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An update from the Corn Exchange

A close up of the top of the Corn Exchange building with blue sky in the corner

An update from our Director, Katy Griffiths.

When we first closed, we thought three weeks was going to be challenging. The practicalities of closing down our buildings, setting up to work remotely and refund thousands of tickets were enormous. Adrenaline carried us through, and as it became clear that this was going to go on for some time, the amazing support for our Keep Newbury Creative fundraising campaign and heartfelt comments from our audiences kept us all afloat – thank you.

Funding for new projects

We launched our digital engagement programme within a week, and have now reached over 5,000 people with our online activities. We have a vital role to play in supporting local people to use culture and creative activity through lockdown, and arguably even more vital as we move to recover. The number of people who have taken up (or returned to) hobbies like painting, singing, learning an instrument, has been a real wake-up call to the value that the arts bring to support our mental health and wellbeing.

This work continues to expand, and I am delighted to share that in the last week we have received funding for two new projects: Unlocked and Unbolted, a youth-led project to document the stories and experiences of our young people during lockdown which in due course will lead to a socially distanced performance; and Contactless Creativity, a project designed to deliver weekly creative activities for those living in care homes or isolation who don’t have access to the internet.

Looking ahead

Theatre folk are an adaptable and creative bunch - we’ve continued to look forward and find ways to think about all the things that we can do, rather than the things we can’t. But the challenges keep on coming. Our industry relies on bringing groups of people together to share experiences; live audiences and live performance are what we are all about – but at the moment, although we are permitted to reopen from 4 July, we can’t offer the ‘live’ events that are so central to what we do.

Our team have been extraordinary and resilient and I am hugely grateful to them all for their work and commitment to the organisation at this time. Many of them have been furloughed as part of our approach to reducing costs wherever possible. But as part-time working becomes permitted, we will be welcoming them back as we look at all the different ways we can bring creative activities back to our buildings.

Our reopening plans remain fluid. We are certain that we can reopen and keep our staff and audiences safe. But we have to make sure we do this in a way that is financially viable - without our live performance programme and with limited attendance. We are exploring reopening our cinema and café as well as finding ways to run our Learning Centre classes and sessions in a blended way so that attendance can be in person or virtual. We hope it won’t be too long before outdoor performances will be permitted, and although we won’t be inviting thousands of you to a huge celebration in the Market Place, we are looking at a number of exciting outdoor projects that we hope will be possible in the coming months.

What are your thoughts?

And so we turn to you, our audience. How are you feeling as we slowly emerge from this enforced hibernation? We really need to understand what we can do to help you feel comfortable returning to the Corn Exchange or whether we will need to find different ways for you to access our activities for a while. We would be very grateful if you could find the time to complete our survey, as this will help inform our thinking and planning for the future.

We have all agreed that the arts are vital to our wellbeing and way of life, and the Corn Exchange is determined to find a way to continue to play its part as we find our way to a new normal.