Torridge Council gives cash support to Plough and Burton

Torridge District Council’s Community and Resources Committee met on Monday, discussing funding for two important Art and Entertainment hubs in the district.
The first discussions related to a £25K grant for the Plough Arts Centre in Torrington which had been approved in principal at a March meeting. Alongside officer reports, Councillors listened to passionate video presentations from the Plough’s Chair John Eeles and Director Richard Wolfenden-Brown. The impact of the closure of the theatre as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, the furloughing of staff and sadly more recent redundancy letters were highlighted in an honest and open report of the centres finances. John Eels also thanked Torridge Council for the proactive and swift way in which they had distributed Government COVID-19 support grants, which he highlighted as better than colleagues had reported in other parts of the UK.

Councillors also learnt that £54K had already been secured by the Plough through a crowd funding bid and that although the theatre building has remained closed, shows had been moved to open air events, and online with community photography and dance films and to new venues such as the Big Sheep.

The Plough’s Director Richard Wolfenden-Brown said:

“The Plough Arts Centre is most definitely open for business with over 2,500 people turning up to the first live outdoor events, which restarted in August. I am so glad that Councillors have recognised the scope of what we do, which in a normal year would see us operating at over 17 venues across Northern Devon, which is great for the arts but also the local economy.”

Councillors voted unanimously to support the £25K grant and to schedule consideration of further funding in the future.

The Burton Art Gallery and Museum item came next with presentations from the chair of trustees Judith Gentry and Director Ian Danby. Councillors were being asked to consider a new five-year funding agreement to follow on from the original made in 2016 when the trustees took over the running of the Burton. They heard how footfall had grown to over 200,000 visitors a year, comparable with many bigger galleries in larger towns. As well as the many temporary and permanent exhibitions the Burton has also developed a substantial outreach programme and online projects particularly during the recent lockdown. It was however one of the first galleries in the Country to reopen its doors again on the 4th July. The gallery was also awarded National Portfolio Status by the Arts Council in 2017, which The Burton at Bideford’s Chair, Judith Gentry likened to “a restaurant being awarded a Michelin star!”

The gallery is back open again 7 days a week thanks to the help of a team of 60 active volunteers of which 30 attend regularly and include two young people with disabilities.

Councillors were universal in their praise for the Burtons achievements and for the trustee’s realism in seeking alternative funding models in recent years and reducing their budget request by 17.5% from the Council to £140K per year for the next five years. This was approved unanimously by the committee.

In a joint statement The Burton at Bideford’s Director Ian Danby and Chair Judith Gentry said:

“We were delighted with the unanimous vote from the Communities and Resources committee which approved the renewal of the Service and Funding agreement for the Burton at Bideford. Our team at The Burton and the Trustees have worked hard to deliver a world class programme over the last 5 years and we are thrilled that this has been recognised by members and officers of Torridge District Council.”

Councillor Cheryl Cottle-Hunkin Lead Member for Culture and Leisure said:

“I am so glad we are able to support these important arts and cultural hubs that mean so much to our local communities, the people who visit the area and the wider region. The recent crisis has been difficult for many sectors of our economy and the arts are no exception. However, their reach is far wider than the towns or art sectors in which they operate, and they are fundamental to our healthy communities both educationally and socially, supporting personal wellbeing and life satisfaction, as well as contributing to economic growth in Torridge. We hope the Council’s commitment and support will mean that they can leverage further funding and continue to provide our much-loved creative centres for our communities through these difficult times and beyond.”

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