The Wokingham Paper

Arts groups look to future with government grants

James Sunderland celebrates the grants

ARTS groups across the Thames Valley are among 1,300 different organisations benefiting from a £257 million share of a Government grant.

The first recipients of the Culture Recovery Fund include Reading Arts, South Hill Park, and the Museum of English Rural Life.

No Wokingham borough-based organisations are listed, but many of those that are have links with the borough.

The include £95,000 for Readipop, which organises a music festival. The new Reading Rep Theatre, currently being built on Reading’s Kings Road, will receive £169,000.

South Hill Park is to receive £232,258, the Anvil Trust – which runs the Basingstoke theatre – will net £246,000, and Norden Farm will receive £351,000.

The Corn Exchange in Newbury has been awarded £240,045, the Museum of English Rural Life will have £74,248 and CultureMix Arts Ltd will receive £80,000.

Reading Arts, which manages the Hexagon, South Street and the Concert Hall, is a big winner, with a grant of £989,374, and its pantomime producer, Imagine Theatre, is receiving £245,000.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “The government is here for culture and we have worked around the clock to get this funding to arts organisations. It will give many of our wonderful theatres, museums, art groups and cultural venues a helping hand to get them back on their feet.”

The grant to South Hill Park has been welcomed by Bracknell MP James Sunderland, who said: “South Hill Park is an integral part of the Bracknell Constituency. I have spoken personally with Oliver Dowden, the DCMS and Government calling on them to help South Hill Park and I am glad they have been given this support.

“I look forward to visiting the Centre again soon and to champion this vital arts venue for future generations.”

Imagine Theatre has produced pantomimes for The Hexagon for the past decade and faces a Christmas off as coronavirus means that the usual festive season is postponed.

The Coventry-based theatre company produces 15 such shows every year and employs more than 400 people, including actors, technicians and freelancers.

The money, it says, is a lifeline, enabling it to retain its head office staff and premises, employ freelancers and to continue preparation for the planned tours for later in 2021.

Sarah Boden, joint owner and Business Director of Imagine Theatre, said: “The foundation of this grant is to enable us to keep our workforce together at our head office in Coventry.

“These pantomime specialists are critical to the success of our organisation and we are able to provide on-going employment amongst our head office team.

“In addition, we are able to provide much-needed work to freelancers based in the region as we move into spring 2021.”

Reading’s Museum of English Rural Life has been part of the University of Reading since 1951, and recently reopened with Covid-safe measures in place. It welcomed its grant.

Kate Arnold-Forster, the museum’s director, said: “This is fantastic news for all of us at The MERL.

“This new funding will enable us to sustain and explore many new opportunities. Throughout 2021 we will now be running an extensive project called 51 Voices, celebrating 70 years since the Festival of Britain and the year of the Museum’s foundation through a year-long series of creative responses to our collections.”

Norden Farm, based in Maidenhead, says that the grant will help with running costs – it needs around £750,000 per year.

Its chief executive and artistic director, Jane Corry, said: ‘We are so very grateful to Arts Council England and DCMS for this lifeline to carry us through the Covid-19 health crisis and allow us to continue to work with our schools, disadvantaged groups, local families and residents.

“The benefits of the arts for our mental health and well-being have never been clearer.

“We’re not out of the woods yet though and will be announcing a public appeal to support the restricted capacity live and virtual programmes, but this gives us renewed hope for the future.”

Reading Rep founder and artistic director Paul Stacey was also delighted. He said: “To receive this lifeline today enables us to continue our path towards opening our brand new theatre next year bringing a home for culture to Reading, and allow us to create jobs for the many freelancers who work across our sector.”

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