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Sunday, 26 October 2014

Arts centre dream unveiled

PLANS are under way to create a community arts centre in Prudhoe.

For several years, the town’s acclaimed Dragon Tale theatre group has been looking for a new venue, and, with its current one, Prudhoe High School, in line for a full rebuild, members now feel the time is right to press ahead with the scheme.

If the proposals materialise, the centre would cater for numerous types of performing arts and could include everything from a cafe or bar to creche facilities.

In a presentation to Prudhoe Town Council, Dragon Tale founder member Caroline Warburton said: “There has been significant interest from community groups – dance groups and other similar performance groups.

“In fact, the general support for the project is significant.

“What we would like to have is support from the town council for the plans.

“That will make it easier as we try to find suitable venues and raise money for the project.”

Dragon Tale, which was set up in 2000, performs a pantomime every year and takes part in numerous other events, having established a glowing reputation.

The new project, being developed under the banner of Prudhoe Community Arts Programme, would centre around a 200-seat theatre.

“But that in itself won’t bring in enough revenue to sustain this sort of project, so that’s why we’re talking more of a community arts centre that would have far wider uses,” Mrs Warburton said.

“There are similar venues elsewhere in Northumberland, like the Phoenix Theatre in Blyth and the Alnwick Playhouse.”

A survey of Prudhoe residents is being undertaken and will be completed by the autumn.

Those taking part are asked to consider what they would like to see, including: a rehearsal space, a cafe, a bar, meeting spaces, adult learning facilities, local history displays, creche facilities, an exhibition space and facilities for showing films.

Venues currently being considered include Eastwoods Middle School, the West Wylam Community Centre and land around Prudhoe Hospital.

Mayor of Prudhoe, Coun. Tony Reid, who used to hold the arts portfolio at Northumberland County Council and was once chairman of the Queens Hall management committee, praised Mrs Warburton’s enthusiasm.

He said: “The Queen's Hall was supposed to cascade from Hexham to Prudhoe and fundamentally it has failed.

“When I go to arts events, I usually go to Newcastle, and the justification for having a facility in Prudhoe is clear cut.”

He warned, however, that revenue funding was hard to find.

“The Phoenix Theatre had a group of enthusiastic people, but one thing perhaps not as widely known as it should be is that the management committee had to put their houses on the line,” he said.

“It is really difficult and challenging to meet expectations.

“If you pick a figure of, say, £1m, it’s easy to get that, but then you need £150,000 a year to keep it running and that’s the hard bit.”

Coun. Eileen Burt also gave her support for the project, but said a feasibility study must be top of the group’s priorities.

Coun. Jennifer McGee, meanwhile, said: “I was involved in the creation of the Dragon Tale theatre group in the Millennium and it has been a legacy of that time that has gone from strength to strength.

“I support this wholeheartedly, because I feel a town the size of Prudhoe could really use something like this.

“Funding will be an issue – it’s possible to get capital, but it’s revenue that really matters.”

The town council agreed to do what it could to help the project.

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