Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.
At a time when libraries and children’s centres are under threat across the country, and regional culture is largely underfunded, London’s planned Centre for Music will cost an estimated £288 million. On a prominent site neighbouring the Barbican Centre, currently occupied by the Museum of London (due to relocate to West Smithfield by 2023), it brings together the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO), the Guildhall School of Music, and Drama’s new Institute for Social Impact, as well as a 2000 seat concert hall and a small experimental music-making area.
Championed by the charismatic Simon Rattle, who become the Music Director at the LSO in 2017 after 15 years at the Berlin Philharmonic, the project will be privately funded through a combination of City of London investment, philanthropy, and commercial space.
Run by the Barbican, the Centre for Music is designed to ‘invite everybody in’, according to the architect. This echoes Rattle’s own comments: ‘classical music is an art form for everybody and it’s our job to spread the word, not just to play the music’. Yet London already has major music venues: The Royal Albert Hall (5,267 seats), the Royal Festival Hall (1,741) and the Queen Elizabeth Hall (916), as well as the O2, Royal Opera House, and others. Will the new centre be a threat to their businesses?
And the Museum of London? Having ‘run out of space’ to display its collections, the move is set to cost £250m, with the City of London and London’s mayor contributing £180m, and the balance raised from charities and the public with the aim of doubling visitor numbers to two million a year.
Whilst these projects should be celebrated, sadly, neither will be open to everybody. Why not? Because travelling from anywhere beyond the M25 into London can cost hundreds of pounds: transport, an overnight stay, tickets for shows and exhibitions, and even a modest meal, let alone a coffee or gift purchased for eye-watering sums at these venues. It’s equivalent to a week’s holiday in a foreign resort.
Affordability is an issue for those on the average national wage of under £30,000, who are just the people deserving participation.
Culture is not ‘elitist’, yet it is becoming just that, as state schools drop music and drama. The average family can’t afford to pay for lessons, so it is left to private schools to support and encourage aspirational talent. Yet even a little knowledge benefits everyone, whatever their abilities, and could offer a lifetime of enjoyment and learning, and a way to build friendships.
Does either institution plan targeted programmes for the disabled, lonely, deaf or blind, or educationally challenged individuals?
Encouraging talented young people to develop their musical skills would be so much easier if the Centre for Music located to the Midlands or the North, making it more accessible to the wider population, whilst boosting the local economy. Regional museums also lacking space to display fine art and artefacts, which belong to taxpayers, will be envious of the Museum of London’s investment, as they struggle for funding to create new display areas. A cost effective solution could be shared collections, developing new architectural gems to house them and maximise the visitor experience across communities. However, there is a lack of ambition for such projects, leaving regional collections to rot in storage – forever lost to their rightful audiences.
London’s aspiration for these two major developments, adding to massive investment in its cultural infrastructure in recent decades, only serve to highlight the unfair inequality and unnecessary dividing line between the South East and the rest of the country.
Beyond the capital, world-class creatives have to beg for a few thousand pounds to help sustain and develop their work, especially focusing on deprived communities, including those with mental health problems. They deserve recognition and support.
As a councillor, and cabinet member, for ten years: first on Ipswich Borough Council, and subsequently at Suffolk County Council, with the culture and economic development brief, I had first hand experience of that struggle for funding.
I found the Arts Council patronising, completely ignoring the importance for organisations they selected for funding being financially efficient, to maximise grant value. As I sat on various boards, alongside AC representatives, their lack of attention to detail, or ability to read a balance sheet, horrified me; when it became evident that one high profile project in Ipswich was actually bankrupt, they simply kept bailing it out with hundreds of thousands of pounds, dismissing concerns about the lack of professional fiscal oversight. Officers at the County pursued similar policies, and I understand that this particular organisation recently received two years advance funding, whilst the County slashed its grant to Citizens Advice.
Meanwhile, one of the most talented and creative theatre groups in the Suffolk region, The Red Rose Chain, which the Arts Council recognises as high quality, gets nothing annually from local councils or the Arts Council (although the latter has provided some grants). Instead, it spends endless hours making applications to a wide range of potential funders, including the especially helpful Lottery Community Fund.
Founded 25 years ago by Joanna Carrick and her husband, David Newborn, Red Rose is an absolute gem, with tight financial management, a small team of committed staff, and a strong advisory board, including representatives from top local legal and accountancy firms. The business community appreciate its uniqueness, providing professional advice and sponsorship for specific events. Although they ‘like being independent,’ according to Joanna, ‘it can be a struggle sometimes.’
Five years ago, the group moved from inadequate premises to a run-down listed building overlooking parkland in Ipswich, developing a new performance space to deliver the most amazing theatrical events. Joanna is a very talented writer, as well as director, producing amazing plays, capturing the history and character of Suffolk, with its connections to Anne Boleyn, and the little know Ipswich Martyrs. Every year, they produce their own popular versions of a Shakespeare play ‘in the Forest’, currently at Jimmy’s Farm (this year it will be Romeo and Juliet).
Whereas other groups (supported by the Arts Council) charge for working with children and disadvantaged groups, Red Rose does not:
“Our community work started following the prostitute murders in Ipswich twelve years ago, developing programmes to reduce isolation, address the serious impact of the murders, and the need to raise awareness of vulnerable adults with a mental health diagnosis.”
Everyone is welcome to join their Youth Theatre for 14-18 year olds, including troubled and disabled young people:
“Even those with the most serious disabilities, such as one of our young actors, who is wheelchair bound and deaf and blind, are intellectually capable. They deserve to feel part of something, and have fun.
“It has to be open access. Making a charge simply creates barriers. We offer an alternative to the growing gang culture; mixing with other youngsters from all parts of society, both state and privately educated, they learn self-discipline and respect as well as new social and practical skills. We’re very proud of their achievements and how hard they work.”
Red Rose were recently commissioned by Suffolk Constabulary to create a short play about hidden abuse, and how to identify it, as a training exercise for officers. Bringing together a group who had experienced abuse in its many forms, Joanna wrote the script, incorporating actual events, which the group then acted. It was emotional for them and their audience, and raised lots of questions, not least how victims can be helped to understand that their lives do not need to be ‘controlled’ by bullies. Building their confidence is integral to recovery and developing independence.
As the Government seeks to address these issues, and has published its Loneliness Strategy, with promises of funding, giving an organisation like The Red Rose Chain its financial security for the long term would seem obvious. It currently needs £30,000 as an interim measure as it submits several applications to a number of charitable foundations.