Fringe Box



Loss of Council Funding Could Force Lightbox to Close But Director Remains Optimistic

Published on: 16 Aug, 2023
Updated on: 16 Aug, 2023

The Lightbox in Woking.

By Martin Giles

Woking’s Lightbox could close if it loses its funding from Woking Borough Council (WBC), effectively bankrupt with £2.6 billion of debt.

Deputy council leader Will Forster said: “The fact that this has been suggested shows how serious the legacy of debt the Conservatives have left Woking.  The council is working with The Lightbox to explore alternative funding options, including the Arts Council.”

The gallery/museum has received significant grants from WBC since it opened in 2007. The amounts are understood to have previously been about £400k per year, reduced this year to £280k. Now the grant could be reduced further although it is not expected to disappear altogether.

Sarah Brown Lightbox director

Acknowledging that the Lightbox welcomes many visitors from Guildford and the surrounding area, Sarah Brown the gallery’s director said: “We are aware that WBC are facing incredible challenges and we are working closely with them whilst we await confirmation of future funding for discretionary services, which includes The Lightbox.”

Woking Council’s consultation on discretionary services closed last week, according to Cllr Forster: “The consultation received an overwhelming response from well over 8,000 local people.  The views of residents will help shape the council’s funding priorities going forward.

According to a WBC statement: “The month-long resident engagement, which closed on Thursday, received over 8,000 responses and is one of the most successful engagement exercises conducted by Woking Borough Council.

But added more ominously: “Discretionary services, such as arts and culture, sports and leisure, and independent living, are currently provided and funded at the discretion of Woking Borough Council. Many councils do not always fund or provide these services.”

The Lightbox’s director has been critical of the survey. She told the BBC that asking people to chose between “supporting arts and cultural opportunities”, listed as one of 15 options, and “keeping the borough a safe place for everyone”, “supporting older people to live independently” and “supporting families and young people” was “divisive” and said all services were “inextricably linked”.

“You cannot create a cohesive, happy, safe community without the connection between all those elements,” she added.

But speaking to The Dragon, Ms Brown adopted a more conciliatory tone and showed appreciation for the council’s past support and its current financial predicament saying: “WBC has been very supportive, and we are working hard to ensure future funding is in place.

“As we are the only Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation purpose-built museum and gallery in Surrey, The Lightbox holds immense cultural significance for the region and serves as a beacon of artistry and historical exploration, deeply valued by our community.

“We’re immensely grateful for the support received since WBC’s announcement about its financial position.”

Cllr Will Forster

And the deputy council leader acknowledged the valuable role the gallery plays. He said: “I know many people value The Lightbox, it provides a vital contribution to the cultural life of Woking and the borough council would not cut or withdraw funding lightly.

“The fact that this has been suggested shows how serious the legacy of debt the Conservatives have left Woking.  The council is working with The Lightbox to explore alternative funding options, including the Arts Council.”

For their part, the leadership team at the Lightbox remains committed but clearly cognisant of the challenge they face. They are also encouraged by the responses received since the story of WBC’s travails broke. Its director said: “Our dedication to enriching experiences and education remains strong, though the changing economic landscape demands adaptation.

“Diversifying income sources has become crucial, and we are incredibly grateful for the support we receive from Woking Borough Council and Arts Council England. These provide vital foundations with which we are actively fostering relationships with trusts and foundations, supporters, members, and philanthropists.

“We have been really buoyed up by the responses to both the recent news story and the survey by the many supporters and we are hopeful that The Lightbox will continue to serve the communities of Woking and Surrey long into the future.”

WBC says responses to its survey are currently being evaluated and will inform the financial reports that will be presented at September’s Executive (Thursday, September 21) and Full Council (Thursday, September 28) meetings. “A supplementary report on the outcomes of the resident engagement is being prepared and will accompany these financial reports.

“Following the recommendations of Full Council in September, formal consultation on any service changes will commence in the autumn.”

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