Published on February 23rd, 2017 | by Niall Norbury0
South Street – New Look, New Future?
Last Friday, funders, supporters, well-wishers, artists and campaigners came together to celebrate the re-launch of South Street.
After months of uncertainty and construction work, South Street arts centre has undergone a transformation with new facilities and changes that would have seemed impossible a few years ago. However, the changes are not just cosmetic, but provide the arts centre with a better future…
Two years ago, South Street Art Centre’s future could not look more uncertain: Reading Borough Council had announced that the closure of the arts venue was under consideration as a result of council budget cuts.
The announcement provoked quick and vocal reaction with a signature opposing the closure receiving over 8,000 signatures. South Street had seen performers such as Mumford & Sons, Lenny Henry, Flight of the Conchords and Sarah Millican. Soon a campaign was launched to save South Street garnering support from residents as well as artists and performers from across the UK.
However, South Street’s fortunes changed in February 2016 when it was revealed that a £500,000 bid to Arts Council England was successful. The funding would enable the arts centre to make much-needed renovations and soon Reading Council backed down on plans to close South Street and added a further £300,000 towards the renovations.
Following months of renovations, South Street officially re-launched this week at a night celebrating both the history and the future of the arts centre. Some of the changes made are minor, but many are considerable.
The main theatre has undergone many changes with a state-of-the-art technical booth, improved dressing room for performers and increased seating for South Street’s most popular shows.
A new bar has been built – separate to both the main theatre and MacDevitts – opening up more space in both rooms. Additionally, the whole building has been made more accessible with ramps and improved toilet facilities.
Many of these changes have given South Street a long-overdue facelift, but the Arts Council and Reading Council funding was not simply for cosmetic changes – but to give the venue a chance to secure its future.
The changes to the main theatre not only make the space much more attractive to performers, but provide South Street with the chance to make extra revenue from popular nights thanks to increased seating. Similarly, improving accessibility opens up South Street to new audiences.
By building a separate bar, South Street are able to dramatically increase their number of bookings. Previously, it was difficult to keep both the main theatre and MacDevitts open at the same time, as one would need to operate as a bar. However, now South Street is able to book out both spaces and further increase their revenue.
In addition to the renovations, South Street is looking into other ways to generate income: a new membership scheme has been created, offering regular patrons a chance for discount tickets; and many rooms in the building are being rented out as office space.
At first glance, the state of South Street two years ago, and today couldn’t look more different. To go from the threat of closure to a much-needed boost in funding is astounding – but we must not take venues such as South Street for granted.
The issues that existed two years ago haven’t disappeared – councils across the UK still need to find savings as a result of substantial budget cuts. As property prices rise and demand for houses increase, it is increasingly attractive and profitable to convert venues into flats.
The only way to guarantee the future of South Street – and the future of any venue – is to use it. Treat every stand-up night, every gig and every show as the chance to discover something new, be amazed and walk away different to when you walked in.