Arts centre suspends youth theatre classes


The Mill Arts Centre has suspended its youth theatre provision as it seeks to become more commercially viable in the light of shrinking council funding.

Arts Centre Director Georgia Geary confirmed yesterday (Wednesday) the centre took the decision after a visit from an external consultant who suggested the provision, which includes theatre classes and productions for youngsters, needed a major re-think.

The centre lost £90,000 of its annual Oxfordshire County Council grant last April and will lose its remaining £80,000 in 2017.

But Ms Geary said the decision was not financially motivated and the intention is to remodel the service more closely in line with the needs of the Banbury community. “We’re taking a break from youth provision so we can review it,” she said.

“It’s been a bit disjointed from the live events at The Mill and we want to make sure it’s more fully integrated.

“We also want to expand it to cover a wider range of arts such as dance and digital media rather than just theatre.

“We’re hoping to ensure a youth provision more linked in with the live programme and the rest of the building and working in partnership with a wider range of groups in the community.”

Ms Geary admitted times are still tough, but said she is pleased with the way the centre has survived its first year since losing £90,000 annual Oxfordshire County Council funding last April.

“It’s been a challenging year but we’re still here,” she said. “There’s a really strong staff team in place and there is an artistic vision for how we move forward. The programme is really strong and ticket sales are stronger than they’ve ever been.

“Now we are in a position to start applying for funding and capital grants to help us with some of the bigger projects. We’re reliant on commercial income and ticket sales but we’re getting there.”

The review brings to an end the Mill’s relationship with Cherwell Theatre Company which was based at the centre, ran the youth theatre classes and staged an annual pantomime for ten years.

The company had free use of the centre in return for the services it provided and The Mill paid the company staff after collecting fees from students.

CTC’s artistic director Nasser Memarzia said it was inevitable the centre would have to seek to run more commercially after it lost the council funding but said the group could not afford the prices it offered to rent the facilities.

He confirmed the group is currently in negotiations over new premises which he said are more affordable but stated that it is committed to continuing to provide a service for the Banbury community and will stage its pantomime version of Robin Hood this winter.

He said: “Their funding is coming to an end and therefore they are forced to explore what other commercial opportunities the building offers them, which takes it away from a community service.

“CTC offers a service to the community and The Mill can no longer be completely synonymous with that, but certainly Cherwell Theatre Company will have a future in Banbury.”

Last April the council made four staff redundant and handed control of staffing to the independent Mill Management Committee.

The Mill is currently appointing a part time marketing manager.