The campaign to save Worthing's theatres
PUBLISHED: 12:47 20 April 2011 | UPDATED: 21:33 20 February 2013
Jon Woodley has built his life around the theatre so when he heard that Worthing's Connaught was at risk of closure he decided to take matters into his own hands. Words by Jenny Mark-Bell
"I wasborn and bred in Worthing and all of my family lives here, says 26-year-old theatre consultant Jon Woodley when asked what makes him so passionate about the fate of the towns three theatres. Jon, who now lives in Windsor, was a member of Worthing Youth Theatre from the ages of 8 to 11, and his first job at the age of 16 was at the Connaught.
So when Jon read a report in the Worthing Herald that the Connaught was at risk of closure and the future of the Assembly Rooms and Pavilion were in doubt, he wrote a letter and sent it to the paper. The letter ended up being forwarded to about 300 people, including the head of the Council, Paul Yallop. Councillor Yallop indicated that he would be keen to listen to alternatives, says Jon. The Council is in a bit of a difficult situation: they need to trim the fat and they have a limited number of options. The venues are currently losing 1.2m a year, which is unbelievable from my point of view. The last thing anyone, including the Council, wants is for the theatres to close, but they can't absorb that kind of loss. After I had sent the initial letter a number of people in Worthing got back to me and said they would be happy to help.
Jon studied stage management at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and worked his way up the career ladder. Now a theatre consultant, he has worked with the RSC and Royal Opera House. My work covers all manner of things, from working with architects to refurbish and redesign theatre buildings to business consultancy.
With the help of local volunteers, including an accountant, solicitor, a marketing and PR agency and a business consultant, Jon prepared a proposal which he presented at a Council cabinet meeting on 21 March. We had a petition which was signed by 20,000 people both online and on paper, but there's no point banging the drum and making a lot of noise unless you present an alternative. We think if the theatres are run in the right way they can pay for themselves.
The Trusts key point is that the theatres are not working in their current form.
The Connaught, historically well-known for rep theatre and pre-West End runs, has attracted names like Patricia Routledge, Alan Ayckbourn and Harold Pinter. Now, says Jon, it has lost its way.
All of the venues are relying quite heavily on films even though they dont make much money. The Pavilion was always intended to be a variety hall, and we want it to be restored to that purpose and used for general light entertainment. At the moment, the theatres are competing with each other a town Worthings size doesn't need two pantomimes, for example. We need to provide other options and alternatives.
People see the theatres as being subsidised, but at present there is no element of educational outreach. Long-term, therefore, the aim is to develop more homegrown productions and to employ a dedicated outreach and education officer, ensuring that the theatres are restored to the heart of the community.
The next stage for the campaign is devising a massive fundraising strategy. Jon and his fellow campaigners are looking into corporate sponsorship and help financial and otherwise from local businesses.
The whole campaign has only really worked because so many people in the community care about it. This is about ensuring what we see as a vital part of society is retained for the future. Schools, education and outreach are vitally important to the future of the arts.
The Voice of Youth
Dominic Stannard is President of the Worthing College Student Union and represents East Arun, Adur and Worthing in the UK Youth Parliament
"I am keen to see more being offered for young people in Worthing. The Splashpoint development and Goring Playground are good steps forward for younger children, but teenagers are being left out. Thats why I am supporting the campaign led by Jon Woodley to take the three Worthing Theatres into a Public Trust in order to preserve them for the Community. Part of Jons thinking is to see the resurgence of Youth Theatre based at the Connaught. With groups like WMCS Youth and Anyone4Theatre I have performed in shows at the Connaught and the Pavilion and believe that they can play a key role in fostering young theatrical talent in the future. Jon Woodley was a member of Worthing Youth Theatre and he went on to RADA to study Stage Management. Some of his contemporaries are running major theatres. I believe that there is loads of untapped talent amongst students and young people in this area. I hope to find and unlock some of it."
To find outmore about the campaign, visit www.saveworthingtheatres.co.uk.