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Back from the brink: arts venues thrown £3.8m lifeline

PUBLISHED: 17:32 12 October 2020 | UPDATED: 10:03 13 October 2020

Sarah Holmes with the team at New Wolsey Theatre. The recovery fund will ensure its survival until the new year. Picture: Mike Kwasniak

Sarah Holmes with the team at New Wolsey Theatre. The recovery fund will ensure its survival until the new year. Picture: Mike Kwasniak

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Suffolk’s leading arts organisations have been thrown a £3.8million lifeline by the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund which should, hopefully, help them remain solvent until the early new year.

Joanna Carrick, director of the Red Rose Chain based at Gippeswyk Hall in Ipswich, is looking at a brighter future having won support from the recovery fund  Photo: Andy AbbottJoanna Carrick, director of the Red Rose Chain based at Gippeswyk Hall in Ipswich, is looking at a brighter future having won support from the recovery fund Photo: Andy Abbott

The New Wolsey Theatre and Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds both netted £245,000, DanceEast secured £73,080, Red Rose Chain bagged £198,000 while Britten Pears Arts at Snape were offered a grant of £950,000 to ensure their survival.

Smaller organisations, libraries and heritage venues have also benefited including the John Peel Centre in Stowmarket, Museum of East Anglian Life, Spa Pavilion, Felixstowe, The SuffolkQuay Theatre, Sudbury, West Stow Anglo Saxon Village and Moyes Hall Museum and Apex operators West Suffolk Council.

In all 16 cultural organisations across Suffolk have received a total of £3.847m from the government’s £1.57billion Culture Recovery Fund. In north Essex, Colchester Mercury Theatre received £250,000, Colchester Arts Centre secured £51,986, Frinton Summer Theatre netted £68,000 and Harwich Festival landed £52,126. Colchester Borough Council which includes Colchester and Ipswich Museums received £84,500.

Of the other local organisations only touring theatre company Eastern Angles received bad news that they were unsuccessful in their application. Artistic director and co-founder Ivan Cutting said: ““Congratulations to all those in receipt of the cultural recovery fund: an excellent result for our region and brilliant to see some of our regular touring stops including The Seagull Theatre, Sheringham Little Theatre, Gt Yarmouth St George’s, Sudbury Quay Theatre, Diss Corn Hall and the John Peel Centre in receipt of such important funds.

Brendan Keaney at DanceEast is looking at a more stable future  Photo: DanceEastBrendan Keaney at DanceEast is looking at a more stable future Photo: DanceEast

“Like many other touring theatre companies, we are light on our feet with low staff costs and have the ability to postpone some things, so understand why theatre buildings have been prioritised. Nevertheless, it is still a challenging time for us, especially losing our seating and theatre hires and we can only do a Christmas show if we move it to February and reduce the capacity. Therefore, the support we have already received from National Lottery Heritage Fund and New Anglia LEP, which means we have been able to reconfigure our theatre and take to the street and roadside windows for our next projects, is vital for us.”

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “This funding is a vital boost for the theatres, music venues, museums and cultural organisations that form the soul of our nation. It will protect these special places, save jobs and help the culture sector’s recovery.

“These places and projects are cultural beacons the length and breadth of the country. This unprecedented investment in the arts is proof this government is here for culture, with further support to come in the days and weeks ahead so that the culture sector can bounce back strongly.”

This was echoed by Red Rose Chain’s Artistic Director, Joanna Carrick, said: “This fund is a major boost for Red Rose Chain at a very challenging time. We are delighted that the Arts Council and the Government have recognised the importance of our work, particularly with the local community. Throughout the pandemic, we have continued to support our participants and freelancers. This funding, together with the amazing generosity of our audiences, secures our ongoing digital programme and our return to live theatre with Theatre in the Forest in 2021.”

Owen Calvert-Lyons, artistic director and CEO of the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, said the award from the recovery fund wasa vital piece of good news  Photo: Theatre RoyalOwen Calvert-Lyons, artistic director and CEO of the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, said the award from the recovery fund wasa vital piece of good news Photo: Theatre Royal

Steve Mannix, executive director, Colchester Mercury Theatre, said: “This support from the Cultural Recovery Fund delivers a vital temporary lifeline for all of us at The Mercury and the sector as a whole.

“These funds will not only enable us to pay the wages of our 77 staff to next April, but to launch our new youth and community programme, commission local artists and creatives and help to at long last throw open the doors to our brand spanking newly refurbished theatre.

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“We look forward to welcoming you to our new home and to playing our part in ensuring that Colchester’s local economy can once again thrive and continue to embrace the arts, culture and heritage as a vital part of the town.

“These funds don’t solve everything but offer a glimmer of hope. For the first time in many months we all can start to look to the future with a sense of optimism and creativity.”

Two leading Ipswich organisations were thrilled to receive grants from the government’s Culture Recovery Fund which will allow them to see in the new year.

The New Wolsey Theatre has been awarded £245,000 from the fund distributed by Arts Council England.

Sarah Holmes, chief executive of the New Wolsey Theatre said: “This is very welcome news indeed and it will be a lifeline for so many cultural organisations across the UK. With this grant, The New Wolsey Theatre has a fighting chance of remaining stable through what is likely to be a challenging six months. The support from this fund means we can continue to develop a re-imagined programme and step up our creative community work. We have a new bounce in our step because the future for culture in Ipswich does not look as bleak as it did on Friday. We won’t be resting on our laurels but this is a hugely positive step forwards after what has been a traumatic six months for the sector.”

On the Ipswich Waterfront, the grant means new life at the Jerwood DanceHouse. As was the case for so many arts and cultural organisations, DanceEast was forced to close the iconic Jerwood DanceHouse in March, decimating the organisation’s earned income almost overnight. Whilst the building has now partially reopened to enable students from the University of Suffolk BA(Hons) in Dance and talented young people from DanceEast’s Centre for Advanced Training to access their training in person – the DanceHouse is still closed to the wider public for classes and performances.

Brendan Keaney, DanceEast artistic director and chief executive said: “It is so nice to have a positive story at a time when there is so much terrible news around – the funding will provide us with a vital lifeline and ensure we will still be here at the end of this year. It also means we can start programming some live socially distanced performances - which is great news for us, for our audiences and the people of East of England, and for the artists and freelancers who rely on us for work.”

For the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds the news that the venue has been successful in its application for a £245,000 share of the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund is a vital piece of good news.

CEO and artistic director, Owen Calvert-Lyons, said: “This money, alongside that raised in our The Show Will Go On! appeal during the summer, is an absolute lifeline for Theatre Royal. The grant will cover the significant costs of making our building Covid-secure and go some way towards replacing the extraordinary amount of income we have lost during our closure. Most importantly, this money will enable us to get our beautiful theatre back on its feet and ensure that we are able to reopen in Spring 2021.”

The theatre believes its success in this application can be attributed to four key factors: cultural significance, being a 200 year-old theatre and the only working Regency playhouse in the UK; ground-breaking and nationally celebrated Community Engagement projects which use the transformative power of art & culture to positively impact the lives of hard-to-reach, marginalised, victimised and socially isolated people in Suffolk; its work with young people, giving them an opportunity to engage with theatre and the arts which would otherwise be inaccessible to them and the ability to provide employment via its own in-house productions each year for a network of freelance artists, writers, producers, set designers, technicians and actors.

Theatre Royal is unlikely to welcome audiences back through its doors before Spring 2021. Owen puts the fund into context: “We estimate that we have lost £800,000 in net income in this financial year to end of March 2021 compared to last year. Whilst this fund ensures our survival, it is not without some sacrifice but this Culture Recovery Fund money will allow us to continue to create and share culture with local and national audiences.”


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