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Future of Theatre Threatened – Crucial Council Budget Decisions Due Tonight

Published on: 25 Jan, 2022
Updated on: 26 Jan, 2022

Yvonne Arnaud Theatre – Google Street View

By Emily Coady-Stemp

local democracy reporter

The future of the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre is under threat as councillors are set to vote on recommended cuts to funding tonight.

Guildford Borough Council’s Executive will meet tonight to vote on plans for a phased reduction of funding to the theatre from £310,220 per year to £200,000 by 2024/25.

It comes as part of the borough council’s plan to tackle a £6 million budget deficit over the next four years, and an identified need to reduce council spending on discretionary services by £1.7 million.

Joanna Read

The theatre’s director and chief executive, Joanna Read, said the theatre is projecting a deficit budget for 2022/23, with any cuts from council increasing the gap.

She pointed to various money-saving moves made by the theatre in the last financial year including moving to volunteer ushers, reviewing core overhead costs, re-tendering contracts to improve value for money and cutting all non-essential expenditure.

Ms Read said: “The council’s funding is the bedrock of the theatre’s financial stability and has enabled the venue to remain open for the last number of years.”

She said an average 130,000 people a year attended an event at the theatre before the coronavirus pandemic, and that 87 per cent of them would not have come to Guildford if they had not been coming to the theatre.

She added: “The theatre is very important to the people of Guildford. They raised the money to build the venue in the first place, and are very supportive of the theatre.

“Theatre and arts activity enrich the lives of individuals and bring communities together.”

She said theatre audiences directly contribute at least £1.5 million to the local economy in paying for parking, shopping before the theatre, and going to restaurants and bars in Guildford.

The director, currently in rehearsals for Sheila’s Island, written by Tim Firth (Kinky Boots, Calendar Girls) and which is set for a national tour after a run at the Yvonne Arnaud in February, said the listed building was also important for the current council’s plans to open the river as part of the proposed town plan.

She highlighted the work of the Creative Learning Programme with disenfranchised and low social-economic groups across the borough which she said directly supports the council’s priority to tackle inequalities in Guildford’s communities and support vulnerable residents.

The best project she has worked on at the theatre, she said, was the pantomime Dick Whittington which was held at the theatre in December and January.

She said: “After two hard years of pandemic and struggling with lockdowns and closure periods it was so great to produce a joyous happy show to make Guildford laugh and come together.”

The proposed cuts will be discussed at tonight’s meeting, to be considered as one of five options, ranging from maintaining the current level of funding to cutting funding altogether.

At a previous meeting on the funding, one councillor said it was important they did not “act as people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing”, while another called cutting funding a “no-brainer” when discussed alongside cuts such as those proposed to Citizens’ Advice bureaus.

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Responses to Future of Theatre Threatened – Crucial Council Budget Decisions Due Tonight

  1. Mike Evans Reply

    January 26, 2022 at 3:01 pm

    Unless GBC addresses the car parking issues for the “Debenhams” development those coming to Yvonne Arnaud theatre in the future will be hard-pressed to find any convenient car parking spaces putting more pressure on their ability to survive.

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