JUST weeks after it was revealed that its Arts Council funding for the next financial year would be cut, The Maltings Theatre has announced a record year’s trading, with non-funded income increasing by 82 per cent since October 2008.
Like many other north east-based arts organisations, the Eastern Lane entertainment venue fell victim to the cuts that were announced as a result of the Government’s comprehensive spending review a few weeks ago.
The theatre will see its funding drop by £3,351 over the next year but at the moment Maltings chief executive, Dr Miles Gregory is keen to herald its “remarkable turnaround against a backdrop of recession and gloom.
Doubling the programme of events and a radical building makeover has helped The Maltings revenue soar from £239,689 last year to £361,274 in 2009/10, while public subsidy increased by just £1,164 in the same period.
Ticket sales are up by 33 per cent on the previous year, and the theatre now attracts over 100,000 visitors annually.
Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Maurice Ward said: “Two years ago the Board took the decision to invest in the future of The Maltings by renovating the building and reinvigorating our programme of shows and events.
“We recognised that this involved some financial risk but it was essential if we were to offer the people of Berwick a thriving and stimulating arts centre.”
Mr Ward said that the change in the theatre’s fortunes would not have been possible without the full commitment of the staff and the “vision, skills, knowledge and experience” of the theatre’s CEO & artistic director, Dr Miles Gregory.
He added: “Excellent progress has been made on all fronts and The Maltings is becoming an important part of Berwick life for many people as it increasingly attracts audiences from outlying areas as well as locally.”
The increase in The Maltings’ non-funded income has brought the theatre back to a breakeven position in 2009/10 from an annual operating deficit of nearly £50,000 in the previous year.
“We’ve achieved this remarkable turnaround against a backdrop of recession and economic gloom,” said Dr Gregory,
“It’s a great story – of courage, hard work, vision and determination – and it’s one that should make our community proud.”
But local residents are concerned that cuts planned by local government and Arts Council England may threaten the future success of the theatre. Nearly 1,000 people have joined the Facebook group ‘Save Northumberland’s Theatres’, which is campaigning against the theatre cuts in the region.
Dr Gregory recognised the negative impact cuts may make in the future, but noted that the theatre has experienced cuts in funding for a number of years.
He continued: “While our performance as an organisation has never been better, the total level of public funding we receive has fallen by 21 per cent in two years, and is likely to fall further.
“So far, our improved performance has absorbed this serious cut in funding, and we remain at a break-even position.
“But it is critical that our funders, patrons, friends and the community at large support us as we work towards greater self-sufficiency.”
Dr Gregory added that the staff team have “worked incredibly hard” to move the theatre forward.
In The Maltings annual report, which can be downloaded from.maltingsberwick.co.uk, Dr Gregory outlines a number of specific objectives for 2010/11. These include increasing the amount of film programming, refurbishing the Henry Travers Studio and growing turnover by a further five per cent.