PASSION for a cause is something you cannot fake – and Sarah Lancashire clearly has it in spades.

“If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it,” she says, a steely determination to her voice.

She is, of course, talking about local theatre, having just been made patron of the Dukes, in Lancaster.

"The equation is simple.

“And if a theatre closes it will have a devastating impact on the community.”

The actress and director has taken up the torch for the north Lancashire venue and is now on a mission to encourage people back into the stalls.

Arts funding has dropped, she explains, and people seem less inclined these days to get their coats on for a night out.

“Viewing habits have changed.

“We all lead very busy lives and complicated lives and planning a trip to the theatre isn’t something we want to do when we’re trying to combine our work and family lives.

“But it doesn’t have to be every night. Once a month, it would make a huge, huge difference.” S

arah, currently appearing on our screens in BBC’s Happy Valley, began her own career treading the boards.

In the 1980s she did two productions with the Manchester Library Theatre – The Beauty Game and Pacific Overtures – and this gave her career the lift-off it needed.

“It was absolutely the start of my career as an actor,” she says.

“And we have to foster and nurture talent.

“More to the point, talent has to have a place to be nurtured and to be fostered.”

The 49-year-old – best-known for her role as dizzy barmaid Raquel in Coronation Street - was officially named patron of the Dukes on April 25, when she attended a charity gala performance of The Life and Times of Mitchell and Kenyon.

But, disappointingly, the theatre was only half-full.

“It had actually been in the planning for three years,” she says.

“That night it was half-full. I prefer to say half-empty.

“If that production, which was a superb production, was only playing to 55 per cent capacity, the writing’s on the wall.”

Sarah was born in Stretford, Manchester, and moved to Oldham when she was three.

She enjoyed attending her local Coliseum theatre as child, before moving away to attend the Guildhall School of Music and Drama at the age of 18.

After her four-and-a-half-year stint on Coronation Street – the character famously leaving behind a heartbroken Curly Watts – Sarah went on to appear in Where the Heart Is, Clocking Off, Rose and Maloney and The Paradise.

In 2005 she starred in the BBC’s Cherished, playing a British woman convicted of killing her baby sons, played the mother of a murdered prostitute in drama, Five Daughters, and in November 2012 began playing a lesbian character in Last Tango in Halifax.

As of April 29, she has been playing troubled cop, Catherine Cawood, in Happy Valley.

“Actors move on,” she says, when asked if she deliberately chose roles to distance herself from Raquel.

“The whole point of being an actor is to take someone else’s words and do something with them.

“An actors’ life is transient.

“I’m happy to talk about Raquel but she’s not on my radar anymore!”

Since her days on the cobbles, in the 1990s, she has also performed on the West End stage in productions of Guys and Dolls and Betty Blue Eyes.

Now London-based, she tries to get to a theatre performance every three weeks – and plans to work hard to encourage more people back to the Dukes, which has space for theatre, dance and film.

“It’s incredibly important that theatres are supported so I’m going to be doing things like this: making a nuisance of myself, persuading people,” she says.

“The thing about the Dukes it it’s the only theatre within miles and so when you look at it from that perspective you can see how important it is.”

She explains that the venue runs both in-house theatrical productions – although these have reduced from six every year to just three - and external productions.

She also hopes to encourage people from further field to visit Lancaster, taking in a trip to the Dukes along the way.

“Lancaster is a beautiful, beautiful city. It’s absolutely wonderful.”

Then some of that steely determination – that passion for her cause – returns to her voice.

“What I really want more than anything is for people to take a walk and go through the doors of the theatre,” she adds.

“Go inside and see what it has to offer.

“If you’ve never been before it might be scary, but it is a lovely, warm place.

“You’ve just got to put on your coat on and get on the bus or get in the car.

“It’s worth it. It’s really, really worth it.”