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A Cuppa and a Catch-up with Katy Taylor from Queen's Hall in Hexham

A cuppa and a catch-up is all about sharing what is happening behind some of the doors of our favourite Northumberland based cultural organisations in these changing times. The aim is to lift the veil and share plans, opportunities and keep you connected the lifeblood of culture in Northumberland.

We'll publish a series here in response to Arts Council's Culture Recovery Fund and share how organisations are using to the money to stabilise and plan.

This month's catch up is from Katy Taylor who is the CEO at Queens Hall in Hexham. I'll let her tell you more about her role...

I’m Katy Taylor and I have been the Artistic Director/CEO at the Queen’s Hall since 2018.  I have a background working in rural arts venues and community engagement which really helped me settle into the Queen’s Hall quickly.  I am responsible for the overall management of the charity which also reaches out beyond the building to schools and communities across the Tyne Valley. 

I take the lead on the artistic programme which fills the 350 seat theatre and the library space, as well as the workshop and participatory programme including our four youth theatres and three youth music programmes.

At the moment, I am busy with the finances and planning as well as supporting the staff (who are furloughed) and overseeing a building project. 

We are just about to start on reconfiguring back stage to create a new 60-seat studio theatre and make all of our dressing rooms accessible.  We were are very lucky to have secured funding for this capital project last year from Arts Council England and this is a good time as the theatre is empty.

What is the Culture Recovery Fund and what does it mean to Queen’s Hall Hexham?

The Culture Recovery Fund was delivered by Arts Council England to support arts organisations across the country with emergency funding until 1st April 2021.  It was a very competitive process and unfortunately not all organisations were successful.  We are delighted that the Queen’s Hall was one of the organisations to be awarded funding as gives us security and allows to pan for the year.

Each year we earn a significant income through tickets sales and hiring out the venue, without this money coming (well over £300K per year) in there was a huge blackhole in our finances. 

So this fund is an absolute lifeline allowing us to ensure that the building is COVID secure for both staff and the public, catch up with essential maintenance and most excitingly, try out some new activity and ideas. 

How are you planning to work in different ways in response to restrictions - i.e outdoors or online? 

We have lots of interesting plans and we are creative, so we will always find ways to bring art and culture to people. 

Usually, we would be meeting in groups at Queen’s Hall or in village halls, but during the Covid-19 pandemic we’re developing new projects that people can take part in at home.

The work will form part of an exhibition at Queen’s Hall which will celebrate and showcase creative work made by the community during the Covid-19 lockdown. 

These projects include quilt making and making toys to be distributed through the food bank. We are also working with young people, in partnership with the Hexham Book Festival, we will be linking our Youth Theatre up with young people in Latvia, and continuing to offer workshops for young writers. One of our most innovate projects is entitled Unsung and brings together song writing and augmented reality!

Through the last couple of months, songwriter Bridie Jackson has been working with communities in and around Hexham to collect stories about the everyday people who have inspired them. Whether it’s the neighbour who brought your shopping during lockdown, someone who has made a difference in your village or a figure from local history who did something incredible but never got the recognition they deserve, Bridie will create songs celebrating unsung heroes to be performed by North East musicians.

(c) Nick Pierce Audiences will then be able to experience a ‘mini gig’ wherever they are simply by pointing their camera phone at a postcard which will make the musicians pop up to perform the songs on a ‘postcard stage’. As well as a smartphone app, there will also be an interactive exhibition at the Queen’s Hall in Hexham and Unsung Heroes will tour in early 2021. Unsung Heroes is part of Here and Now, a national and local celebration of culture within communities. 40 brand new projects will take place in and around 40 arts centres across the country, led by artists and co-created with local people. The project is supported by Arts Council England and Future Arts Centres, marking The National Lottery’s 25th birthday.

Will there be opportunities for artists, freelancers, participants and audience as part of the programme supported by the fund?

We have tried, where ever possible, to create opportunities for artists and freelancers since March, as we know that most of their work dried up very quickly. 

The whole arts and cultural world depend on freelancers, from sound engineers to actors, from set designers to directors and we will need them to create shows, exhibitions and workshops when we reopen. 

The Queen’s Hall is only a building without artists and audiences so we have made a real commitment to providing work for freelancers whilst keeping our audiences engaged. 

The new funding will mean that we can create open calls for artists and performers to make new work for our audiences both online and ready for the building to reopen.  We have a long lead time for new shows and exhibitions, so if we do not create new productions or allow rehearsals then we have nothing on our stages or in our gallery when we open our doors.

And there are lots of ways to join in.  We are currently searching for local musicians to perform as part of Unsung Heroes project and we will asking for families to join in with a brilliant new animation project in the next few weeks.

Are you planning to collaborate with other organisations/ venues or people as part of the programme supported by the fund?

At the moment we are working with Alnwick Playhouse and The Maltings in Berwick to bring some Christmas Magic to our towns and audiences this year.  We are working really hard behind the scenes to ensure that everybody gets to share in our Northumbrian Christmas – but I can’t tell you too much or I will be in trouble with Santa!! 

But keep your eyes on social media and listen out for those sleigh-bells. We will also be supporting the Hexham Abbey and the Hexham Community Partnership to run the Christmas Markets and the Festival of Flame, by lending them our technical team (and our wooden Christmas Trees).

In January, we will be working with Durham based Elysium Theatre to bring a live screening of Athol Fugard’s play The Island – and also linking up with schools to offer workshops with the director.

And just to add in more excitement, we are leading Animating Hexham pilot project which supports NCC’s Hexham Heritage High street Action Zone. 

In Spring 2021, there will be a mini- festival of animation in the windows on the high street.

How would you like people to support the work of Queen’s Hall Hexham?

I hope that our community trust that we will be back as soon as it is safe to do so with award winning comedy, wonderful music and fantastic theatre. In the meantime, please follow us on social media and join in with our projects online, watch our Christmas production and, if you can, make a donation to ensue that we can be here for the to inspire and entertain the next generation.

If you'd like to sign up to news from The Queen's Hall here is a link to their mailing list.

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