“WE are open to ideas” – that is the message regarding the future of Stratford ArtsHouse.
There was an immediate outcry when Stratford Town Trust, which owns the Rother Street building, announced the venue was no longer sustainable and was withdrawing grant funding.
Within 24 hours Bear Pit Theatre member Dominic Skinner created Facebook page ‘Save Stratford ArtsHouse’, which had more than 1,200 likes as The Observer went to press, launched a petition which had over 3,500 signatures, and also arranged a meeting at the weekend to garner further support.
The town trust – which declined an invitation to attend the meeting – was criticised for its lack of transparency, and speculation of a ‘hidden agenda’ was also raised.
Members of Stratford ArtsHouse Trust – which took over the running of the venue following a £1.8million refurbishment in 2014 – revealed they had put forward four different proposals to maintain the theatre after its four year funding contract ended with the town trust.
But they said all four were rejected by the trust, which they also claimed had promised to take over the running of the venue before the shock closure announcement last week.
ArtsHouse Trust members also questioned the venue not being ‘sustainable’, saying despite a decreasing grant from the town trust, the venue’s financial position was ‘healthy’ and turnover had steadily increased.
But town trust chief executive Justin Williams this week told The Observer the venue would not be sold, or developed, and “we are open to ideas” over the future.
He added they were meeting organisations that used the venue to discuss the way forward.
Responding to criticism from the ArtsHouse Trust, Mr Williams said it had been too dependent on grants from the town trust, and the cash would be re-directed elsewhere.
He said: “The ArtsHouse Trust has been given in excess of £900,000 in the last four years. It is by far the largest discretionary grant we have given out to a community organisation. The money from the trust is the only funding the ArtsHouse has received, and it hasn’t applied elsewhere for funds.
“We need to reposition back in community where the need is severe – Crisis, CAB, LifeSpace, the Samaritans. We have a very long list of organisations to help. It’s a difficult balancing act.”
Readers have contacted The Observer to say how important the ArtsHouse was to Stratford.
Former mayor Roy Lodge suggested the formation of a “cultural consortium” as a possible solution.
He said: “Perhaps the time has arrived for a local cultural consortium to be established, that should include representatives from the town trust, the literary festival, Orchestra of the Swan, Stratford Business Forum, Stratforward BID and amateur drama and theatre groups, health and remedial groups, all under the management of a community champion appointed by the trust and renamed the Community Hall.
“This theatre has to return to the community for use by the people and for the people of the town at an affordable cost with commercial input for additional revenue purposes only.”
A further Save Stratford ArtsHouse meeting is scheduled for Sunday (March 4) at No.1 Shakespeare Street, starting at 7.30pm.
Search ‘Save Stratford ArtsHouse’ on Facebook for the latest updates.