Robert Miles: We are 'absolutely distraught' at Brewhouse Theatre closure

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By This is Somerset | Thursday, February 21, 2013, 14:45

Brewhouse Theatre and Arts Centre chief executive Robert Miles says staff and trustees at the Taunton venue are 'absolutely distraught' at its sudden closure.

The 352-seat centre has been forced to call in the administrators and has closed with immediate effect while its future options are considered.

The theatre's 20 full-time and 35 part-time staff have all been made redundant, as well as 21 volunteers.

Mr Miles, also the centre's artistic director, has issued a statement this morning on what he describes as a "very sad and unfortunate turn of events".


"As you read this the team here at The Brewhouse will be at the Jobcentre signing on as unemployed.

"After years of underfunding the trustees, who are local volunteers, have been left with no option but to close the doors of our wonderful, much loved theatre and arts centre.

"Everyone is absolutely distraught and I would like to humbly apologise to all the ticketholders, the artists, the local suppliers and other companies that rely on our business who will all be affected by at this very sad and unfortunate turn of events.

"A special apology to the community groups who will be affected by our closure, I hope our stakeholders will be able to help you even if they couldn’t help us.

"There is a full council meeting at Deane House on Tuesday 26th February starting at 6.30pm, which is open to the public. I urge anyone who cares about our closure and the effect on the community to attend and have their voices heard.

"The equation for the investments made in The Brewhouse as a registered charity seem straightforward to me. For every pound invested in us we generate around £8, which helped us keep our aged building open. But conversely if £1 of funding investment is cut we need to generate over £10 from our box office to replace it.

"But I tackled the real tough question: - Why invest in culture when we are having to cut funding to things like schools and hospitals? The answer was simple. The annual economic impact of The Brewhouse on our county town was over £4m: money which helps to pay for those schools and hospitals.

"The restaurants and cafes our patrons used, the extra shopping picked up after a matinee performance, the hotel rooms filled and the car park income, the tax and NI that all these jobs pay and the VAT etc. all adds up. We didn’t see that income, but we helped to generate it.

"I predicted that our cultural infrastructure in Somerset may be one of the first in the country to collapse, because not only has the County Council ceased all sustainable investment in theatres and arts centres, but also because we were historically under-funded in the first place.

"Arts Council England (ACE) annually spend £63 per person in London, in Bristol £36 and in Somerset just £3 per person on their national portfolio. ACE investment is so low because local authority investment has been so low.

"Bridgwater Arts Centre had to lose its entire staff a year ago, and all around the county other venues are struggling to survive. Our boarded up building in the centre of the county town will be the most visible sign of the disintegration of the cultural landscape in our beautiful county.

"When we asked our stakeholders to sit at the table with us and discuss a way forward Taunton Deane sent senior politicians and officers to get a full understanding of our plight and fully engaged with us.

"Arts Council England provided a senior manager for the meeting. And Somerset County Council said David Hall the portfolio holder would come - but he just didn’t turn up.

"The beauty of being unemployed is that I can say what I like, so here goes.

"It is frankly daft to treat culture and the creative industries with such distain. The creative industries are a massive growth activity in this country, and god knows we need growth right now.

"There are thousands of creative people dotted across Somerset earning very good money – money that is spent in our local communities. The problem is that we don’t see them, as they are living here for lifestyle reasons and working online in a third bedroom or in a converted shed.

"If you put them in a big factory together and then closed it down it may dawn on our illustrious leaders in county hall the scale of the sector. But they seem to lack the imagination to understand the opportunity of supporting creativity.

"Our patron Stephen Daldry who cuts his teeth here produced the Olympic opening ceremony that wowed the world. In my time some amazing young people have come through the doors of The Brewhouse, grown a little and exited to high profile jobs across the country - from the fantastic little chorus of our last Christmas show to artistic directors in other venues that started here.

"We were a training ground for nurturing talent. The pictures of our own in house shows on this page are testament to all the local skills that we employed over the years.

"After all Somerset is dripping with creative juices, full of wonderful, maverick, ambitious people doing their own thing, Glastonbury Festival is just one world famous example.

"But as the leader of the county council said as he cut the arts budget “the party is over”. Sadly he didn’t understand that people enjoying themselves could produce an income.

"Not enough of an income with only 352 seats, so we needed support and investment to create that growth. But now any growth we offered is gone and our local economy shrinks a little more.

"I hope Taunton gets the bigger theatre and arts centre it deserves and needs. I also hope Somerset gets a county council with the good sense and imagination to support the creative industries properly.

"The team here were genuinely the best in the country, not just good at their jobs, but passionate about their work and lovely genuine people. The Brewhouse has a fantastic reputation in the industry for punching above its weight and I cannot praise our staff and volunteers highly enough.

"It’s been a rare privilege to serve the diverse communities that have engaged with The Brewhouse over the past seven-and-a-half years. Thank you, every single one of you, for all your support, good luck in the future and goodbye.

"It’s been emotional."



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