A THEATRE lover has been presented with a British Empire Medal - 50 years after forming a popular amateur dramatics society.

Summerseat Players president Geoff Sword picked up the honour from Lord Lieutenant of Greater Manchester Diane Hawkins during a ceremony at Gorton Monastery.

He was named in King Charles’s first Birthday Honours list last June for his services to drama and the community.

Geoff said: “It was a very splendid and regal occasion and there were about 14 other people also receiving medals. I felt very honoured."

From the age of 16, he has been involved with amateur dramatics and used to attend Liverpool School of Dramatic Arts.

Together with wife Kay, Geoff was a member of Bebington Dramatic Society on The Wirral, and then, when they moved to Harwood, near Bolton, they joined Bury Theatre Group and then Edenfield Community Players.

Geoff, 83, from Greenmount, said: “Bury Theatre Group was based in Bury Tech, which could seat 600, while Edenfield could only seat about 50, we wanted somewhere between the two.

“In 1967, along with Geoff Higginbottom and his wife Paula and Jack Whitmore, we decided to set up our own theatre group.

“Holcombe Church had a Sunday School hall in Summerseat and we got permission to rent the space. We were offered 100 theatre seats, and a tin of gold paint, from the London Pavilion, which was closing.”

Everyone got involved with refurbishing the seats and the theatre opened as Summerseat Players in November 1968 with a production entitled Celebration. But the seats had all to be removed and stored after the performance finished so the building was available for Sunday School.

Geoff said: “We then negotiated to buy the building at a cost of £3,000. We had about 30 to 40 members, held garden parties and coffee mornings and raised the money.

“In 1969 we bought the building and I could finally fasten the seats permanently to the floor. I built a lighting box, designed and built the stage and we added curtains.”

When the players outgrew their base in 1990, then chairman Les Norris spotted the former Royal Cinema in Silver Street, Ramsbottom, was up for sale – at a cost of £180,000 and the Theatre Royal was born.

Geoff, then technical co-ordinator, said: “We left the old building in Summerseat in May, after the final night of Educating Rita and this was while we were also renovating the Theatre Royal.

“We worked day and night, building a stage, bespoke designing and creating the rake and fitting the new seats before opening in September with Stepping Out, a comedy about a dance school – it played to packed houses.”

Geoff became chairman in 2009 and oversaw a £430,000 refurbishment of an upstairs cinematography room, now a rehearsal and performance space, alongside refitting the bar and toilets.

He has been president of Summerseat Players since 2023, but is still 'hands on'.

“I am here every Tuesday and Sunday morning,” he said. “As well as rehearsing, playing parts in plays, designing, building and painting sets, I also produce and will be directing Quartet, which opens on February 19.

“I have produced and directed 57 productions on the main stage. I am never going to leave this place. It has been, and will always be, my life and Kay has always supported me in this and has been running the box office for many years.”