Community arts groups and other organisations will unite at the South Holland Centre on Thursday to call for clarity on the future of live entertainment and functions at the venue.
The only professionally equipped arts venue in the district is set to reopen for cinema screenings on Thursday, July 22.
South Holland District Council, which owns the venue, says it intends to reintroduce live events later in the year.
However, a staff consultation is proposing to reduce the centre’s permanent staff from 21 to just 6, most of them part-time, meaning the centre would be run on the equivalent of just over 3 full-time staff, plus casuals.
This has led community groups to question how it can safely operate live theatre, music, dance, talks and functions under the proposed new staffing structure.
The groups will come together outside the building as the Centre reopens on Thursday to stage a peaceful, socially distanced Clap For Live (inspired by the NHS Clap for Heroes) in support of Centre staff.
he groups will also invite South Holland District Council to receive a letter explaining their concerns in detail, signed by representatives from many of the organisations who have hired and used the Centre in the past.
Karl Gernert, director of Spalding-based Act II Theatre Company, said: “We all want to have faith in the Council’s pledge to reintroduce live events. But it seems clear it will be almost impossible to stage live music, theatre and functions safely with so small a staff.
“We’re calling on the Council to make a clearer commitment to live entertainment at the Centre, which almost certainly means rethinking the proposed staffing cuts.”
Liz Hallissey, organiser of the Keep SHC a-LIVE Facebook group, added: “For 24 years the Centre has given fantastic live entertainment to tens of thousands of people, from folk and bluegrass music to community theatre and dance. It has also given thousands of locals – including children and young people – the priceless chance to perform in a professional theatre, developing valuable skills, making new friends and boosting their wellbeing.
“But staging live events and functions safely involves supervising up to 550 customers and hirers at a time. That requires specialist expertise and an appropriate level of trained staff, and it’s clear the Council can’t deliver that with just six permanent employees.”
Among the groups adding their names to the letter so far are SADOS, St Nicolas Players, Act II Theatre Company, Spalding School of Dance, Tulip Events Management, South Holland Singers, Vibe Youth Choir, Endana School of Dance, rock band Zebra, Holbeach Film Company Limited and Mirinesse Singers.You can find out more by searching ‘Keep SHC a-LIVE support group’ on Facebook. And all are welcome to join the Clap For Live, taking place outside the South Holland Centre on Thursday July 22nd at 2pm.
SADOS chair Jodie Schweikhardt launched a petition called ‘Save Live Theatre at the South Holland Centre’ which already has over 1,000 signatures.
It states: “The local theatre societies and theatre loving members of the South Holland community are seriously concerned about the threat to live theatre.
“We want to see performers back on that magnificent stage.
“We want the local council to see how important live theatre is to the folk of South Holland and to keep the venue running for both cinema purposes and live events.”
Last Thursday the district council responded by putting out a statement which stated that only 23 per cent of respondents to a recent survey wanted to see local theatre compared with 80 per cent who wanted cinema.
“We have said publicly on a number of occasions that we are planning the return of live theatre events later in the year.
“In fact, we are taking bookings now for live events, including this year’s pantomime Dick Whittington.
“We are also in discussions with a number of producers of live theatre events which hopefully we can announce soon.
“Our priority right now is making sure the South Holland Centre is a safe environment for our visitors for reopening on July 22.
“The current South Holland Centre programme was developed using feedback from a recent customer survey.
“We look forward to working with SADOS as part of the South Holland Outdoor Festival where they will host a theatrical walking heritage trail in Spalding on Saturday, August 28.”
SADOS were not aware of the statement until alerted to it by The Voice.
Jodie said: “We just want transparency from them. It’s not a case of us not believing their goal was to open live theatre at a later date because we’re sure that is what is hoped for.
“It is great that the panto is going ahead, however we have asked but are still unable to book the venue for our usual two weeks in May and November in 2022.
“The panto is the biggest earner for the SHDC, their biggest earner for the year in fact so they will probably take on extra casual staff to work during that time. But that is just one event.
“What happens to us smaller societies when we want to put on a musical and need several tech staff to help us with sound and lighting?
“There were seven SHC tech staff who were involved in our last musical.
“There will be just seven staff in total at the centre now. It is very scary for us smaller societies as we do not think they will take on extra staff for us, so how will the shows we put on be of the same standard as previous shows?
“The council do lots of great things for South Holland and this petition is in no way, shape or form a dig at them and we’re working in collaboration with the council for a couple of events in August.
All of those signatures should surely mean something. Lots of theatres around the U.K. are open now for live events; proof that it can be done!