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Curtain Goes Up On 370,000 Seating Deal

A Lancaster business, which has played a major role in the world of theatre for 23 years, is one of the region’s true success stories.

Mainstage, based at Butler Works in Wyresdale Road, manufactures and sells portable staging and seating decks into markets ranging from professional theatre to village halls, from universities to primary schools and from conference centres to religious centres.

The business, owned and run by Mike Sweetland, is now one of the top three UK manufacturers of portable staging.

Mike, 58, is passionate about his company, the quality of his products and the service he provides for his customers. He delights in the whole process of business, which is unusual considering his background.

He set out in life with an honours degree in drama from Manchester University, which led to a career designing lighting for professional theatre.

Following a spell in the West End Mike returned to Manchester to join the fledgling Royal Exchange Theatre Company.

“I discovered I was never going to be the best theatre lighting designer in the world so I took a different route,” he explains. “I set up Mike Sweetland Lighting (MSL), bought some equipment and went into ‘rock and roll’ lighting working with some of the biggest names on the Manchester rock and roll scene.”

Mike launched Mainstage in 1989. Previous market opportunities had dwindled and the new company diversified into theatrical sales and installation work focusing on three key areas: staging systems, flame retardant sprays developed with the help of Lancaster University and a theatrical pyrotechnics business, sold in 2007, for West End shows.

The most important of these areas went on to become Topdeck Systems, now the lifeblood of the company giving employment to 14 Lancastrians and filling a 16,000 square foot factory.

Having married Elaine Charlton, the then manager of Lancaster’s Ashton Memorial, Mike lost heart with Manchester and moved Mainstage to White Cross in 1994.

“The opportunities in Lancaster allowed me to go, once more, for growth,” he said. “This time, however, I was armed with an Open University MBA. White Cross gave me the chance to expand gradually, until I was ready to take the plunge and, with the help of a grant, buy Butler Works from Evans Marquees.”

“Finally there was the space we needed to install the machines required to expand production and innovate the new products that have since become our hallmarks around the world.”

The main thrust of the business is very much about the light to medium duty staging products, including tiered seating banks, specialising in providing a bespoke approach. The focus is on the design and manufacture of products that are easy to carry, build, dismantle and store.

“We have a powerful team who take satisfaction by competing on the basis of superior marketing, adept customisation and the flexibility to turn on a sixpence to help to a customer,” added Mike. “This is at the heart of a strategy that turns manufacturing in the UK into a strength whilst competing in a global market.”

Key projects have included:

  • The Intergovernmental Commonwealth conference in Malta attended by the Queen – Mainstage provided a spectacular staging solution
  • Bath Abbey – Mainstage provided the tiering set for the choir and orchestra
  • City Hall, Glasgow BBC Concert Orchestra – Mainstage manufactured the orchestra tier
  • Staging and seating solutions for churches, schools and village halls such as Hornby Institute