MAIDENHEAD’S Norden Farm could only operate as a ‘hall for hire’ if council pulled all of its funding, a report has found.

Recently, council leader Andrew Johnson announced they were abandoning plans to scrap all of its funding to the arts and instead will provide a £140,000 package this year after pushback from campaigners.

Norden Farm in Maidenhead will get £115,000 whereas Windsor’s The Old Court is set to receive £25,000.

The council hired art specialist consultants Counterculture to undertake a review of Norden Farm to find out if the arts space could be ‘self-financing’ if funding was 100 per cent pulled.

The report, published yesterday by Norden Farm, laid out a series of options with scenarios the council would consider.

Counterculture found if the Royal Borough pulled all of its funding, it would have to make “hard choices”.

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The venue could not operate as an arts centre and would instead be a ‘hall for hire’ for businesses to hold events at the 228-seated theatre.

It states: “With a significant cut in support the organisation [Norden Farm] will become a different entity, a hall for hire without a charitable mission, with a limited education programme if resources allow.

“The analysis shows that the hall for hire financial model is not viable given the costs of maintaining a listed building and loss of key income streams.”

The Ministry of Defence hires out the venue for events, which has been a “fruitful source of income,” Norden Farm ‘does not see’ opportunities for growth beyond this.

Royal Borough Observer: The courtyard theatreThe courtyard theatre

Counterculture warned this ‘irreversible decision’ would cause Norden Farm to “wound down” as a charity, and the building “mothballed”.

“The costs of restarting a cultural and community hub in Maidenhead in years to come would be considerable,” the report stated.

Norden Farm has seen reduced funding from the council in the past, such as receiving £80,000 last year whereas the venue was given £141,000 in 2020.

This has resulted in a series of cuts to remain afloat such as reducing opening times from seven days a week to five, staff redundancies, and reducing community projects.

The consultants believe the venue has not missed any “obvious routes” of income generation or cost redundancies but has advised Norden Farm to undertake a ‘cost-benefit analysis’ to understand where they are most profitable.

In option three, Counterculture found an investment of £118,000 from the council would allow Norden Farm to continue to operate as an arts centre.

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However, a deficit of £23,700 would still linger but can be ‘manageable’ if the venue implements a series of cuts to reduce costs.

The council is currently investing £80,000 into Norden Farm, but the consultants found this will leave the arts space with an ‘unmanageable’ deficit of £99,000 where opening hours would have been restricted, and Norden Farm would have a “limited” arts and community programme.

The council was proposing a community lottery of up to £25,000 for local organisations and projects to bid for. Counterculture ‘advised against’ replacing its arts funding with this, stating this type of initiative ‘works well’ with continued support.

Counterculture recommended that funding should be maintained at pre-pandemic levels.

Cllr Johnson said after “positive talks” with the venue, the £115,000 “social investment,” as he puts it, will “open the door for a new era of partnership” with Norden Farm.