Newbury Corn Exchange redoubles fundraising drive
The past 14 months things have been far from normal for anyone; but there is no doubt that it has been an almost impossible experience for arts organisations up and down the country. For creative organisations, the aim is to bring people together to share live experiences - and this is precisely what they’ve had to stop doing in order to help keep our communities safe. Over the last year, the Corn Exchange, like other organisations, have had to think more creatively than ever before to find ways to keep going – and there have certainly been times when it just didn’t seem possible, but as they reopen their doors, they take a look back at some of the amazing things they have been able to achieve and appeal to supporters to become a Companion and help them programme more activities for our town.
"When we first went into lockdown, within a fortnight we had launched an incredible programme of digital activities for all ages, commissioned five new artistic projects to share online and launched our community choir and their filmed version of ‘I’d Like To Teach the World to Sing’. With no way of knowing how long this would go on for and aware that not everyone has access to the internet we launched our Contactless Creativity project, with weekly creative activity bags delivered to those who were isolating without access to the internet, and our team of volunteers dedicated thousands of hours to distributing these bags across the district.
As we began to emerge from the first lockdown, we reopened our building by putting the lockdown stories and experiences of our young people centre stage with West Berkshire Youth Theatre performance of Unlocked & Unbolted, and as part of our free programme of outdoor work presented Luke Jerram’s outdoor installation, In Memoriam, in Goldwell Park – a tribute to the work of the NHS and care workers and those who lost their lives during the pandemic. We also reimagined our annual Festival of Light which became a stunning array of illuminated installations as part of a Winter Lantern Trail along the canal.
And then there was our pantomime Aladdin. We were one of the very few venues in the country to present a pantomime in 2020 and as well as not wanting to disappoint the thousands of people who had kept hold of their tickets, we felt in need of some festive cheer too! We reconfigured our auditorium, bubbled our cast and rehearsed during the second lockdown getting to grips with all the guidelines and changes required to put on a show safely. We featured on ITV News at 10 and even met with HRH Earl of Wessex on the day the pantomime opened as part of his visit to the town. But it wasn’t to be, and after just two glorious weeks, change of tier for West Berkshire meant we had to close, although we had recorded the opening night so families, schools and care homes could still get into the panto spirit, albeit from the classroom or living room.
And now, finally we are able to return to live performances once more. Once again, we’re going to reopen with our youth theatre centre stage, as our intermediate group whose show last year got cancelled and who have been rehearsing on zoom will finally take to the stage with The It, part of the National Theatre Connections project. The indoor programme includes performances in the main auditorium from Lost Dog Dance, Horrible Histories, and comedy from Ed Gamble and Phil Wang, and then throughout the summer there will be shows in outdoor spaces across the district, including Shaw House, Victoria Park, Aline’s Orchard at Welford Park, and local schools as part of the first ever Out of Doors Festival.
It’s fair to say that absolutely none of this would have been possible without the incredible support from the local community, audience members who were able to donate the cost of their tickets and everyone who donated to our Save Your Corn Exchange campaign. We’ve also been hugely fortunate with core funders Greenham Trust and Arts Council England continuing their support and funding from the government’s Culture Recovery Fund too.
Although we reopen again, we are redoubling our fundraising efforts. The impact of the pandemic has been devastating for so many people, and if we are going to continue the breadth of our work as we work our way towards recovery we will continue to need your support. This is why we’re asking everyone we know to become a Corn Exchange Companion by making a regular gift of at least £5 a month. As a Companion you can support the charity every step of the way, from attending sharings of brand new outdoor shows through to celebrating at the fundraising night of the annual Corn Exchange pantomime. It’s a chance to really make a difference to the work the Corn Exchange is able to do, both now and in the future. "
If you are able to help the Corn Exchange by becoming a Corn Exchange Companion please visit loveyourcornexchange.com