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Triple bill of donations to Cumbria’s Theatre by the Lake

  • Date: 22 March 2013
  • Area: North
School children running past a Theatre by the Lake billboard

Local pupils attend a performance of The Railway Children at Theatre by the Lake as part of the Level Up project. Credit: Stuart Holmes

Keswick-based Theatre by the Lake has recently received three donations, all of which received matched funding from the Arts Council's Catalyst Arts scheme. For a limited period, the organisation can claim £1 to match every £1 it receives as a donation.

The first of these is a corporate donation from the recycling company Studsvik, the second is an individual gift from Judith Johnstone and a charitable donation from the Backstage Trust is the third. Philanthropy is increasing in importance for cultural organisations, complementing public funding in that the risk bearing and stability afforded by public money creates the confidence that attracts other investment and supports world class experimentation.

The work that this funding enables reflects the Arts Council's mission of Achieving great art for everyone and in particular two of our aims: that the arts are sustainable, resilient and innovative and that every child and young person has the opportunity to experience the richness of the arts. The current climate means that arts organisations are finding it harder to access public funding and Theatre by the Lake's recent experience illustrates how the Arts Council is helping organisations to lever in additional investment from outside the public sector.

Commenting on these donations, Patric Gilchrist, Executive Director of Theatre by the Lake said: 'The Catalyst Arts funding scheme presents a huge opportunity for us to diversify our income still further and offers a real incentive for our supporters to help secure the theatre's long term future. In particular, the new money will ensure that we can continue to be artistically innovative, despite the challenging economic climate in which we operate.'

Studsvik, based in West Cumbria, donated £2,500 which was doubled by the Catalyst funding, and went towards Breaking Boundaries, a celebration of young people's work. Senior staff from Studsvik visited rehearsals as 110 young people aged from eight to 18 from Theatre by the Lake's three youth theatres in Workington, Cockermouth and Keswick prepared to showcase their work in the theatre's Studio for three days in February this year. Studsvik also sponsors the Workington Youth Theatre.

The theatre's upcoming production of Rogue Herries was made possible in part by an individual gift from Judith Johnstone, given in memory of her mother Eva Kennedy who died in 2010 aged 99. Mrs Kennedy named her daughter after Judith Paris, heroine of the second book in the Herries Chronicle series. Mrs Johnstone, a long-time supporter of Theatre by the Lake, had considered a memorial to her mother but knew she did not want to plant a tree or buy a bench. 'They were too static - my mother was a lively, animated person with a sense of the dramatic,' she said. When she heard about Theatre by the Lake's production of Rogue Herries, she decided to make a major contribution to the cost of commissioning the script from playwright Louise Page. Matched funding from the Catalyst Arts scheme will enable the theatre to incorporate a community chorus of 37 local amateur performers into the show and Mrs Johnstone's original donation was further increased by 25% through Gift Aid.

Nearly 600 children from 13 schools in Workington and Maryport visited Theatre by the Lake in January as part of an innovative education project. Level Up, which aims both to introduce West Cumbria pupils to theatre and also to ease pupils' move from junior schools to comprehensives, recently received a donation of £30,000 from the Backstage Trust, which was also doubled through the Catalyst Arts scheme. All the children, now in Year 6 in primary schools or Year 7 in secondary schools, saw performances of the theatre's production of The Railway Children as well as an epilogue specially written for them by Theatre Practitioner Jenn Mattinson. In preparation for their trip Year 6 pupils studied the history of classic railway posters and created some of their own capturing the spirit of travel in the golden age of steam. The posters were displayed in the Circle Gallery at the theatre.

Ian Tabbron, Arts Council England's Senior Manager for Funding Programmes said: 'We are delighted that Theatre by the Lake has been successful in attracting three very distinctive but complementary donations. They illustrate well how the Catalyst scheme has enabled arts organisations to develop their own different approaches to fundraising and philanthropy. Companies are casting their nets widely and achieving very different results depending on their size, location and range of other factors. In all cases though the investment will underpin high-quality arts opportunities for both locals and visitors to the organisations.'

Theatre by the Lake is Britain's most remote producing theatre and one of the Arts Council's national portfolio organisations. It presents more than 600 performances a year and last year played to 130,000 people. Since it opened, the Theatre has increased annual audiences for theatre in Keswick six-fold, from under 20,000 in the year before opening to over 130,000 annually and directly created over 100 full time jobs, indirectly facilitated the creation of a further 200 jobs and is the biggest employer in the town of Keswick. The theatre also maintains a community outreach team of actors and others based in Workington, a town that suffers from geographical isolation and has areas of severe social and economic deprivation. Further information can be found on their website.