 2021 because of the Covid safety measures it has in place.

Theatre bosses say ventilating the auditorium and maintaining a comfortable temperature for audiences has always been a challenge.

But with some shows running at a loss, the situation has now become unsustainable.

Paul Graham, the theatre’s artistic director, said: “At the moment we have voluntarily reduced our capacity to about a third.

“We block out every other row, then we have a single seat left vacant between each booking. It takes our capacity from 127 down to about the mid-40s.

“This is a problem financially because we have reduced box office and bar takings, which we rely upon. It’s not sustainable.”

The Market Theatre reopened in June 2021 having shut its doors at the start of the first pandemic in March 2020.

“We came out fairly gently with a few shows and gradually the programme has built up from there,” said Mr Graham.

“A lot of theatres have opened fully but as our ventilation isn’t as good as we’d like it to be, we made the voluntary decision to be cautious and limit our seating.

“The theatre was built in 2000 and much of the money was raised locally, so we couldn’t quite do everything we wanted and the heating and ventilation system ended up being a bit of a cheap and cheerful alternative.

“It’s made up of wall-mounted electric heaters and wall fans. It’s very difficult to balance the heating with a large audience and with the stage lights also generating heat.

“The new system will save us up to 90% on our heating bills, it will move us towards being a carbon neutral building and it will allow us to get back to having full audiences.”

The work, which will cost £60,000, is expected to take about six weeks and will happen throughout April and May. The theatre will remain open throughout this time.

If you’re in a position to help the Market Theatre financially and would like to contribute, you can visit www.themarkettheatre.com and click ‘Make a Donation’. Alternatively, you can add a donation when booking tickets online.

The theatre has a packed spring programme of live shows, music, films and ever-popular Encore Screenings from the National Theatre and National Ballet.