Next Tuesday (23rd July) is a pivotal point in what happens to the theatrical and artistic offer in the centre of Somerset’s county town. The Somerset County Gazette’s lead story yesterday was “£370,000 TO SAVE THEATRE” but is it about costing money or should it be about delivering value?
So part of the debate that people must be having in this time of central de-funding is whether there is justification of supporting theatres and arts centres. You see it is difficult to quantify value in hard cash terms, but look at the benefits it brings in supporting our county town.
Taunton is the County Town of Somerset – worth visiting?
Tourism is the UK’s fifth largest industry, and Taunton has so much to offer, we have amazing hotels in the centre of town, and some beautiful country house hotels within a 10 minute drive. But what is there to drive footfall into the town for these visitors to create a ‘day out’? Value from passing visitors is ensuring they find reasons to spend time engaging with what we have to offer.
There is an ongoing consultation taking place with our town centre retailers on how we can make Taunton more engaging. Bath place is stacked full of independent retail businesses offering that ‘old world’ charm of a traditional high street – but it needs footfall to succeed. Support from local people is essential but attracting passing trade from tourism should be the icing on the cake!
We have the infrastructure here already. Over the last few years there has been significant investment in our town’s infrastructure with the incredible renovation of the Museum of Somerset, flexible public spaces at Castle Green and Somerset Square all forming part of what was described as a cultural quarter. We are also blessed to have some really good quality eating places many independently owned, and of course the long awaited Nandos due to open in early 2014. We also have a small sporting venue at the heart of our town celebrating the thwack of leather on willow! Taunton has so much going for it but we must continue to invest, take risks and commit to creating a sustainable town, with facilities and opportunities that deliver value to residents and visitors alike.
£370,000 sounds like a lot of money, but in the grand scheme of investments it really isn’t that eye watering. Castle Green cost in the region of £3million, Somerset Museum and heritage centres saw some £15million of investment, and by comparison the suggested £370,000 is pocket money. Especially when you consider that this isn’t cost it is investment and we expect a return from investment, it could be argues that by not making such an investment we actually devalue the developments made so far. A vibrant theatre and community arts space should be a fundamental part of Taunton’s offer.
Taunton Theatre Association is a community based organisation working hard to secure the operating licence for the theatre in Taunton. The Brewhouse Theatre and Arts Centre was taken into administration in February 2013 and the doors closed. Taunton Deane Borough Council have been in talks to rescue the theatre building and its fixtures and fittings from the Administrator. July 23rd sees the Brewhouse Theatre on the council’s agenda again, this time to seek councillor support for the plan to acquire the lease. Without this cross party support the future of the theatre will be in severe jeopardy. Taunton Theatre Association is encouraging residents of Taunton Deane to write /email / speak to their ward councillors to ask them to support the acquisition of the lease for the communities of Taunton and the wider county of Somerset.