IT was billed as the  “jewel in the crown” of Southampton multi-million pound Cultural Quarter.

But the future of the NST City in Guildhall Square and the Nuffield Theatre at the University of Southampton is now hanging in the balance as the theatres’ operator has gone into administration after being hit by the pandemic.

Administrators are now looking to find a buyer for the organisation that runs Nuffield Southampton Theatres’ two venues.

It comes as most of the organisation’s 80 staff have been on furlough since the Covid-19 lockdown caused all shows to be cancelled or postponed.

Southampton Nuffield Theatre Trust’s last accounts showed a loss of £507,000 for the financial year ending on March 31, 2019. The public document revealed the NST faced a “challenge to recover the exceptional loss” but it was anticipating a “significant improvement” to a £27,000 loss.

However, yesterday Greg Palfrey and Steve Adshead, from the South Coast office of Smith & Williamson in Southampton, were appointed joint administrators of the award-winning organisation.

Mr Palfrey said: “We will do our best to sell the business and its assets. The NST’s Board took the difficult decision to place the company into administration following an independent review and the weak financial position and uncertainty regarding when and how the theatre would reopen. NST, in line with other performance venues, suddenly found itself with unprecedented pressure on cash flow in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak.”

But he stressed that NST is a “well-respected” theatre company with a range of assets that could survive and thrive.

Southampton City Council, which owns the NST City building, said the site will remain in the ownership of the city council and it is not up for sale. But the impact the current situation will have on the council’s finances is yet to be confirmed. Cllr Satvir Kaur, cabinet member for homes and culture at the city council, said: “The council is not in a position to fund an unsustainable business model, and it is important that we do not rush into an unviable alternative."

The city is also set to bid to become City of Culture 2025. Despite the latest news city bosses remain positive over the future of culture in the city.

Cllr Kaur added: "The wider cultural sector in Southampton remains resilient and we remain committed to work with them and Arts Council England to reimagine and deliver a cultural offering in this space that benefits all our communities and will be part of our long term cultural ambitions for Southampton." Giles Semper, executive director at Go! Southampton, the city Business Improvement District (BID), said: "This is a blow but we still think Southampton has a fantastic chance to win the city of culture bid."

The University of Southampton also confirmed that the building at the campus is not up for sale.

The Nuffield Theatres started life in 1964, when the University of Southampton, supported by the Nuffield Foundation, built a venue on its campus for the people of Southampton.Meanwhile, NST City was opened in 2018.