Peterborough’s cultural organisations have begun working together to look at how to bring back entertainment and events in the city.

Several have met to discuss a way forward and it’s now hoped to widen the conversation and bring in more of the many creatives across the city.

It follows recent discussions with Peterborough MP Paul Bristow who met with the teams from the Cresset and the New Theatre following the announcement of the government’s £1.57bn plus support package for the theatre and arts industry.

David Hutchinson and Stuart Shanks from Selladoor and New Theatre director Richie Ross, Jag Singh from Vivacity’s Key Theatre, Ivan Cutting from Eastern Angles/The Undercroft, Penny Hansen and Darren Buckman from The Cresset and Jonathan Martin, CEO of YMCA Trinity Group (of which The Cresset is a part) all came together to begin looking at how to move things forward.

“I think it’s absolutely crucial. Someone said to me a few months ago that Peterborough was a cultural dessert and I immediately called them out on it and said a huge amount has been done over the last few years to bring Peterborough an improved cultural offer. Nothing could be further from the truth and the last thing we want as a result of this Covid pandemic is for any of that progress to have been lost, and so now we do have this lifeline, this £1.5 billion plus, we need to make sure we do work together – all the different arts and cultural offers here – to make sure we get our fair share.”

This first meeting, initially with the owners of the city’s theatre buildings, looked at the impact of Covid and the potential for collaboration in relaunching and rebuilding afterwards, and potential ways to work together in developing the longer term cultural strategy for the city.

Penny Hansen from the Cresset told ESP everyone there shared a common goal.

“None of us want to succeed at the expense of anyone else, as a thriving arts and entertainment scene serves to benefit all of us, and the community. The next step is to widen the group to include as many people as possible, there are a huge amount of arts and culture professionals in this city who will shape future discussions.”

After months of lockdown David Hutchinson CEO of Selladoor Worldwide which operates the New Theatre says news of the government funding package was a lifeline they desperately needed.

“I do appreciate that things take time – definitely the June to July time for a lot of theatres was very, very tough, a lot of people had to go through redundancy processes, there was perhaps a feeling that perhaps there wasn’t enough mention of theatre during that process, but I’m not going to criticise government when they then come up with a big package for the arts and we do think they’ve listened.

“There is devil in the detail and there is a timeline that we require but I think we feel backed, we feel supported, the value of what we bring to this country has been acknowledged.”

“It’s obviously been a hugely difficult time for us, and our team, many of whom are still on furlough. We have been making positive steps in recent weeks with the reopening of the building, our shops and services, The Fayre Spot pub & restaurant, and next week the YMCA Community Gym. As these services have opened we’ve started to see an increase in footfall and it’s been great to see the positivity from the local community as they visit.

“I think for the theatre our biggest challenge long term will be around customer confidence. While we may well be permitted to run events, we understand that people may feel hesitant about coming back, so we’re really focussing on ensuring that when we do open it’s in a safe and secure way that means customers can feel confident in returning to live events.”

David Hutchinson from Selladoor says he’s optimistic – “We do need some significant amount of money from this package. I do feel we have a really good argument as to why we should get that alongside a lot of our colleagues in this city and all being well we’ll have a road map to reopening, then we’ll come back bigger and stronger.”

“It’s so important we come out of it with vision and optimism rather than just clamping down and saying it’s hard times – gruel today, gruel tomorrow – we don’t want that. We want to look into positive outcomes and we can do it if we all work together.”

Penny Hansen from the Cresset now hopes this initial meeting between the city’s theatre organisations is the start of that happening.

“We ended the meeting on a very positive note, with all organisations agreeing to being open to a more collaborative approach, and making a commitment to working together both to support each other during what is obviously a hugely challenging time, but also to support the wider industry as best we can by getting back to working with our supply chains, freelancers and independent creatives as soon as we are able.”

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