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Arts organisations in Faversham, Whitstable and Medway react to 'lifesaving' emergency funding from Arts Council England

Arts charities and organisations across Kent have heralded lockdown funding from Arts Council England as life-saving.

It was announced this week that individuals and organisations would receive a share in almost £2.1 million as part of an Emergency Response Package designed to ease the pressure ahead of the summer.

One charity in Whistable was open more than 80 hours a week before the pandemic struck, providing activities and events for people in the community.

The Horsebridge Arts Centre, on Horsebridge Road, gave people in the area access to a cinema, café, and more than 40 classes running 7 days a week.

Its organisers also focused on bringing people together who might otherwise feel disconnected.

Zoe Cloke, chair of trustees, said: "At the heart of the work of the Horsebridge Arts Centre is the aim to reach out and include those who are often left out or overlooked, the young person who doesn’t quite fit in at school, the isolated child with ASD or the lonely older person with rusty social skills.

"We want people to bring their creativity and concerns and be part of work created by - and that speaks to - our whole community."

The Horsebridge Arts Centre may not open until September
The Horsebridge Arts Centre may not open until September

Even as some businesses are being allowed, the layout of the centre means sticking to social distancing guidelines looks to be impossible.

Liz Daone, the centre director, said: "Sadly I think we're probably going to have to remain closed until September - the building has got quite tight entrances, narrow staircases and a myriad of small rooms, so we have to wait until we know it's safe to open again."

As part of the Arts Council's emergency fund, The Horsebridge Arts Centre was awarded £35,000 to weather the effects of the pandemic.

Mrs Daone said: "The funding has been absolutely crucial to our survival, we were absolutely ecstatic when we got the email.

"We don't have a pot of reserves, and when the pandemic hit we would have only lasted a month or two, it really would not have been very long."

Liz Daone is the centre director of the Horsebridge Arts Centre
Liz Daone is the centre director of the Horsebridge Arts Centre

The centre depends on support from the local community who visit, with 90% of the income being raised directly from the activities on offer.

Another arts organisation shut off from generating income is Acrojou, a performance company from Faversham specialising in outdoor physical shows.

Most of their work is done at large-scale events across the world, encouraging people to think differently about performance art with their blend of acrobatics, dancing, and non-verbal acting.

Barney White, one of the Acrojou founders, said their ability to make money has been cut off for the foreseeable future.

He said: "The bulk of our income comes from our summer touring, which we have three or four shows that tour around the UK and internationally - that is the bulk of income that keeps our company running.

The company creates outdoor physical performances
The company creates outdoor physical performances

"Without this assistance from the Arts Council we would be in some serious trouble, like a lot of other companies are."

Acrojou received £35,000 from the fund, which Mr White said will be going towards planning the next stage of shows and performances.

Their most recent show, Vagabond Matter, has just recently finished pre-production, but the producer and performer said he doesn't think the team will be revealing their work to audiences for at least another six months.

In an ironic turn, one of the themes of the new show is isolation from yourself and others, an idea that has had a new light cast on it for the producer.

Mr White said: "When your ideas suddenly become mundane day-to-day life, it saps the creative pull out of it a little bit.

Barney White and Gabbie Cook performing an Acrojou project
Barney White and Gabbie Cook performing an Acrojou project

"Further down the line though I think some incredible work will come out of this experience, and some is already."

From physical performance to celluloid, one arts company in Medway has received a portion of the emergency funds to ensure its film festival is able to go ahead later this year.

51zero, based in Rochester, successfully applied for £15,000 to keep the its biennial celebration of films and contemporary art on track for October 2020.

The name of the festival is taken from the geographical coordinates of Medway.

Margherita Gramegna, artistic director of 51zero, said the organisation showcases talented local artists whilst engaging in community outreach work.

The 51zero team in 2019 with artist Peter Fillingham
The 51zero team in 2019 with artist Peter Fillingham

She said: "To keep on track we need to be working now.

"The next six months are crucial to do the groundwork necessary in order to prepare our projects and festival post-lockdown."

It is hoped this year's festival will run at Rochester Cathedral, the Huguenot Museum, the Guildhall and Rochester High Street.

It will also showcase artists at the University for the Creative Arts campus. in Canterbury.

The artistic director also said the survival of 51zero is important for the wider development of the arts in Medway.

Work from the 2019 festival by artists Segantin and Davide Arban
Work from the 2019 festival by artists Segantin and Davide Arban

She said: "It's a decisive time for Medway, as a new 10-year cultural strategy is being written and we are bidding to be UK City of Culture 2025.

"It's important for us to be able to make a difference by advocating for local artists in the area."

Alongside organisations supporting people will artistic ambition, some have dedicated their time and resources to improving the lives of those with often-debilitating illnesses.

Living Words, a charity in Folkestone, uses the power of literature to connect with people living with dementia.

The charity pairs artists and writers with dementia patients to create a personal book of sounds and words to describe how they are feeling.

The charity uses literature to communicate with people living with dementia (36839763)
The charity uses literature to communicate with people living with dementia (36839763)

But since lockdown the organisation has had to completely rethink the way its outreach work can operate.

Susanna Howard, of Living Words, said: "The Covid-19 pandemic has turned everything about our organisation on its head.

"We were due to be starting projects in care homes, working intimately with people with late stage dementias."

The charity successfully applied for £26,850 as part of Arts Council England's emergency fund.

Mrs Howard said the money will go towards reevaluating how they are able to keep contact with those with dementia and continue their work to keep them from feeling isolated.

She said: "It'll really be enabling us to completely turn around how we work - we're going to be having podcasts and also a new publication to reach care homes."

The cash raised by Arts Council England for Kent organisations make up part of the 7,485 grants awarded to individual artists and creative groups across the country.

In total £17.1 million has been awarded, with 90% of the funding coming from the National Lottery.

Hedley Swain, area director for the south east at Arts Council England, said: "We're really pleased a good block of that money is going to Kent, and Kent's incredibly rich in arts and culture so it's what we would have hoped and would have expected.

"Our sector is in unprecedented times and I am very pleased that we have been able to award so many grants in Kent and beyond in such a short timeframe."

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