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17 March 2010

Unite to save Northcott Theatre

EXETER NORTHCOTT Theatre is being placed in administration. The future of one of the South West's only producing theatre companies, and its 80 employees, is in doubt.

Rob Edwards, Exeter Socialist Students

Funded entirely by local government, Arts Council England, and the University of Exeter, the Northcott gives a venue to the university's various performing arts societies, organises workshops for local school students, and provides a cultural hub for the community.

Northcott's financial problems were made worse by the closing of its campus car park, and threats from the Arts Council England to either diversify its programme or lose its grant. "Publicity is one of the theatre's biggest problems", a part time theatre worker told me. "Big names are coming to Exeter, but nobody knows about it. There needs to be more funding put into advertising the theatre".

Protests accompanied the Arts Council's decision in 2007 to withdraw funding - public outcry stopped that decision. Now, as administrators pore over the theatre's books, students and locals prepare for the worst, holding public meetings and discussing the next step should the verdict be liquidation.

Exeter Socialist Students have launched the Unite to Save Exeter Northcott Theatre (USENT) campaign. The group's Facebook page already has over 900 members, and raises the demand to open the account books to student and trade union inspection; since tuition fees and public money are invested in the venue.

Devon county council has already announced hundreds of job cuts and recruitment freezes, and millionaire Tory council leader John Hart has far from finished. The University of Exeter, too, obediently slashed its budget after attacks on higher education. Neither institution says whether they will bail out the theatre.

USENT was launched to pressure these institutions into a bailout for the community, but also to raise the issues of higher education and public sector cuts; battles where Socialist Students will play a leading role, as the axe falls nearer.