01:31PM, Friday 11 February 2022
A funding support package of £140,000 for the arts has been included in the Royal Borough’s proposed budget for 2022/23.
The investment, which was announced at last night’s Royal Borough cabinet meeting, includes £115,000 for Norden Farm and £25,000 for The Old Court.
The news comes after it was announced by full council in February 2021, as part of the budget-setting process, that funding for Norden Farm and The Old Court would be stopped.
Since then pressure has mounted for the council to rethink the proposals, with a petition by Public Campaign for the Arts (PCA) receiving almost 5,000 signatures and Maidenhead MP Theresa May also expressing her concerns.
Speaking at the meeting last night, council leader and chair of cabinet Cllr Andrew Johnson (Con, Hurley and the Walthams) said that since the previous announcement, the council have been in ‘active and ongoing discussions’ with arts organisations in the borough.
He explained that independent consultancy company, Counterculture, which had jointly been appointed by Norden Farm and the Royal Borough late last year to look for ‘enhancements’ and areas to optimise the centre’s business model to help them become more ‘self-sustaining’, had recently concluded their report, producing a set of recommendations.
Cllr Johnson added: “I’m very, very pleased to be able to say that we held a very positive meeting within the last couple of weeks with the trustees to agree a sustainable and indeed, a pragmatic way forward.
“It has always been the case that we have been determined to provide funding for the arts within RBWM. They are an intrinsic part of the societal fabric of the Royal Borough.
“However, we could not do so without having conducted this consultancy report. It has not only given us a clear figure, but also a detailed understanding of the arts market within the RBWM and what we can best do to support it.”
Discussing the funding he added: “It is fair to say that that will undoubtedly continue to strengthen the organisation, enable them to continue to deliver the fantastic programme of performances and indeed community outreach, which they have so ably delivered to date.”
Cllr Johnson explained that the funding was not a grant, but a partnership approach – beginning a ‘new era of partnership’, between the council, Norden Farm and The Old Court.
He added that they believe they have come to the most ‘sustainable optimum solution’, which balances ‘not only the support for the arts but also reflects the financial position of the council’.
Alongside Cllr Johnson, Cllr Samantha Rayner (Con, Eton and Castle) said she was ‘delighted’ at the funding for The Old Court, and paid tribute to fellow Conservative colleagues who she said had been lobbying on this issue.
While the news of the funding was welcomed during the meeting, concerns were also raised about whether there would be longer term funding for the arts beyond 2022/23.
Robert Castell who runs the Community Choir at Norden Farm spoke at the meeting questioning whether the funding was a ‘one-off’ payment and adding that the money needs to be longer term.
He also said that the funding has to be ‘grants’ rather than ‘investment’ as this is how outreach works.
Mr Castell asked members if the funding is not a grant, what is it, and in the longer term, how are they going to convince organisations such as Norden Farm and and people like himself, that this ‘really is a sustainable model’ and how can the cultural profile and cultural wealth of the borough be grown in the longer term.
Commenting on the question of whether the funding is a grant or an investment, Cllr Johnson said: “I’m going to meet you in a halfway house and say it’s a social investment grant.
“I don’t like the term grant because it sounds as though Norden Farm is somehow subservient to the council and we’re just simply giving them a grant because we have to.”
“I see it as a social investment because that’s what it is. We want to move to a position where we are actually partners of Norden Farm, delivering not only outreach but sort of cultural engagements and programmes together.
He added that he thinks that taxpayers would expect the council to take a view of being an investor within ‘any organisation’ rather than ‘simply writing out a cheque’.
Cllr Johnson added that once they have come to a position where they are starting to see the recommendations from Counterculture ‘come to fruition’ and be implemented they will then start to consider and talk about what the ‘size of investment is going to be in future years as well’.
Cllr Helen Price (Ind, Clewer and Dedworth East) asked where the money for the arts would be coming from, as she said councillors were told that any extra money would have to be found through ‘either additional income or some cuts elsewhere’.
Cllr Johnson said there were no further cuts planned in the budget.
Adele Taylor, executive director for resources, said there had been underspends in the 2021/22 budget and the council will set aside an earmarked reserve in the 2022/23 budget to cover the cost of the arts investment.
The cabinet agreed to amend the recommendation made to include the £140,000 package for the arts in the proposed budget for 2022/23.
Commenting on the council's decision, MP Theresa May, said: “It is extremely welcome that the RBWM have listened to the strength of local feeling – agreeing to re-instate a grant to Norden Farm this year.
"I pay tribute to everyone involved including the Public Campaign for the Arts and their supporters for their campaigning."
Mrs May added: "I also want to thank my constituents who have taken the time to contact me to show their support.
"Over the last few weeks I have been working closely with the Public Campaign for the Arts and the Norden Farm team to lobby the RBWM to change their decision and I am pleased to see our collective efforts have paid off.
"The arts play such an important role nationwide, helping to enrich our communities and expand our intellectual horizons. Norden Farm is an invaluable centre for the arts and provides excellent programmes for the entire local community.
"I am incredibly pleased to see this news which will mean Norden Farm are able to carry on delivering their top quality services that are of immense benefit locally.”
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