Key Bury St Edmunds venues merge management to “improve efficiency”


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Plans to share the running of two of the region’s leading arts venues will be put into place next month in a bid to minimise costs and improve efficiency.

Last year, proposals for a single management of the Theatre Royal and the Apex in Bury St Edmunds were shelved amid fears that the two venues could lose their structural independence and distinctive characters.

But earlier this year, the Theatre Royal discovered it was to lose 8% of its income after it missed out on the latest round of Arts Council grants.

Last night, it was announced that a shared senior management team has now been appointed for a six month trial period, consisting of the Theatre Royal’s director Karen Simpson and general manager Adrian Grady along with Nick Wells, head of programming at the Apex and director of the Bury St Edmunds Festival.

The trial is intended to give both organisations a chance to discover where savings can be made and how any gains can be invested into developing the range of drama, music and entertainment on offer.

A joint spokesman for the Theatre Royal and The Apex said the venues had been working together during the past year to promote each other’s events and to develop a network comprising many of the arts organisations in Bury St Edmunds. The next six months would be about looking at how new income could be gained by growing the audience for both venues.

Stephen Bourne, chairman of the Theatre Royal’s board, said the initiative was “fully supported” by members.

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He added: “I think everyone understands that arts organisations are under increasing financial pressure.

“Our Arts Council revenue stops from April 1, 2015 and as a result we must look at all options to bring down our overheads so we can put the maximum amount of money into our productions.

“This initiative is an important part of our overall strategy for the Theatre Royal which is to be an artistically-led and financially sustainable organisation.

“We have a good working relationship with The Apex team and we are both undertaking this step to deliver mutual benefit.”

Alan Brown, a partner at one of the theatre’s corporate sponsors, Ashton KCJ solicitors, said: “Every business has to look constantly at its costs to make sure every penny is well spent, and the arts are no different.

“Collaboration between arts organisations - with each at the same time retaining its independence - should bring benefits to both.”

According to Sarah Stamp, St Edmundsbury Borough Council portfolio holder for leisure, culture and heritage, everyone involved in managing arts venues knows that finances are “extremely challenging in the current climate”.

She added: “We have a responsibility to explore how we can best maintain our high standards whilst delivering best value for our taxpayers.

“I believe that between us we should take some time to explore our mutual skills and see what benefits might accrue.”

The shared management trial, which is being supported by Suffolk County Council and Arts Council England, will start in January and be in place for up to six months.

It is expected to provide enough time to identify key efficiency savings which will be considered by Theatre Royal Board members and St Edmundsbury Borough councillors.

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