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Merlin Theatre funding success

by adamboyden on 11 January, 2013

Merlin Theatre funding success

My letter to today’s Somerset Standard, in press 16 January 2013, reads: “I would like to give three cheers to the Merlin Theatre, to congratulate the director, volunteers, staff and trustees on their recent great success in winning Arts Council funding for their programme development work. This is just reward for their hard work and dedication. Also well done to Frome Town Council for continuing to  do what it can to support the Merlin and recognising it as a valued community performing arts school, part of Frome’s USP and important to the creative sector economy. The town’s support helped bring in national arts funding and recognition to Frome once again, after last years cuts by Somerset and Mendip councillors threatened its future. It is very good news for Frome and an economics lesson the other councils’ ruling party should note – a bit of support can go a long way.” 

The following is an article on this week’s Somerset Standard front page: http://www.thisissomerset.co.uk/Vital-28-000-lifeline-Merlin-Theatre-Frome/story-17818455-detail/story.html, repeated below:

“The Merlin Theatre in Frome is celebrating the start of 2013 with a vital £28,000 grant from the Arts Council for England. The project funding over three years will support the theatre’s programme and audience development work.

Theatre director Claudia Pepler said she was thrilled with the news and said that it could not have come at a better time.  “We have had to restructure the organisation following severe cuts. This grant is absolutely essential to support our programme as we have no core support. It will enable to us to present a full varied programme; building our audiences, attracting more people to the theatre and the town, which will in turn impact on local businesses and other people and organisations working within the arts,” she said.

The Arts Council praised the theatre’s programme with its mix of professional and non-professional performances and the work carried out with young people and community groups. Ms Pepler added: “They are very impressed with how we have managed to grow audiences in the current economic climate. However, we will need to continue our fundraising as this grant is for a specific use and we still have bills to pay.”

The theatre has faced tough times in the past two years. Last April the theatre lost a potential grant of £68,000 from the Arts Council. This was on top of the disappearance of local authority funding from both Mendip District and Somerset County Councils amounting to £34,000 which resulted in job losses.

The Merlin was originally built as a community theatre and arts provider for Frome people as well as a drama space for Frome Community College. It is renowned for its education and outreach work for children and young people and encourages local schools as well as the award winning Frome Drama Club and other amateur theatre groups to put on high quality productions with support from its professional staff. As a result of the cuts, a fund raising committee was created to organise and coordinate events, many people organised sponsored events, people volunteered their time and the theatre itself organised fundraising performances.

Commenting on the project funding, acting chairwoman of the trustees, Hilary Gilmore, said “This is a huge endorsement of our programme from the Arts Council. The theatre has flourished under the direction of Claudia and this, along with the trustees and volunteers good work has been recognised by this grant.”

The theatre will receive just over £28,000 over the next three years. Ms Pepler said this will enable the Merlin to undertake a sustained period of audience development activity creating opportunities for dialogue with their audiences developing the future programme with them, not for them, with the intention of extending the range of performances they experience. The grant will also support visiting companies and artists ensuring a broad programme of exciting work.”

Local support

The Merlin’s bid was helped by letters of support from Frome Town Council, which had continued to help keep the theatre going through its small grants allocations, the only one of our three council tiers to recognise the value of this multi-purpose arts venue and school to the community. Mendip District and Somerset County Council, both Conservative run, abolished their funding for the Merlin and other community arts venues in 2011. I also wrote a supportive letter, which is repeated below, which also helped, I hope:

“Dear Sirs,
I am writing to express my full support for the application by the Merlin Theatre for the Arts Council’s Grants for the Arts funding, for its Programme Development project.  The Merlin Theatre is a much loved artistic and creative ‘hub’ within Frome, Mendip district and Somerset. It is not only a venue for performances of theatre, comedy, dance and film, but a place where children, young people and adults are taught how to dance, sing and act, from an early age to any age. It is a vital part of the creative community in Frome and beyond.  I and my children have often been amazed at the wondrous performances of childrens’ theatre at the Merlin, something which is unique in the area.

The Merlin Theatre has tremendous support in the local community and many supporters from further afield, and a marvellous set of volunteers.  This support can be seen in how local people and organisations responded when its survival was under threat, when Somerset County Council and Mendip District Council both abolished all funding for the arts venues they previously supported, suddenly and without warning, at the same time in spring 2011. The Leader of Mendip District Council recently expressed in public some regret about the lack of foresight about the impacts of these cuts.  The continuing support of Frome Town Council for the Merlin is a much better indication of the level of support the Merlin has in the local community.  I was pleased to see the team of volunteers and local supporters rallied with fundraising and awareness raising to help the Merlin survive and thrive to this day. 

I am pleased to support the Merlin’s application as it seems to me to fully meet your criteria, in terms of building its audience and developing its versatility and value to the community through a range of activities and collaborations.  I commend this application to the Council.

Yours faithfully, Adam Boyden, Mendip District Councillor, Frome College ward”

 

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