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‘Light at the end of the tunnel’ - Coastal venues celebrate vital government funding

PUBLISHED: 14:01 13 October 2020 | UPDATED: 08:22 14 October 2020

Ben Jay (left) and Kelly Evans, directors of the Ocean Rooms in Gorleston. Photo: Howard Marshall

Ben Jay (left) and Kelly Evans, directors of the Ocean Rooms in Gorleston. Photo: Howard Marshall

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Theatres and venues in Great Yarmouth and Gorleston have been celebrating after getting vital funding from the government.

The Ocean Room nightclub in Gorleston, now run in partnership between Kelly Evans and her cousin Ben Jay. Photo: Kelly EvansThe Ocean Room nightclub in Gorleston, now run in partnership between Kelly Evans and her cousin Ben Jay. Photo: Kelly Evans

Across the country, 1,385 theatres, galleries, performance groups, arts organisations and cultural venues learned on Monday (October 12) they will receive £257m from the government’s £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund.

Four venues on the coast are set to benefit from the grants.

The Ocean Room in Gorleston, one of the county’s best known clubs, will get £149,686.

Co-director Ben Jay, who runs the venue with Kelly Evans, said: “We’re in a bit of shock and very humbled we will get the funding, but it was something that we very much needed to keep this iconic building afloat in these hard times.”

St. George’s Theatre in Great Yarmouth will host Rapunzel – The Lockdown Pantomime from December 15 to December 19. Picture: St. George's TheatreSt. George’s Theatre in Great Yarmouth will host Rapunzel – The Lockdown Pantomime from December 15 to December 19. Picture: St. George's Theatre

Since the start of lockdown the venue has opened for only one event.

“We’re finding it very difficult, with all the standing charges coming out of the business,” Mr Jay said.

“The funding means we’ll be able put on a lot more events in the live music arena.

“There is definitely some light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

The Hippodrome staff are desperately hoping the grand launch of the summer spectacular will go ahead on Saturday, as the government has so far indicated. Photo: Hippodrome Circus Great YarmouthThe Hippodrome staff are desperately hoping the grand launch of the summer spectacular will go ahead on Saturday, as the government has so far indicated. Photo: Hippodrome Circus Great Yarmouth

Another venue showing signs of optimism is St George’s Theatre in Great Yarmouth.

The theatre was facing temporary closure in the new year because of loss of revenue but a £94,130 grant means the show will go on.

Theatre director Debbie Thompson said: “This is wonderful news for our staff, volunteers and trustees, who work so hard as a team to produce a huge variety of entertainment in this amazing old theatre.

“Unlike a great many theatres around the country, we have recently been able to put on films and suitable productions because we don’t have fixed seating and can operate social distancing safely with cabaret-style tables and chairs spread out in the auditorium.

Jack Jay, ringmaster and producer at the Hippodrome Circus in Great Yarmouth. Picture: David Street at Streetview for Hippodrome Circus Great Yarmouth.Jack Jay, ringmaster and producer at the Hippodrome Circus in Great Yarmouth. Picture: David Street at Streetview for Hippodrome Circus Great Yarmouth.

“But this results in much smaller audiences and our income has suffered dramatically. Temporary closure loomed and nobody in the entertainment industry wants to see a theatre go dark.”

Steve Scott, chair of trustees, said: “St George’s Theatre is at the cultural heart of Great Yarmouth and serves the whole community with professional entertainment and productions by local youth and adult groups.

“This grant has put a huge smile on our faces, and I know that our loyal audiences will be equally happy knowing that we can continue planning for an exciting 2021.”

Set in a Grade I listed former chapel, the theatre is Yarmouth’s only all-year-round playhouse and has a programme of music, comedy, films and drama for the autumn and winter, including Rapunzel – The Lockdown Pantomime from December 15 to 19.

The Pavilion Theatre on Pier Gardens, Gorleston-On-Sea, Great Yarmouth. Picture: Pavilion Theatre 
The Pavilion Theatre on Pier Gardens, Gorleston-On-Sea, Great Yarmouth. Picture: Pavilion Theatre

Another beneficiary is the Hippodrome – Britain’s only surviving circus building that was built in 1903 – which has received £182,907.

Producer and director Jack Jay said: “We’ve shown our desire to be back producing shows for people at the earliest possible opportunity.

“In August we became the very first large theatre anywhere in the UK to reopen since the beginning of lockdown.

“However, the financial implications of running a show with social distancing guidelines have been very stark.”

Debbie Thompson, who is director of Sheringham Little Theatre and Great Yarmouth's St George's Theatre.
Picture: RICHARD BATSONDebbie Thompson, who is director of Sheringham Little Theatre and Great Yarmouth's St George's Theatre. Picture: RICHARD BATSON

Building owner Peter Jay said: “This grant will help us retain our amazing artistes and staff and at least gives us a chance to still be performing in 2021 and beyond.

“It will help to cover some of the shortfall we have while operating under the current guidelines.”

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The Hippodrome is currently preparing for its Halloween Spooktacular which opens on October 23 for ten days over the school holidays until November 2.

In Gorleston, Alex Youngs, trustee of the Pavilion Theatre, said its grant of £71,700 was “fantastic” news at such a critical time for the industry and for all entertainment venues across the borough.

“The Pavilion in particular is an extremely good example of how this fund is vital for enabling independent venues such as ours to survive,” he said.

“We receive no other grants or funding and instead rely entirely on bums-on-seats to keep the doors open, so the last six months or so have been particularly difficult for us having been fully closed since lockdown.

“This grant however has taken away some of that pressure and will enable us to continue paying the bills while we focus on getting ready to re-open, starting with a brand new Covid-Secure Christmas show this November, before welcoming our audiences back in 2021 with our rescheduled programme of events.”


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