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Highlights Rural Touring Scheme
Cuts hit local Highlights
Highlights Rural Touring Scheme has found itself a casualty of the Eden Arts funding cuts and the impact could hit venues from Orton and Shap in the south to Threlkeld and Kirkoswald in the north.
The Scheme received £2850 each year from Eden District Council in the past and this was channelled through Eden Arts. Cuts to the Eden Arts budget has meant that the complete amount has been withdrawn, threatening a severe reduction to arts performances across Eden.
"The Scheme also receives funding from South Lakes District and Durham and Cumbria County Councils," explains Highlights Co-Director, Barbara Slack, "and all of these are continuing to support the scheme, a mark of the value that they see from their investment. But the 100% cuts in Eden have been a shock and we need to find ways of saving the Scheme in this area."
Highlights has been working with communities in Eden for the past 12 years, providing high quality theatre, music and dance to village halls across the district. The 18 Eden volunteer promoting groups are determined to work together to make sure the Scheme carries on across the area and these volunteer promoters will be holding a meeting with the Highlights team on Monday 13 February in Appleby to discuss alternative ways of operating that might ensure a continued programme with the quality and diversity that local people have come to expect.
"With no professional theatre or arts centre in the district, local volunteers turn their halls into theatre and music spaces for one night, resulting in a service which is well loved and also well supported by residents and visitors," says Barbara. "We also host an annual Contemporary Craft Tour, which features work by nationally and internationally recognised artists and craftspeople and attracts visitors from some distance into the area."
"If funders had to pay for the huge amount of voluntary work that goes into making Highlights such a success in Eden, it would amount to about £18,000 per annum. Also the box office from Eden venues is usually really good but, with the best will in the world, is unlikely to cover the full costs of shows without some sort of funding safety net."
"In the past, just a small amount of public subsidy has made a huge difference to what volunteers could do and this is now being jeopardised for the future. Highlights is one of the most successful rural touring schemes in the country and is recognised by the Arts Council as a model of good practice. We understand that we all have to make cuts, but we didn't expect it to be 100% and it is going to need some inspiration from our volunteers to keep things going."
"Highlights is part of our landscape, nothing more and nothing less," says Pam Pottinger, the volunteer promoter at Kirkoswald. "At my last show people came from all over the area and they were not disappointed."
"And yet Highlights is also far more than just the performances - it is an active promotion of all that rural living represents, a time and space in which people gather to meet friends and even to discuss a little business. Farmers shake their heads over the weather, our local doctor has been known to give on the spot consultations, the school can take benefits from proffered workshops and our local pubs and shop don't miss out as pre-show drinks and bars of chocolate are warmly dispensed. The spin offs are numerous so, if we lose this now, we lose a lot. Can I carry on promoting if lack of funds remove the safety net? The only honest answer I can give is that I am not sure that I can."
Highlights hopes to attract a private sponsor to secure the future of the service and will be applying to local funds including the Eden Community Fund. The team has also launched 'Just Text Giving', a mobile telephone fundraising scheme.
"Just Text Giving enables anyone wishing to support Highlights to simply text 70070 and type in HIGH25 followed by the amount they wish to give which can be anything between £1 and £5, or £10," says Barbara "The money is then added to your 'phone bill and the 'phone company send it on to Highlights. We're trying to make the point that lots of small contributions could save the Eden Highlights Scheme if everyone who has enjoyed a show in the past can make a contribution."
Local people are encouraged to enjoy this year's Spring programme in Eden, spread the word about the value of the Scheme and support their local promoters in finding a way to keep things going in future. Full details of the programme and fundraising options are online at www.highlightsnorth.co.uk.