Shock as Eden Court pulls plug on Lochaber Youth Theatre funding

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Arts professionals, parents and young people in Lochaber have been left reeling at news that Eden Court Theatre in Inverness is to cease all funding for youth theatre groups, including Lochaber Youth Theatre (LYT).

Eden Court, which last year reported an income of £6.5 million and a surplus of £480,000, had previously been accused of failing to value the work of the youth theatres when it made the 10 outreach workers, seven of whom were on permanent contracts, redundant.

At the time, chief executive James Mackenzie-Blackman was quoted as saying that of the seven colleagues leaving, the intention was for four to be re-employed in a freelance capacity.

The withdrawal of the budget for these freelance workers means the only remaining youth theatre group still funded in Highland is that based at the Inverness theatre itself.

The controversial move came just a day after it was revealed Eden Court was getting £30,000 from the Highland Council for a feasibility study into a possible extension to its existing state-of-the-art facilities.

Outraged Fort William and Ardnamurchan councillor Andrew Baxter said it seemed Eden Court ‘gets special treatment’ from the council.

‘It’s appalling that they go cap in hand to the council to get £30,000 for a study to improve their business, when they slash important arts funding in Lochaber,’ said Mr Baxter.

‘Maybe it’s time the council brings the curtain down on its funding for Eden Court and spends the money in local areas where it can have a massive impact. Let’s subsidise local projects and end the effective subsidy for theatre goers in the Inverness area.’

The man running LYT, Alan Gray, said the organisation was now looking at alternatives for funding. ‘However, with strong art links locally with I-C-E, Figment Theatre, Dramafish, Photon Productions, Bright Productions and others, hopefully we can secure some sort of future for LYT,’ Mr Gray added.

Liz Lennon, a parent of both a former and a current member of LYT, said the organisation had given young people from one of the most sparsely populated areas of the UK a chance to see new things and to envision a different future for themselves. ‘This decision by Eden Court is short-sighted, Inverness-centric and I had thought better of them,’ she added.

One LYT graduate and a former pupil at Lochaber High School is Kate Bracken, who starred in the BBC television series Being Human.

She said her time with LYT had been a major part of her career. ‘To hear that funding has been cut and that LYT might no longer exist is heartbreaking.  LYT was the foundation for my career so it’s really sad to think that the young people in Lochaber will potentially be denied that,’ said Ms Bracken.

Mr Mackenzie-Blackman said Eden Court remains committed to its Highland-wide remit, but had seen its funding severely cut by the Highland Council and Creative Scotland.

‘We are, though, working on plans, and will soon be consulting with communities, on the shape of an offer to children and young people across the wider Highland region,’ he said.

‘Once we have undertaken this work, we will embark on getting it funded. I am confident we will be able to persuade potential funders of the clear need.’

An he offered an olive branch of optimism, saying: ‘If a school or community organisation from anywhere in Highland gets in touch about us delivering a project, we will consider it.’

However, he rejected accusations that Eden Court gets special treatment or access of any kind from the council. ‘Quite frankly, over the past year we have had to go on a journey of repairing our relationship with the council,’ he said.

‘There is a journey to go on with elected members in regard to how they perceive, appreciate and value the impact art and culture plays on communities and contributes to the local economy.’