THE Royal Borough losing its art centres is “too tragic to imagine” as campaigners urge the council to reconsider its funding withdrawal.

The Observer reported last week the council is planning to scrap its support for Maidenhead art centre Norden Farm as well as Windsor’s The Old Court.

Jane Corry, chief executive and artistic director of Norden Farm, said this hit would be “extremely hard” for the charity to manage following previous cuts of about 45 per cent.

Since then, the Public Campaign for the Arts, which protects UK culture from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, have set up a petition demanding the council to reinstate its funding into the borough’s art centres.

Over 1,700 people have signed the petition within 48 hours of its launch, according to the group.

READ MORE: Old Court Windsor and Norden Farm left out of RBWM's budget

It claims the Royal Borough is one of the lowest spending councils on culture in Berkshire, with investment decreasing to just £41 per person per year in 2020/21.

The petition writes: “The impact of the pandemic on arts organisations has already been devastating. They cannot afford to lose further income, and we cannot afford to lose the vital benefits they bring to our community.”

In a statement to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), Ms Corry said it was “upsetting” to see the council planning to withdraw its “essential” arts funding.

Royal Borough Observer: Tom WallerTom Waller

She said the charity had to reduce its opening hour from seven days to five, staffing, and programme events despite having sold-out shows, renting out space, and intensifying fundraising to make sure projects go ahead.

Now Norden Farm is finding trouble to see what else it can do to stay afloat.

Ms Corry said: “Something like Norden Farm that took years and years of lobbying from local people and politicians to get funded and built does not just reappear overnight once it’s gone.

“From the dream residents first had, of having their own arts centre to the thriving venue it has become, took 40 years of hard work. To lose that would be too tragic to imagine.”

In a letter seen by the LDRS, councillor Samantha Rayner (Con: Eton & Castle), deputy leader and lead member for culture and heritage, said it was “made clear” no funding to the arts was going to be made in the 2022/23 budget due to the council’s financial situation at the time.

READ MORE: Britain's Got Talent finalist Daliso Chaponda at Norden Farm

However, an independent external consultants’ reports is being conducted to understand what options are available for the centre. It is unknown who is undertaking the consultancy, but the council is paying for it.

Council leader Andrew Johnson (Con: Hurley & Walthams) told the LDRS this move is to make Norden Farm ‘self-financing’ and make the charity ‘less reliant’ on the council.

He said: “If the consultants turn around and they say, ‘look, we don’t think Norden Farm can close the gap or be fully self-financing,’ then, of course, we will have to think about what we do after that point.

“But if the consultants say, ‘We think if Norden Farm implements this, this, and this, that they can effectively move to a position they are no longer in a position to rely on the council and provide the majority of the community stuff they do, then we will have a conversation with Norden Farm.

Royal Borough Observer: Council leader Andrew JohnsonCouncil leader Andrew Johnson

“Until I’ve seen the consultancy report and had some top-level conclusions, we can’t give a definitive answer either way what that future relationship will look like.”

Cllr Johnson also said the council has invested hundreds of thousands of pounds over the years in Norden Farm and the arts.

In the 2021/22 budget, Norden Farm was given £80,000 of funding. It also secured an arts grant fund of £351,000 last year by Arts Council England.

The petition can be signed here: https://www.campaignforthearts.org/petitions/rbwm-council-fund-our-local-arts-and-culture/