2020 – A Year in Review
2020 was the most challenging year for the arts. From March onwards, live gigs were postponed, rescheduled, or modified to become socially-distanced. From a 200 capacity venue (350 if standing), we temporarily became a 60-seat venue (no standing allowed). The loss of ticket sales, and the impact on all performers, was immense, yet through it all a lot was achieved.
Take a look at what went on behind the stage, and on the scenes.
She Shore Live
At the end of 2019, we launched a competition to promote new music from unsigned female artists living within 20 miles of Ropetackle. The response, and the range of talent, was huge, with Sadie Horler selected as the winner from the four finalists who appeared on our stage on January 31st. Because of the pandemic, Sadie is still patiently waiting to appear as a support to one of the bigger live shows, and we look forward to welcoming her back as soon as we can.
Launch of live-streaming
In a year where everyone looked set to stay in, we teamed up with comedian Mark Thomas to promote recorded shows of mirth and banter, along with live intros and Q&As from him. Mark generously donated 20% of ticket sales to Ropetackle. We were also chosen by songwriter Chris Difford as one of only five venues in the country to be supported via an exclusive live gig from his writer’s shed in Sussex. That raised more than £800 and went directly to the centre. Having investigated more options behind the scenes, we are now looking to live stream more events directly from Ropetackle.
As well as the partnerships mentioned above, we benefited from a series of fundraisers organised by the Sussex Wildlife Trust, in partnership with Wordfest and the CPRE. These were educational talks on the importance of nature and wildlife and marine life projects taking place locally, which we hope to resume in 2021. Local jazz musician, and South Coast Jazz Festival co-founder Julian Nicholas performed a fundraiser for Ropetackle in October, which brought in £300.
Coping with Covid
Despite being locked down for the best part of four months, the staff and volunteers spent the time organising a varied summer programme and making sure the Centre was Covid-safe. This involved a new seating plan and ticketing system, social- distancing provisions, drawing up and implementing risk assessments with performers and staff/volunteers, new cleaning rotas and being extremely flexible with shows.
The good relationships we have with local and national musicians and other performers – and of course, the loyalty of our audiences – meant we could organise (and sell-out) small events at very short notice. We negotiated with and successfully supported all our regular acts (Barnstormers, Treason Show, Mike Hatchard’s Jazz Breakfast) to ensure they could carry on working and performing within the new guidelines. In particular, Hannah’s Short Stories Tall Tales garnered an even greater take-up than normal as we wanted to plug the gap for children missing nursery and pre-school.
We secured a financial boost of £50k from the Arts Council’s Cultural Recovery Grant to keep us going during the Covid crisis. We also launched a crowdfunder under #saveourvenues which raised £800.
Increasing audience engagement and support
Although the audience capacity went down by a quarter through necessary social distancing, we managed to achieve an average audience capacity of between 80 and 90 percent, which shows strong trust and loyalty. Despite some trepidation at the beginning, audience numbers grew as the weeks went on.
We continued to stay in contact with volunteers, even if they were shielding, to ensure they felt safe, supported and an important part of the team. The benefits of volunteering for well-being and to prevent isolation was highlighted on a national scale this year and we can be very proud of those who are part of the Ropetackle family. The other side of this coin is that without the volunteers turning up and effectively “retraining” to steward differently, put on a full film programme during August when only cinema was allowed, and serve customers refreshments at their seats, we would not have got through this at all.
Children’s Events and Panto
We made sure children had access to events that could safely go ahead, such as family films, toddler films, the aforementioned Short Stories, Tall Tales and live puppet shows and theatre through the summer. The feedback from teachers, parents, carers and performers was extremely positive.
The annual Shoreham Pantomime went from being a full spectacular (Aladdin) to a children’s Christmas show (Santa and the Pirates), to the two-man “Almost a Panto” to the three-person “Oh Yes It Is” it became – all in the space of two months! The final result was a socially-distanced, fun, and imaginative show, and a very clever Covid-related script, that got excellent reviews in the press and great audience feedback. This took an enormous amount of courage, flexibility and humour to put on and deliver…and demonstrates once again the confidence people have in Ropetackle. We also made a small profit, despite having to close down at the end of week 2. (Oh yes we did.)
Local and Live Festival Partnership
This was an extremely successful venture done in partnership with Shoreham Wordfest. Together, we organised a comprehensive itinerary of poets, speakers, theatre, workshops and music over three weeks in October/November. We managed to distribute 5,000 copies of the brochure and had some good coverage in the media and support from local businesses. Sadly, the November lockdown meant some shows were postponed but the feedback and attendance were very positive. The essence of this was to promote the wealth of creativity and talent that we have on our doorstep in Sussex and was really valued by the local performers and audiences alike.
Hiring out facilities
We supported the local community by offering a “Covid-secure” venue for various groups to use, including yoga, Pilates and children’s drama clubs. We also supported the Ropetackle choir that had to carry on via Zoom and offered rehearsal and recording space for professional musicians to use.
Ropetackle has always been at the heart of our community and this year was no different. During the Panto run, LP Creatives and Ropetackle “donated” one performance to NHS workers and their families to say thank you. We launched a ballot, which was positively shared on social media. This was well received and we have made good links with the health authority that we can use to promote future shows/offers as a result. We also offered free pantomime tickets to disadvantaged children and their families; take-up was excellent and local families and schools grateful.
During the November lockdown, we organised a Community Meals Appeal via our newsletter subscribers and Friends and Patrons, to raise funds that would allow us to cook, freeze and distribute healthy meals to those in need over the winter months. We raised more than £6,000 and have linked up with the Gateway Hub, Turning Tides, Adur Community Cafe, local food bank, Worthing Community House and Age Concern. Special thanks to Lesley Ward for her menus and supervision (all provided for free), and the volunteer cooks for their time and hard work.