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The Piper (formerly The Norman Arms) in St Leonards has just been awarded a £237,000 grant from Arts Council England

The Piper (formerly The Norman Arms) in St Leonards has just been awarded a £237,000 grant from Arts Council England

Cultural Recovery Fund winner causes debate

The first round of successful applicants to the Arts Council England (ACE) Culture Recovery Fund were announced on Monday. Erica Smith looks at how and why The Piper was the only successful small live music venue in a town full of small live music venues.

The results of the first round of the Culture Recovery Fund have led to some suprise and amazement amongst the creative community of the town. Five organisations out of the six that applied in Hastings and St Leonards were awarded grants. In descending order, they are:

  • White Rock Theatre – £239k
  • The Piper – £237k
  • Hastings Contemporary – £230k
  • Project Art Works – £137k
  • The Stables Theatre – £71k

The reaction to this news on the streets of Hastings and St Leonards seems to have focussed on why The Piper – a small music venue that has been open for less than a year – has been awarded a grant only £2k short of the biggest venue in town?

… The answer is as simple as the fact that hardly any small music venues applied for the grant. Apparently only one other music venue in Hastings and St Leonards (The Black Market VIP) applied to the Culture Recovery Fund. The number of applications from Hastings was the lowest out of anywhere in the United Kingdom.

I spoke to Chris Barnett from The Piper. Like many small venue owners, Chris had sunk all his time and money into opening the venue, including taking out a second mortgage. The redevelopment of the building took significantly longer and more funds than had been expected. After being open for only 8 1/2 months, the business was just beginning to become financially viable when lockdown led to the venue shutting down.

Chris has spent weeks working on the ACE application which was an intimidating task – made easier by significant support from the Music Venues Trust. He said “This grant has given us the confidence to be able to re-open and secure the future for the venue and for our staff – and to allow local, national and international bands to continue to play in St Leonards.”

Julie Riley (right) of duo I am Her said: “The Piper delivers on something that does not already exist in St Leonards. It serves someone like myself very well in terms of events to attend and also I have played there. Additionally the venue curates line ups really thoughtfully (a very unusual quality in this sector) and it works to pull in bands of global significance, most often putting on local bands to support them. This helps pull audiences in from all over, puts St Leonards on the alternative music map and give exposure to local musicians.”

The Piper is not currently a fully accessible venue, though through lockdown, access to the ground floor and toilets have been made more accessible for wheelchair users. Whilst the ACE grant is partially to help adapt the venue to reduce the risk of Covid transmission, it cannot be used to install a wheelchair accessible lift to the first floor where most of the bands perform.

Writer, disability rights activist and former singer with indie band Spiral Sky, Penny Pepper (left) said: “I am sick of venues not taking accessibility on. Not all disabled people are wheelchair users, and some are “able-bodied”! But if you do have a mobility impairment, a £40 ramp could make a huge difference and offer a CHOICE. Large print info is EASY to produce in this age… and so on. Hastings Access to Venues and Events (HAVE) can do a lot of signposting and some training (for a fee). Which incidentally you can put in for via an Arts Council grant. Accessibility is supposedly an important criteria for Arts Council grants. There is certainly enough participant-monitoring when you do an application. Here’s to more music and more of the whole community accessing it with equality!”

A spokesperson from ACE said: “… both Project Grants  and Project Grants: Supporting Grassroots Live Music are now up and running – both of which are able to support live music venues… and the Developing Your Creative Practice fund for individuals reopened this week”.

Here’s wishing that many more Hastings and St Leonards creatives and performers follow the lead of the six local creative businesses that applied to the Cultural Recovery Fund – and here’s to seriously supporting inclusion and diversity in these difficult times.

Chris Barnett is optimistic that The Piper will open within the month and probably earlier. The grant means that subsidised bands and events can be put on so both the community and musicians will benefit from Arts Council England’s support. Keep an eye on The Piper website and Facebook for news of the re-opening.

STOP PRESS: In response to the low take-up to this funding pot, a webinar organised by Hastings Creatives and run by Davina Christmas, Relationship Manager, Music including Music Education Hubs, will take place for all creatives from Hastings and the surrounding area. It will look at the different funding strands available from Arts Council England and talk through how to apply. The webinar starts at 10.30am on Wednesday 18 November and needs to be pre-booked via this Eventbrite link.

Posted 12:11 Thursday, Oct 15, 2020 In: Arts News

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