Bedford Esquires and Place Theatre awarded financial lifeline from Cultural Recovery Fund

Bedford Esquires. Photo taken pre-coronavirus. Credit: Neil McCarty

Bedford Esquires and the Place Theatre are among music, dance, theatre and cultural venues across the UK who have been awarded a grant as part of the Government’s Cultural Recovery Fund.

More than 1,300 arts organisations found out this morning if they will receive a share of the £257m financial boost from the Government’s £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund in response to the global coronavirus pandemic.

Esquires and The Place have both been closed since March, with both facing an uncertain future without financial support.

Gareth Barber, owner of Esquires, told the Bedford Independent, “We are extremely pleased to announce that Bedford Esquires has been awarded a grant of just over £173,000 as part of the Cultural Recovery Fund, issued by Arts Council England and DCMS.

“I hope this funding will secure the long term future of Bedford’s only dedicated live music venue and our staff, seeing us into the new year with increased optimism and a focus on bringing quality live events back to the town.

“In the past seven months of us being shut, there have been some very testing and dark times and we only got to this stage now with the incredible efforts and support shown through the Crowdfunder earlier this year.

“The application for the funding wasn’t an easy one and we’ve been waiting nine long weeks to hear the outcome, with many sleepless nights and anxious days.

“I want to just go on record to thank my wife, Louisa, who I wouldn’t have been able to even fill the application in without and has had to put up with me being moody.

“Also the network of friends, fellow promoters, venue owners and our MP Mohammad Yasin, who has been very supportive throughout this.”

The Place Theatre (Bedford Players Trust) on Bradgate Road has been awarded a grant of £101,990 and in a statement they expressed pride that their contribution to Bedford’s cultural landscape had been recognised by Arts Council England.

“We are looking forward to using the Government’s Cultural Recovery Fund to secure an accessible, viable and exciting cultural offer to weather the storm brought about by the impact of COVID-19.

“Looking forward, we intend to come out of it stronger and better equipped to meet the needs of Bedford and its citizens.”

The Trust will not only increase the diversity of its team, but the funding will also mean they can make improvements to the building to enhance accessibility.

Most importantly, after months of being closed, the team is looking forward to bringing performances back to the theatre.

“Like our audiences, we miss live theatre and we are going to work closely with our regular community groups and professional artists to broaden our offer for digital, outdoor and live performances so we can say that now, more than ever, our Place is your Place.

‘Today’s announcement marks the beginning of an exciting new phase for The Place Bedford – we look forward to sharing more updates over the coming months.”

Bedford’s cultural venues – from live music to theatre, cinemas to museums – are vital to the community and it’s not until their future is threatened that the devastating gap they would leave is revealed.

“For the first time in the five years I have been the venue’s custodian, I really realised what this place means to the community and the people that come here,” said Esquires’ Gareth Barber.

“My biggest fear was not being able to fulfil the faith [the public] had shown in me by keeping the venue afloat during this time and I hope they are as excited and pleased as I am about today’s announcement.

“We are reopening for some socially distanced events from November onwards, I just can’t wait to get the doors back open and get back to putting on artists in a much-improved space and for people to see what we have been up to in this down time.”

Commenting on the grants packages, Bedford and Kempston MP, Mohammad Yasin, said, “Relieved and delighted that Esquires and the Place Theatre have benefitted from the rescue package.
“It’s been a dreadful, harrowing and uncertain time for live events businesses in Bedford and Kempston – they’ve been hanging on by a thread and I know may not have got this far without help from their loyal customers.
“But the fate of many other businesses in our town still hangs in the balance. Spectator sports clubs, hospitality businesses, theatres and music venues are the beating heart of Bedford and can’t be the casualties of this dreadful virus.”

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