Once a year we turn our clocks back an hour but as Kettering Arts Centre celebrates its fifth anniversary the team has turned the hands back five years to recall the beginnings of this venture.
Many of the larger towns up and down the country have realised there is a need for a venue in which to run a variety of cultural events for the members of the local community. Catering for those who do not want to travel miles to a large theatre to enjoy a play or concert, these centres have played a vital role in keeping alive, or even rejuvenating, town centres.
This was something that was missing in Kettering. While it can boast its own theatre, The Lighthouse (which opened in 2008), this was located on the outskirts of the town. Apart from the pubs and clubs which host music nights, the centre itself was devoid of a cultural core. The cinemas had long closed and the new(ish) complex when it opened was again located away from the centre and not within easy walking distance for many people. As is said in business communities – there was definitely a gap in the market for a venue of this kind.
Fortunately, for the townsfolk, the Rev’d Nick Wills, priest in charge at St Andrew’s Church, Kettering, and his wife Becky had similar thoughts. The venue was not going to be a problem, what better place to host an arts centre than within the church itself?
As Nick said: “Many Arts Centres are housed in disused churches. We have a church building that is home to several thriving congregations, but which is still empty for most of the week. So at a time when public, private and charitable funds were severely restricted we thought rather than buy or build a performance space, why not use our beautiful, historic, but flexible, town centre building.”
With a strong belief and a determination to make it work and the backing of the church it was not long before a team of volunteers was formed.
Preparations were soon under way to put together a programme of events. In February of 2010, the best-selling children’s author Jacqueline Wilson visited the newly formed Kettering Arts Centre for a book-signing session but it was in July when the first staged event took place.
This was a jazz concert featuring trombonist Dave Keech and his band Close to the Bone.
An instant success, it was a just reward for the team who had invested many hours in arranging and organising the event. More than pleased with the number of people who attended the concert it had shown that there was ample support for an arts centre in the town – the right decision had been made.
Becky, who is and has been the manager of the Arts Centre from day one, said: “It’s exciting to see how well the Arts Centre has taken off. We began by contacting the acts we thought people would like to see and it didn’t take long before we had acts coming to us, wanting to perform in our beautiful Church setting. Over the first five years we have developed a national reputation for hosting class comedy acts and have attracted musicians of international calibre to play on our stage.
“Our vision was always to broaden people’s cultural horizons by bringing wonderful quality acts to the centre. We are pleased with the successes we have achieved so far and hope to inspire more people to come and share future events with us.”
As part of the administration process a ‘Friends of Kettering Arts Centre’ was created, an invitation for like-minded people to join up to a mailing list to be kept informed of future events through regular newsletters. It also allows them to receive priority booking for the acts before tickets go on sale to the general public. This support for the arts centre, and this scheme has proved to be very popular.
“I could rave about the place!” said Julia Thorley, member number 001.
Julia, of Kettering, who has been to dozens of events since the venue opened continued by saying: “We are so lucky to have this venue in Kettering, not just because of the big names that it attracts, but also because it has given us the opportunity to see people we not familiar with. It’s not only about seeing the famous acts, like Jack Dee and Fairport Convention – and there have been plenty of those – but also being introduced to comedians and musicians we’ve not heard of, as well as seeing plays from national and local companies.”
It hardly seems possible that Kettering Arts Centre only opened its doors to the public for the first time in 2010. As Julia mentioned, the number and diversity of the acts has been exceptional.
Catering for all tastes the music has ranged from big bands and blues to vaudeville and all points along the way; mainstream and fringe comics have had the audiences rolling in the aisles, so much so that the Rolling in the Aisles Comedy Club was formed. This monthly event, hosted by Nick, which features a headline act with two supporting acts, is attracting greater numbers of people as the months go by, and is in addition to the solo comedy performances which populate the programme of events.
As regular visitors know, the entertainment doesn’t stop there. Theatrics from The Reduced Shakespeare Company and the Pantaloons Theatre Company have introduced, or re-introduced, audiences to the works of the classic writers in heart-warming and enjoyable productions. Magicians have delighted children, and adults, alike with dazzling displays of dexterity and the annual Christmas Carols and Comedians event has always attracted a full house.
All this in just five years and the team have no intention for it to stop there. Indeed, far from it.
In recognition of a thriving format plans are underway to apply for funding to improve the interior of St Andrew’s Church. The application, if successful will include the introduction of a raised seating area and a new floor complete with underfloor heating.
Nick said: “We’ve had a lot of fun over the last five years. We made things happen, and have made a couple of small upgrades to the building as we’ve gone along. Having run successfully for five years with your support, now it’s time to give Kettering the Arts Centre it deserves.”
There are promising times ahead which we hope you will continue to share with us, but for now, I would like to thank you all for your support over the past five years and ask you to join with me in saying:
HAPPY 5th ANNIVERSARY
KETTERING ARTS CENTRE
If you would like to add your best wishes to the Kettering Arts Centre please like and leave your comments if convenient.
The Kettering Arts Centre Team