Theatre manager putting culture at heart of the community
- Credit: Danielle Booden
A local theatre manager has pledged to keep arts and culture at the heart of a community as it bounces back from the effects of Covid.
Karen Read, theatre manager at the Seagull Theatre in Pakefield, took up the reins in 2015 when it was barely getting by.
Fast forward six years and her work alongside members of staff and volunteers at the theatre has transformed the theatre into a hub which puts community and the people of Lowestoft at its heart.
Such initiatives include dance and drama classes for children who are on free school meals during the summer holidays.
Reflecting on a momentous six years at the helm, she said: "Before becoming theatre manager here at the Seagull in 2015 I was a volunteer and stay-at-home mum.
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"I slowly got more and more involved with work at the Seagull and our former theatre manager Paul Amer put my name forward for manager when he stepped down in 2015.
"This was a lovely surprise and I will be eternally grateful for what he did.
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"Ever since then, it feels like we've all been in at the deep end."
One of the highlights for Karen since being manager at the Seagull is the early years panto which she helped to set up when she started.
She said: "This has been my number one highlight since joining the theatre because it introduces young people to theatre and arts at a young age.
"Every Christmas we put together a one hour show and it is a great opportunity for them to showcase their talent.
"It really is going from strength to strength."
But it has not always been plain sailing.
Karen took over the Seagull when the community theatre was at the brink and the Covid pandemic has highlighted the challenges of running a community venture when people are not allowed out and about.
She said: "The early years managing the Seagull was difficult because we didn't have anything in the bank.
"We were limited with what we could do from month to month.
"However, I will be eternally grateful to my predecessors Paul Amer and John Hales who set the foundation stones for the Seagull Theatre you see here today."
Since Karen took over the Seagull, it has placed community at the heart of everything it does and this is displayed through the various school holiday activities aimed at disadvantaged children in the area.
She said: "Right now we are hosting summer holiday dance classes for children who have free school meals.
"This is all part of a government plan to feed children who are eligible for free school meals during the school holidays.
"We also have the same workshop downstairs for children interested in drama."
Despite the challenges of the pandemic and the impact this has had on the local arts scene, Karen is optimistic about the bright future for community theatre and for Lowestoft as a whole in the years to come.
She said: "There has not been much cultural light shone on Lowestoft before but we are now being looked at.
"I want to transform our community through arts and we are already doing this by welcoming people from different walks of life who may have never stepped inside a theatre before.
"I want to continue to develop the community work we have been doing, particularly focusing on the mental health aspect in children which has been worsened by the effects of the pandemic.
"By continuing to work with local schools and the community as a whole, I believe we can continue to do this.
"These last few years would not have been the same without the amazing and supportive team around me here at the Seagull.
"I particularly want to thank Des Reynolds, Kerry Arlow, Josh Harley and Thomas Guttridge and of course all the volunteers as well.
"We will continue to put community at the heart of everything we do in the years to come."