Popular concerts cancelled in cutbacks

A SERIES of big outdoor concerts - organised as part of a rural arts programme and attracting thousands of people annually - have been cancelled this year for financial reasons.

By David Green

A SERIES of big outdoor concerts - organised as part of a rural arts programme and attracting thousands of people annually - have been cancelled this year for financial reasons.

The concerts, held in the grounds of Framlingham Castle and featuring top names from the music world, have been held during the past ten years by Wingfield Arts, a charitable company based at Wingfield, near Eye, in a £1.5 million barn complex.

However, following financial losses sustained last year and the cost of an ongoing review into the company's future, a decision has been taken not to hold the concerts this year.

Audiences of about 1,000 people are needed to enable the events to break even financially.

While one well exceeded this target last year, the other three attracted numbers far lower and an overall loss was sustained.

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Wingfield Arts, now celebrating its 25th anniversary, has been experiencing troubles over a past year in which visitor numbers have also declined.

First its director and founder, Ian Chance, decided he needed a new challenge elsewhere and this was followed - at a time the company was applying for a further three years of funding - by the departure of some key members of staff.

There was a further blow when the grant application was rejected by the Arts Council.

However, the council did agree a full-year's funding for 2005/6 at the previous level on the condition that the company commissioned an in-depth strategy review of the service it provides to the region.

The council was not convinced that, because of its difficulties, Wingfield Arts could deliver the programme it had set out for the three-year period. The review of operations is now under way but trustees have decided that they cannot, this year, take the financial risk of organising the outdoor concerts.

The rest of the programme, including exhibitions at Wingfield, concerts in churches and other venues and projects undertaken with local authorities, will continue.

However, the Arts Council - itself under financial pressure - has also deleted Wingfield Arts from its list of regularly funded schemes, pending the outcome of the review.

Carl Bayliss, Wingfield Arts spokesman, said: “The costs involved in holding the outdoor concerts, including the fees for the performers, the hire of the venue and car parking and health and safety assessments, are very high.

“The success of the concerts depends, to a significant extent on the weather, and last year we lost a considerable amount of money.

“Part of the grant we are getting this year has got to be spent on the review and the trustees thought it was too much of a financial risk to go ahead with the outdoor concerts.”

Mr Bayliss said the review was aimed at paving the way for a sustainable future for Wingfield Arts and the concerts could be revived in future years.

Andrew Evitt, chairman of the trustees, said: “The last six months have been a very difficult time.

“Box office figures for 2004 were down on previous years and we also lost several key members of staff.

“We have been working closely with our funding partners to agree continued investment for the year and are working with them to identify funding opportunities for 2006.

“Unfortunately changes to the programme were just unavoidable.”

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