3rd Apr 2020

I am writing this from my dining room which has been my proxy office for the last two and a half weeks. It has been a whirlwind to say the least as #Team Carnegie face unprecedented circumstances personally and professionally.

Many of our volunteers are retired and therefore are in the high-risk group for serious illness from this awful virus. They volunteer at the Carnegie because they love the building but also because we are a community, a family – we don’t use the hashtag #CarnegieFamily just because it sounds good – we mean it. And it encompasses not just Carnegie Theatre Trust personnel but the organisations that exist through us and use the building. WAOS, WADAMS, MAODS, Carnegie Singers, Carnegie Pop Choir, our Music Centre, Workington Musical Festival (Dance Music and Speech), the dance schools, the line dancers, the steel drumming bands, the yoga classes, the karate classes and many more. We will continue to be in touch with them throughout this dreadful time.

I have never been prouder of my staff team than I have been in recent weeks. From ensuring the building is safe and locked down, to the work done rescheduling an entire season of performances, to creating new ways of working as we do all this from our mobile phones and home laptops, to developing Carnegie@Yam and other fantastic ideas we are applying for funding to do (keep watching this space). All this whilst some of us were ill and locked down with symptoms and concerned for our families and friends. I am really blessed to work with some extraordinarily talented and committed people.

All this makes it so difficult (and frustrating) to stop working. But, because this really is the biggest existential threat the Carnegie has ever faced, the staff team are being placed on furlough to enable the organisation to continue and to protect the incomes of our people and their families. The rules are we aren’t allowed to work whilst on furlough so our Trustee team, who burden this huge responsibility on a voluntary basis but with huge pride and commitment, are going to be taking over the basic functions and our communications channels, until we are able to return. 

We continually hear that people don’t realise we are a charity. And sometimes that can be understandable, especially in an area where there is such economic hardship. Arts and Entertainment are fripperies and should be profitable, right? 

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. 

Engaging in cultural activities is vital to community cohesion and to individual wellbeing. It has been proven time and time again that those who go to a show, the movies, read a book, join a choir or a dance class or a drama group have better mental health and wellbeing as a direct result. There is a reason why Eton College and other such institutions ensure their pupils have huge access to all kinds of cultural engagement. It’s good for health, it’s good for educational outcomes, it’s good for future prospects, it provides a community with civic pride and opportunities for individuals and communities to find a voice. Plus, it is FUN! Human beings need to gather together, tell stories, sing songs, move their bodies, draw pictures, make each other laugh and cry. We’ve been doing it since the Stone Age.

Unlike some other cultural institutions, we don’t have rich individual donors or huge Arts Council grants. The people who love and benefit from The Carnegie generally don’t have a lot of money. Our grant from Allerdale has been reducing annually since 2015 and this year is £175,000 less than it was in 2014.

So please, if you can donate, even a small amount, please do. Or buy a ticket, or a voucher to give as a gift. And when we re-open (and we will) – come in, buy one of Café Carnegie’s amazing cakes or think about us if you fancy a coffee in town. Attend a class, have your party with us, come to a show. Every penny taken over the box office, bar and cafe is ploughed back into ensuring this amazing building (which has been at the centre of West Cumbrian cultural life since 1904) continues to operate and to develop more and better performances, workshops, classes and events for the public.

Stay safe, take care of each other and thank you for reading this. We hope to see you all soon in better times.

Karen Thompson – Carnegie Theatre Manager