Council funding 'absolutely essential' to Norden Farm, CEO says

Shay Bottomley

Norden Farm’s CEO has warned that council grants are ‘absolutely essential’ to its future as supporters continue to fight the decision to cease its funding in the 2022/23 budget.

Jane Corry told the Advertiser that it would be ‘too tragic to imagine’ losing the centre for arts after ‘40 years of hard work’.

Having seen a reduction in its funding from the council last year, Norden Farm looks set to receive no funding from the Royal Borough in its upcoming budget.

The move was announced last year, but with the council consulting on its budget and the new financial year approaching, it has become the subject of fierce debate on social media.

“The core funding from RBWM is absolutely essential to keep the charity going,” the arts centre chief executive said.

“We earn money from hiring space, catering, memberships and fundraising but still need the grant to help with the running costs of the building, including utilities, repairs, maintenance and insurance.

“Providing services, putting on shows, running classes and projects all cost money and with the number of seats we have – 220 in the Courtyard Theatre with 98 in the Studio – even sold-out events can’t fund the charity by themselves.

“Having the infrastructure of Norden Farm enables us to deliver a huge education and community programme of work for residents.

“We work with every school in Maidenhead making sure our children and young people have access to high quality arts experiences.

“We fundraise to deliver work for isolated older people, for looked after children and those in end-of-life care, for children with a range of SEN and disabilities, for families experiencing economic hardship.

“None of this would be possible without the existence of Norden Farm.”

Norden Farm was first made aware of the cut to arts funding in the lead-up to last year’s budget, which Jane said was ‘very upsetting, but we understood that being deep in the pandemic where the future for everyone looked so uncertain it was understandable’.

The council’s lead member for culture and heritage, corporate & resident services Samantha Rayner (Con, Eton & Castle) said ‘the council have been having discussions with Norden Farm and is now awaiting independent external consultants’ reports to understand what options are available.’

Norden Farm’s CEO said the support from the council was ‘really welcome’ but added that it was ‘very hard to see what else we can do’ having ‘already made many changes to the organisation to reduce costs and to increase income’.

She added: “If we’ve missed anything then we definitely want to try it.

“The report is due next week so that elected members can see it before final decisions are made about this year’s budget.

“The council have said they will listen to the feedback from residents through the budget consultation survey which is open to the end of the month and we believe them.”

She added: “Although there is not a section specifically on the cessation of arts funding in the document, there is a comments box that can be completed.

"If there is enough support from residents and if the consultation advises the continued funding of Norden Farm, then we are very hopeful the council will reinstate funding.

"They had to make some very difficult decisions during the pandemic but now we are heading out of the worst health crisis in 100 years and looking to the regeneration of Maidenhead, we hope they will see the value Norden Farm brings to the community.”

A petition was launched on Tuesday to reinstate funding for the centre by the Public Campaign for the Arts, which had amassed 846 signatures at the time of going to press.

“The petition asking for the reinstatement of arts funding in the borough is very welcomed,” said Jane.

“The organisation has done great work across the country drawing people’s attention to the arts and the importance of continued funding.

“Somewhere like Norden Farm that took years and years of lobbying from local people and politicians to get funded and built does not just reappear overnight once it’s gone.

“From the dream Maidonians first had, of having their own arts centre to the thriving venue it has become, took 40 years of hard work. To lose that would be too tragic to imagine.”

Cllr Andrew Johnson, the council leader, said: “The council has historically supported Norden Farm with an annual grant, and provided £80,000 this financial year, a significant support package in the context of the pandemic.

"In previous years the council has provided Norden Farm with funding of £100,000 in 2018/19, £158,000 in 2019/20 and £141,000 in 2020/21.

“Due to tight budgetary constraints, it was made clear that last year the venue would receive a reduced grant and in 2022/23 grant funding would cease. This decision was made by full council in February 2021 as part of the budget-setting process.

“Meetings have been held with Norden Farm to discuss its business plans and future operating model and the council will continue to work with the venue to explore options to secure its future viability.”

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