AFTER more than four decades of performances at the Theatre Church, the curtain came down on the final performances in 2012.

The building was originally a school, constructed in about 1866.

In 1969, it was converted to offer a purpose-built theatre space for local groups and was used by hundreds of people every year.

The venue, owned by Bolton Methodist Circuit, was home to five amateur dramatic societies, two youth theatre groups, eight dance groups and numerous other community organisations for many years.

In 2011, Bolton Methodist Circuit announced plans to merge three Methodist churches — Astley Bridge, Chorley Old Road and Halliwell — and move to a new building in Chorley Old Road, due to dwindling congregation numbers.

A Save Theatre Church campaign was set up and CATS Youth Theatre, which used the venue, was granted charitable status to help the fundraising bid.

Campaigners initially set about raising £750,000 but Paul Cohen said an independent survey valued the building at £270,000.

They were able to submit their bid for £300,000 thanks to fundraising and support from businesses but it was sold for £500,000.

Mr Cohen, chairman of Bolton Amateur Theatre Societies (BATS), said: “I still think it was very short-sighted of the Methodists in 2012. I know it was financial and, under business, I accept that.

“It’s not for sale, it’s their building and they can do what they want with it but the fact is that Bolton is going to lose a theatre which is perfect for everything we do.”

The new owners took over the building with Dr Mohammed Kulasi, spokesman for the new owners, offering the theatre groups the chance to rent the venue for £70,000 a year, a rise of tens of thousands of pounds on what they used to pay.