Letters: Coalhouse Door memories and funding for the arts outside London

Lee Hall’s article on his new production of Close the Coalhouse Door (Still a rich seam, G2, 27 March) took me off down memory lane. In the late 1960s I was living in Peterlee, County Durham, and was a member of Peterlee Players, the town’s amateur theatre group. We all went to see the original production of the piece in Newcastle and were entranced by it.

Around August 1969 the London production had just closed, but as far as we knew the play hadn’t yet been “released” for amateur production. With tongue rather in cheek, I wrote to the agent Margaret Ramsay explaining that we were a group living in a “town built for miners”, that 1969 marked the centenary of the Durham Miners’ Association (DMA), and that we’d love to do Coalhouse Door. We almost begged for a licence.

To our absolute delight we received permission to go ahead. Rehearsals started and we had a call from a professional theatre designer asking if he could help. He gave us a superb set. I contacted the headquarters of the DMA, and they mounted a display of mining history in the foyer and decorated the auditorium with some of the magnificent banners belonging to the union lodges in each colliery. And so at the beginning of October the curtain went up on the first amateur production of the play, which played to packed houses for a week.

Alex Glasgow and Sid Chaplin came to the first night, and Alan Plater apologised for not being able to make it. I still treasure Sid’s comment after the show: “If Alan had been here I’m sure he would have been proud that the people from whom the play came in the first place had taken it back and done it credit.”

We had a memorable week, and I still occasionally get out my old script and read it again – and enjoy it. Best wishes to Lee Hall for his production. We live in deepest Cheshire now but are determined to get up “home” to see it.
John Alan Simpson
Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire

•?London is home to a significant proportion of England’s huge variety of cultural institutions, so it’s perhaps not surprising that a substantial amount of the Arts Council’s first tranche of proposed investment in refurbishment of arts buildings should be allocated to the capital (Noises off as arts bodies hear good and bad news, 30 March). However, more than half of the £114m will go to 18 organisations across seven other English regions – like Square Chapel in Halifax, York Museums Trust, and Theatre Royal in Plymouth. And there is more to come for smaller organisations, with a small-scale capital fund to be launched later this year. Plus 75% of our Grants for The Arts investment this financial year has been outside London.

The Lottery funding we use for such projects cannot be applied to the running costs of organisations in our national portfolio, but our grant-in-aid investment there is equally geographically diverse – 446 of our 696 portfolio organisations are based across eight English regions other than London. An almost 30% reduction in our budget from government for the arts meant reducing funding to the majority – including Max Stafford-Clark’s Out of Joint, who will still receive a little over £1.8m from us over four years.

Sadly, there were other organisations we had to take the difficult decision to no longer fund at all. But the Arts Council has never funded all the art that takes place in this country and, given an equivalent cut in local authority funding, it was sadly inevitable that some organisations would not be able to manage.

The Arts Council is using its increasing income from the lottery in new ways to help support decreasing levels of money from government. We’re looking at the long term, helping arts and cultural organisations all over England, and of all shapes and sizes, become more sustainable, have fit-for-purpose buildings, and generate other sources of income, so they can continue to deliver great work that audiences flock to see.
Alan Davey
Chief executive, Arts Council England

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