PLANS to completely cut funding to the arts have been shelved by senior councillors following pushback from campaigners.

Fears over Norden Farm’s and The Old Court’s future have been looming ever since they would get no funding from the Royal Borough due to “tight budgetary constraints”.

Both art spaces have spoken to the Observer, expressing concerns both could struggle in a post-Covid environment if core funding was withdrawn.

This prompted Public Campaign for the Arts, which protects UK culture from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, to set up a petition demanding the council to abolish its plans. It was signed by over 4,900 people.

As part of the 2022/23 budget consultation, in which more than 1,800 people responded, just over 1,000 people urged the council to make investments into the arts a priority.

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At a cabinet meeting on Thursday, February 10, council leader Andrew Johnson (Con: Hurley & Walthams) the art spaces will receive £140,000 from the council for this financial year.

Norden Farm will get £115,000 while The Old Court is set to receive £25,000.

Cllr Johnson said this is “not a grant” but a “social investment” that will “open the door for a new era partnership” between the Royal Borough and the two art spaces.

Specialist arts consultancy, Counter Culture, reviewed Norden Farm’s operations late last year, which was paid for by the council, to find ways they could be ‘self-sustaining’.

A series of recommendations have been recently laid out and Cllr Johnson said “very positive talks” have been had with Norden Farm recently.

Royal Borough Observer: Glass link of Norden FarmGlass link of Norden Farm

He said: “It has always been the case that we have been determined to provide support 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 given us not only a clear figure but also a detailed understanding of the arts market within RBWM and what we can best do to support it.”

He also confirmed there will be “no further cuts” to the budget despite this arts funding.

Meanwhile, deputy leader Samantha Rayner (Con: Eton & Castle), lead member for culture and heritage, said: “We had to really see this report because we are spending residents’ hard-earned money and we needed to have a better understanding of what was happening.”

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Three Royal Borough residents addressed cabinet, before knowing the council leader’s announcement, urging them to maintain funding for the arts.

Rob Castell, who runs the community choir at Norden Farm, “welcomed” the investment given he was expecting £0 from the council.

He said: “The cynic within me would suggest it’s a sort of Dragon’s Den type situation where you give us a bit of money now and then if we do well enough with it, then you might give us a little bit more.

“But, of course, it’s not the way these organisations are able to work.”

Royal Borough Observer: The Old CourtThe Old Court

He added: “For an arts centre like Norden Farm or The Old Court, making predictions in a time of uncertainty, a sort of one-off payment, if that what it is or a one-off injection of cash, is not enough to make sustainable predictions and make a model that can really benefit the community longer-term. It has to be long-term in the way that you fund these things.”