Hopes rise for theatre funding

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A DESPERATE cash crisis for Alnwick’s theatre scene could be eased as fresh hopes of funding emerge.

Both Alnwick Playhouse and Northumberland Theatre Company (NTC) were left fearing for their future after a three-year funding bid was rejected by Arts Council England.

The Playhouse faced a seven per cent cut in overall income, but for NTC there was even more turmoil as 80 per cent of its support came from the national body.

However, at a meeting of Northumberland County Council’s Area Committee North on Monday, both were told they would not be abandoned and hopes were raised that alternative funding pots will be available.

Coun Jim Smith, who sits on the Arts Council regional board, said: “There is still a pot for grants for the arts and there is also strategic funding. The strategic funding in particular is for touring theatre companies.

“NTC was worried that the Arts Council had abandoned it and I have assured NTC that that is not the case. We have got to get that information out.

“NTC has had £313,000 a year up until now so looking at the figures that is an enormous change, going from that to zero. The Arts Council is aware of that and is looking at the strategic funding and grants for the arts. The business is still hot. We are not abandoning any of these things.”

The news came after Alnwick town councillor Alan Symmonds called for a review of council support for the arts, seeking a level playing field across the county.

Coun Gordon Castle confirmed that while the authority currently gives £176,000 to the Queen’s Hall Arts Centre in Hexham and £103,000 to The Maltings in Berwick, Alnwick Playhouse receives just £43,000.

He said: “I spoke to the officers because I wanted to get to the bottom of this. It is important that we see this in context.

“The Arts Council’s decision is not to fund in its grants programme NTC, or indeed almost any touring theatre company in the country, but it did award a substantial grant to the Queen’s Hall in Hexham.

“We understand that these companies will have the opportunity to bid for funds from alternative pots, but we’re not sure what form they will take and it remains a priority that these companies continue. I do think that at the same time that this is going on, it would seem sensible that the council reviews overall its funding priorities and whether or not it has the balance right in the interests of fairness across the county.

“These decisions are very often historic. It might be that in light of the decision by the Arts Council the council could look again at its funding, but that has to be done in tandem with the other schemes that may become available to these organisations.”

The Arts Council announced funding for its national portfolio of projects last month.

Coun Roger Styring, a member of the NTC board, said: “There are opportunities for the theatre company to apply separately for different pots of money and quite possibly it can redress the balance through these pots, rather than a direct Arts Council grant. However, it is a question of waiting until the dust settles and seeing what is on offer.”