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Small Venues Network eyes expansion following pilot study

Small Venue Network panel, left to right: Natasha Jones, artistic director of Helmsley Arts Centre; Linzi Tate, programme manager of Carriageworks Theatre in Leeds; Penny Sanders, programme director of Seven Arts, Leeds; David McQuillan, director of Square Chapel Arts Centre in Halifax; Chris Jones, arts officer at Selby Town Hall

A membership body for small venues is expanding after a three-year pilot study on collaboration found that small-scale theatres benefited from working together.

The Small Venues Network, which represents 11 theatres and arts centres in Yorkshire, reported the benefits of collaborating to include increased peer support, shared knowledge and a better quality of programmed work.

Theatres in the SVN range from about 70 to 300 seats, with members including national portfolio organisations and those with little or no public funding.

Funded by a £97,000 Grants for the Arts award from Arts Council England, the pilot scheme of work between the venues covered four strands, which included the programming of four tours and audience development initiatives.

The venues also worked together on communications and brand identity, and on peer support, which involved training programmes and quarterly meetings.

Following the success of the collaboration, the SVN is now planning to expand, with another 20 venues interested in joining.

The findings of the pilot programme were presented at Carriageworks Theatre in Leeds, one of the SVN members, at a conference that was also attended by representatives from other venues in the region.

Junction Theatre in Goole was one of the venues that instigated the SVN five years ago. Its arts and leisure manager, Charlie Studdy, said: “It is so important for small venues to work together because we are under the cosh.

“There is a threat to public funding for those who have it, and there is a real need to get audiences through the door and to provide good quality work.

“The network demonstrated that you can work better together because you can take advantage of the economies of scale. Together you have access to a wealth of experience.”

Studdy added that the pilot scheme found the quality of work programmed at the venues increased and theatres were more likely to take risks by programming work they wouldn’t usually run following recommendations from each other.

Penny Sanders, programme director of Seven Arts in Leeds, added: “Many small venues are run by one or a few people who do everything and that can be very isolating.

“By getting together and sharing our ways of working, we have learned how to do things differently or better, and shared our knowledge, too.”