When the Council told us that funding would cease in Q3 of this financial year it was very upsetting, but we understood that being deep in the pandemic where the future for everyone looked so uncertain it was understandable. We shared our hopes that the grant would return when the economy picked up again.
In response to the 45% cut in funding, we reduced our opening hours (from 7 days to 5) reduced our staffing and reduced our programme of events. We fundraised intensively to ensure we could deliver projects for residents, especially for children, young people and disadvantaged groups in the Royal Borough during this dark time.
The core funding from RBWM is absolutely essential to keep the charity going. 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. In 20-21 these amounts alone came to more than £120k. 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 + 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.
We have already made many changes to the organisation to reduce costs and to increase income, it’s very hard to see what else we can do. RBWM have very kindly paid for a consultant to carry out a study on Norden Farm to see if there is anything else we could try to become even more self-sufficient. We really welcome this support, 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. 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.
Norden Farm is important for residents as it’s the only professional arts venue in the town. We present highly renowned artists and raise the profile of Maidenhead. Recent top comedy names include Bill Bailey, Geoff Norcott and Harry Hill. We are unique. Where else in the country can you come and watch the Band of the Household Cavalry rehearse (for free) for example?
Norden Farm is a place for Maidonians to be proud of. It brings people together through the artistic programme of shows, films and classes and the volunteering opportunities (we have 160 volunteers currently). It promotes community cohesion through free community projects such as the Kite Festival in Boyn Grove Park, the summer long Beach and the Christmas Lantern Parade and supports local makers through the regular outdoor markets. At a time where we’ve all experienced enforced isolation, the importance of the arts in improving our well-being, sense of connectivity and mental health cannot be stressed enough.
The petition launched by Public Campaign for the Arts asking for the reinstatement of arts funding in the Borough is very welcomed. 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.
Chief Executive and Artistic Director