Uncertainty over future a factor as Playhouse funding bid falls short

Alnwick Playhouse.
Alnwick Playhouse.

An unsuccessful funding bid by the Alnwick Playhouse has underlined the importance of ending the uncertainty over the future use of the building.

Earlier this week, Arts Council England revealed its national portfolio organisations which will receive funding for the four-year period from 2018.

While there was good news for Northumberland in that the Council is set to double its annual funding to the county – the full announcement is on Page 12 – the popular and well-used Playhouse, which serves a wide area of rural north Northumberland, missed out.

A statement from the team at the arts centre confirmed that ‘current developments with the Playhouse building, including our ongoing negotiations with Northumberland County Council’ was a factor in the assessors’ decision.

Proposals to use the venue as a community hub, retaining the auditorium, but also using the building to house the library and other council services, such as tourist information, were first put forward more than two years ago.

But, despite announcing ‘an agreement in principle’ in April 2016, there have been no signs of any progress since.

A statement issued by the manager, Jo Potts, said: ‘The Alnwick Playhouse staff team is naturally very disappointed that our efforts to secure Arts Council England funding for the next four years has been unsuccessful.

‘One of our main goals was to increase our programme of creative work, including the development of our programmes for children and young people, and we are encouraged that this goal was assessed as strong. However, current developments with the Playhouse building, including our ongoing negotiations with Northumberland County Council, meant that we could not at this time deliver a long-term plan which satisfied the needs of the assessors.

‘We shall continue to work closely with Northumberland County Council to make sure the building development is a success for Alnwick and the community.

‘The ambition of the children’s and young people’s programmes will be revisited with the Arts Council when the future of the building and its development is confirmed and we can move forwards with certainty.’

The negotiations are complicated by the fact that it involves three parties – the county council and the building’s co-owners – Alnwick District Playhouse Trust and the Northumberland Theatre Company (NTC).

Following the change of leadership at the council, a spokesman said: “The new administration is supportive of the scheme and the council remains in negotiation with the two trusts to acquire the Playhouse.”