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Yvonne Arnaud Theatre Funding Under Threat

Published on: 7 Dec, 2021
Updated on: 8 Dec, 2021

The Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, the Mill Studio is on the right – Photo Google StreetView

By Emily Coady-Stemp

local democracy reporter

Councillors are being asked to consider cutting the funding of a Guildford theatre that brings in £1.5 million to the town.

The Yvonne Arnaud Theatre’s funding from Guildford Borough Council has remained at the same level since 2018. though a report by the council in 2015 highlighted that there would be pressure to reduce the grant over the following years.

The theatre, which receives £310,000 a year from the council, hosts and produces professional shows as well as running education projects and local amateur and semi-professional companies in the Mill Studio.

Councillors at the borough council’s Strategy and Resources Executive Advisory Board met yesterday (December 6) to discuss five options, ranging from continuing current funding levels to cutting funding altogether.

Highlighted options in a council report included cutting funding in a phased way until 2024 and then making a decision on future funding, and charging a market rent of (£56,000) for the lease of the Old Mill Studio.

Cllr Susan Parker

Cllr Susan Parker (GGG, Send) said the Arts sector was struggling to get back on its feet after the pandemic, and now was not the time to start “cutting to the bone” but to give the theatre a chance to recover financially.

She said: “I think it’s important we don’t act as people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

“A town that has a cultural heart, together with a historic heart, is a town that worth living in.”

Cllr Tony Rooth

Cllr Tony Rooth (Residents for Guildford and Villages, Pilgrims ward) said he would find it difficult to give an opinion on the proposals but would lean towards reducing funding on a staged basis.

He said: “They have been, I suppose you could say, short-changed over the last few years that their grants have not gone up by inflation. On the other hand, they have a grant which has been maintained, albeit at the base level.

“And I have an impression that other authorities have not been able to sustain a theatre in the same way as we have done, so I find it rather difficult to give an opinion tonight.”

Cllr Graham Eyre

Cllr Graham Eyre (Conservative, Ash South & Tongham) compared the proposed to cuts to those previously discussed to the Citizen’s Advice Bureaus in Guildford and Ash, saying he was surprised to hear the comments made by others at the meeting.

He said there was no comparison between the two, calling it “a no-brainer”.

Theatre CEO Joanna Read responded to the council decision saying: “The Yvonne Arnaud theatre appreciates the challenges Guildford Borough Council faces at the current time and the pressures upon its discretionary budgets.

“The theatre is in an equally critical place financially as it continues to manage the effects of Covid and enforced closure periods on our audiences and operations. We believe that cutting the grant to the Arnaud too quickly or too deeply will damage Guildford and, in the medium and long-term, the revenues of the council.

Joanna Read

“As the recent University of Surrey economic impact survey showed, each year the theatre brings an average of 130,000 people into Guildford who directly contribute at least £1. 5 million to the local economy, in addition to their spend at the theatre.  87 per cent of audience members would not have come to Guildford if they had not been coming to the theatre. Those people pay for parking, they shop before the theatre, and patronise restaurants and bars in town during their visit, supporting the town economy and bringing footfall to the town.

“Our Creative Learning programme works with disenfranchised and low social-economic groups across the Borough, echoing GBC’s priorities of tackling inequalities in Guildford’s communities and supporting vulnerable residents.

“A listed building, the theatre is an asset to the town, providing cultural activities within walking distance for residents.  We welcome the council’s ambition to open the river front as part of the proposed town plan and believe that the promotion of Guildford’s heritage assets must include the theatre.”

Council leader Joss Bigmore noted the theatre has received £250,000 from the cultural recovery fund.

A decision will be made at a future date as part of the 2022/23 budget preparation process.

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