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Future of Worthing’s “thriving” cultural offer to be discussed

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Worthing’s popular and vibrant cultural offer could be given trust status in a bid to ensure the town’s theatres and museum prosper for future generations.

Senior councillors meeting next week (July 10) will consider the option of taking the venues out of Worthing Borough Council’s direct management as they look to ensure it enjoys a prosperous future.

In just five years, the team at Worthing Theatres have overseen a spectacular transformation of the town’s three venues and museum, turning the town into a cultural centre with regional and national appeal.

With the Theatres now transformed into a successful operation, the report presented to the Worthing Council’s Cabinet suggests that now is the right time to float it off from Council control.

Moving to an arm’s-length trust would give the cultural service greater independence while accessing further grants and sponsorship it cannot do at present – all while building on a burgeoning reputation for programming which has seen ticket sales rise, revenues increased and contribute £6 million to the local economy each year.

The Council adopted a similar process when it floated off its leisure facilities to South Downs Leisure in 2015.

Councillor Daniel Humphreys, Leader of Worthing Borough Council, said: “Thanks to the hard work and endeavour of our excellent theatres and museum team, our town’s cultural offer has been transformed in recent years.

“With rising ticket sales, excellent programming and a huge effect on the local economy, Worthing’s venues are thriving and the envy of many coastal towns in the UK.

“By moving the cultural offer into a trust, we have a chance of building on this great work and give it the opportunity to prosper for many years to come.”

report presented to councillors on the Councils’ Joint Strategic Committee next week (July 10) maps out the improvements to the Worthing Theatres and museum service in recent years.

It notes that over the period 2013/14 to 2016/17: the last five years

  • Direct costs driven down from £837,000 to £423,000;
  • Theatre ticket sales increased by 26% and revenues increased by 34%;
  • Family theatre revenue increased by 77% and pantomime by 42%;
  • Film revenue increased by 65% and live screening by 12%;
  • Launch of nationally-recognised summer of circus event.

The report goes on to highlight the importance that culture has on the wider community. Worthing Theatres support 129 full-time jobs while 53% of visitors to venues live in either Worthing and Adur, meaning they receive social, economic and health benefits.

But in order to ensure that service reaches its potential, councillors are set to agree to looking at what options there are to running the cultural programme moving forward.

The report maps out two viable options for the future of the cultural service: the status quo, where the service continues to be managed in-house; or placing the venues into an independent trust so they would operate at ‘arms length’ to the council.

It also notes that two further options – closing one or all the venues; and lease or sell the venues to a third party – were not viable as it would reduce the cultural offer in the town and damage the wider economy.

Senior councillors will discuss the issue and be asked to release £100,000 which will allow the trust option to be explored in full via a procurement exercise. It also guarantees the current in-house team that it can bid for the status.

Councillor Heather Mercer, Worthing Borough Council’s Executive Member for Customer Services, which includes culture, said: “Culture has been a key cog in the development of Worthing and I’m certain that it will be integral to our town’s future.

“It is something which draws in visitors while offering real benefits to residents of all ages, as well as contributing millions to our local economy.

“Given the complete transformation of the service in recent years, we want to build on this momentum and ensure culture continues to thrive in Worthing for generations to come.”