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Lots to shout about during year of success for Arts and Entertainment

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The arts and entertainment industry has been hit hard over the past fifteen months, but there is still plenty to celebrate in South Somerset with The Octagon Theatre, Westlands Entertainment Venue and our Arts Engagement and Outreach Programme presenting work across the district.

South Somerset District Council’s entertainment venues in Yeovil have been forced to close their doors to patrons under government national and regional lockdown measure restrictions. Gradual re-opening in summer / autumn last year lasted a short period of time before the venues were forced to close again, but that’s not stopped arts and entertainment thriving in South Somerset.

SSDC’s Arts and Entertainment Service annual review (2020/21) has recently been published and it highlights some of the key achievements for a service that has endured a rollercoaster of a year. But hopefully, what we have achieved will leave you wanting more…

In a year where the doors mainly remained closed and with a total of 9,835 tickets sold for both The Octagon Theatre and Westlands Entertainment Venue, a record number of 363 screening were shown that bought patrons together to enjoy film and live performance. Patrons enjoyed the comfort of the big sofas at Westlands Entertainment Venue and joined us for the best of Hollywood and mainstream cinema.

After six months of constant closure and no live performances at the venues, we were delighted that Paul Zerdin brought live performances back to our venues in October with his ‘mini Yeovil residency’ of six performances. Paul kicked off a total of 42 performances across both venues. We were also able to present the Yeovil Literary Festival at Westlands Entertainment Venue that offered enlightening, inspiring and entertaining talks from writers such as Lucy Worsley, Carrie Hope Fletcher and Jonathan Coe.

For two weeks in December, life almost seemed normal with 3,617 of you enjoying our special panto performance of ‘Nurse Nellie Saves Panto’. Working with our producing partners at Evolution Productions this specially written ‘bite-sized’ panto was a love letter to live theatre and the magic of panto with all the ‘best bits’ crammed into a 70minute show performed by a socially distanced cast of five.

Through-out the pandemic and the closure of our venues, staff in the Arts and Entertainment service have worked to continue delivering activities online with many Octagon Academy classes, talks with film industry professionals, online tutorials plus much more being streamed to offer residents the chance to get their much needed arts and entertainment buzz. Once we were able to return to in-person classes we continued to support access to participation, offering the first class back free to participants, and subsidising the cost of room hire whilst capacity remained limited.

With income reduced due to closure, we have sought alternative sources of income to protect and maintain our venues. In total, over £400,000 of external funding has been secured which has helped to protect jobs, maintain our building and deliver activities online and in person.

We also bought you the news earlier this year that Councillors in South Somerset had unanimously agreed to invest £23 million in the development of The Octagon Theatre and arts and entertainment in the district. With the project boosted by the announcement in the Government’s Budget that £10 million was being pledged to help fund the refurbishment of the venue, the Octagon Theatre will be transformed in to a flagship venue for the arts and entertainment in Somerset seeing a number of alterations which will include adding a fly tower that will take the seating from 622 to 900. You can find out more about this exciting project on The Octagon Theatre website.

Staff at The Octagon Theatre and Westlands Entertainment Venue have also played their part in supporting the local community. Some staff have been maintaining our venues whilst others have been redeployed, some multiple times into different roles including supporting effort to keep the district tidy in the Street Scene and Horticultural teams and also processing business grant applications as well as working at the vaccination and testing sites in Somerset. Our Westlands Entertainment Venue also became a food and vital supplies hub for residents in the district who were shielding and could not get the supplies they needed.

The Arts Engagement and Outreach team have continued their work in the community to help create, develop and fund creative projects that make the arts more accessible and provide activities in towns and villages across South Somerset. We have extended support to a number of groups and individuals including Wassail Theatre Company: Somerset Emergency Theatre, Somerset Art Works, ActionTrack, Somerset Film, Angela Blackwell: Blind Painter Project, Od Arts Festival: Lockdown Pottery, Take Art, TalentEd Academy: Digital Work Experience – plus much, much more!

Councillor Mike Best, portfolio holder for Health and Wellbeing, said: “In a year that has changed our world and brought so much turmoil it can be painful to consider looking back. However, there remains much to celebrate and to be proud of that our Arts & Entertainment Service at South Somerset District Council have delivered throughout the last financial year. Whilst for the most part, we have missed enjoying being together with friends and family at performances, classes, exhibitions and events, it has brought home how important these things are to us and how much we are looking forward to being back in our favourite venues very soon.”

You can view the full Arts and Entertainment Service Annual review (2020/21) for yourself online and read all about the successes of the past year.

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