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Torch Theatre faces ‘longer term challenges’

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THE TORCH THEATRE will remain closed until at least the end of October.
The news came in a statement released by the Theatre’s management on Friday, July 24, just as the Welsh Government announced restrictions would be lifted on the opening of cinemas, theatres, and museums, subject to social distancing regulations.
The statement described the period of enforced closure during the COVID-19 pandemic as ‘incredibly demanding’ and said the Torch was ‘fighting to survive’.
Even though the venue hopes to reopen on November 1, uncertainty about the extent of social distancing rules has persuaded its management to cancel all of its remaining live shows for this year.

TORCH THEATRE FACES ‘LONGER-TERM CHALLENGES’

Besides the revenue cost to the Theatre from its closure, the ripples from its closure are being felt across West Wales. The Torch Theatre is more than a venue. It is a centre for community life in Milford Haven and a hub for Pembrokeshire’s thriving creative arts sector.
To keep afloat, the Theatre made successful applications to the BFI, Film Hub Wales and the National Lottery Resilience Fund, the Arts Council Wales Stabilisation Fund, as well as being eligible for two Welsh Government Business Rates Grants.
The statement reads: ‘This crucial support has given us the security to plan essential maintenance, maintain audience and community engagement, and develop new modes of working’.
While the support has allowed the Theatre to take the first steps toward recovery, the venue’s management says it ‘does not provide the solutions to the longer-term challenge of surviving the COVID-19 crisis’.
The Theatre will use the closure period to carry out repairs on the building’s fly tower, which was damaged during February’s storms.
Funding for the repair work will come from Pembrokeshire County Council Enhancing Pembrokeshire Fund and Arts Council Wales, who will each cover a proportion of the costs after the settlement of the Theatre’s insurance claim for the storm damage.

CONTINUING CLOSURE LIMITED REOPENING

This decision to remain closed takes account of the following decisive factors:
• Consultation with audiences suggests that there is no appetite to return while there is so much uncertainty over the reproduction rate of Covid-19. To open any part of the operation without an audience is not economically viable and would quickly lead to redundancies.
• Film distributors are unable to confirm release dates and producers of live shows are cancelling and rescheduling tours to ensure that their businesses remain viable. As such, the Company cannot deliver a theatre programme.
• Taking account of its civic responsibilities, the Theatre’s management believes that it would not serve audiences, staff, volunteers or artists well to rush into reopening before reassurance the Torch is a safe place to return to.
• The need to undertake essential maintenance and remedial works on the fly tower renders an immediate opening impractical.
Bearing in mind those factors, the Theatre’s management team made what it calls ‘difficult decisions’ about reopening after November 1.
The management team’s statement says:
• With social distancing in place, it is not viable for us to produce or present live productions. As such, all live theatre performances will be cancelled for the remainder of 2020 including our Autumn production and festive pantomime, Jack and the Beanstalk.
We are currently in the process of rescheduling our own productions and visiting shows into our 2021 programme and will be contacting affected customers over the next few weeks.
• Pending release schedules from film distributors, we will hope to open with a cinema only offer for the rest of 2020, at a limited capacity to maintain social distancing requirements. Operational staff would be required to work in bubbles under strict health and safety guidelines.
The ambition to return with cinema only for November and December is dependent on the threat posed at that time by Covid-19, Government directives, securing further financial support and commitment from the film distributors.
• From January 2021, should conditions allow, we should like to return to live productions. This would prove our best-case scenario, allowing wider operations to return to something like normal levels in the New Year; however, this scenario comes with the most financial risk attached and is subject to change.
Should social distancing rules remain in place from January, we would be forced to continue with a cinema-only offer into 2021.
• There remain a host of unknowns and whilst we are planning for our best-case scenario, we are also preparing for the worst: should even a socially distanced cinema offer prove untenable from November, then we may yet be forced to close for the remainder of the financial year.

JOBS UNDER THREAT WITHOUT MORE HELP

Whatever happens, when the UK Government’s Job Retention (‘furlough’) Scheme ends in October, and until ticket income returns to its normal level, the Torch will rely on financial intervention and support from the Welsh Government and other bodies to maintain its staff team and operations until things return to whatever ‘normal’ proves to be.
On July 5, the Westminster Government announced a £1.6bn package of support for the UK’s creative arts sector. Wales’ share of that funding is £59m for the whole of Wales’ cultural and creative industries.
Yesterday, Thursday, July 30, the Welsh Government announced it would allocate £53m of the £59m to the sector. The money’s distribution will be subject to an application process.
Speaking to The Herald this week, David Melding, the Conservatives’ Shadow Culture Minister, said: “While I acknowledge the support the Welsh Government has already given to the creative sector now was the time to demonstrate decisive leadership which they have failed to do.
“Wales rightly regards the creative sector as a strategic growth area and key to Wales’ economic success. It is also central to the nation’s ever evolving story and something we want to project worldwide. Rather than short changing the sector by £6 million the Welsh Government should have added to the funds now made available to Wales by the UK Treasury.”
Nick Capaldi, Chief Executive of the Arts Council of Wales said: “These funds ease the immediate threat of a collapse in the creative sector.”
Siân Gwenllian MS, Plaid Cymru Shadow Minister for Culture, said: “While I welcome today’s news that £53 million has been promised to the Arts industry in Wales, I would question what has happened to the £6 million – within the space of a month, £59 million has been reduced to £53 million and not a penny has reached the sector.”

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

Ben Lloyd, Executive Director of the Torch said: “Our team are working tirelessly to secure extra funding to help us to avoid job losses from November. Every alternative option will be explored.
“Throughout these times of hardship, we remain committed to our mission to engage, inspire, entertain and challenge our audience, and supported by the Arts Council Wales Stabilisation Fund we will seek alternative methods of delivering opportunities to our community.”
Peter Doran, the Torch Theatre’s Artistic Director said: “Here at the Torch we try and cover all aspects of theatre and the performing arts but at the end of the day, we pride ourselves on being theatre-makers, producing our own work; consequently, if we’re not able to produce, it feels like the creative heart has gone out of the building and so we are determined to get up and running again as soon as it’s safe to do so.
“To that end, we aim to come back in the New Year with all guns blazing and producing great pieces of theatre. We are all looking forward to that. In the meantime, we are planning some interesting community projects for people to get involved in and we also plan something for the schools as a Christmas treat. So look out for us.”
Ben Lloyd continued: Away from the art, we are also planning new membership, guardian, legacy and sponsorship schemes allowing our patrons and business partners to become more connected with us and support different areas of community and artistic activity. Further details and the launch of these new schemes are planned for September.
“A great number of our patrons have kindly donated the value of their unused tickets to the Torch over the past months and there has been a high level of interest in other ways our patrons can be more involved. The kind support of our patrons is always hugely appreciated and will be more necessary than ever in the coming months as we seek to bounce back brighter from this crisis.”
Ben concluded: “As a business and like many others, we are going into the unknown. We have never been in a situation like this before and have been operating on a knife-edge over the past few months.
“We have managed to put in place the first building blocks toward our survival. We have reason to be cautiously optimistic and remain determined to sustain for our community, our staff, our artists and the audiences of the future; but our situation remains critical, with many factors beyond our control and we will be seeking support from all quarters to help us get through the challenging months ahead.”

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Milford Haven: ‘Unnerving droning sound’ coming from LNG tanker

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RESIDENTS of Milford Haven and Hakin have been complaining on social media about the noise coming from an LNG tanker berthed at the South Hook LNG terminal.

The Bu Samra arrived in Milford Haven at 10am on Tuesday (Aug 4) and there has been a noise, described as sounding like a distant droning helicopter, or low vibrating sound ever since.

The sound is caused by the reliquefication plant compressors on the 163,000-tonne vessel as she is waiting to offload her cargo of liquefied natural gas.

It is not the first time that there have been complaints. Eleven years ago, in 2009, official complaints were made to Pembrokeshire County Council over a similar vessel, the Tembrek.

At the time officials from South Hook LNG said: “South Hook would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused by the sound residents may have heard coming from the LNG Carrier since its berthing
“This is due only to this particular phase of the initial commissioning as she is keeping her cargo in a liquefied state.
“In the meantime, the Master… will do everything he can to minimise the impact of the sound on local residents.”

Local marine expert Berty Barrett said on Facebook: “All part of living alongside these oil and gas installations.”

Sianie Roberts, a Hakin resident, commented: “It’s really unnerving. Never heard anything like it before for so long a period.”

South Hook has been contacted for a comment.

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Haverfordwest: Primary school teacher accused of 34 sexual assaults

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A HAVERFORDWEST primary school teacher was in court on Monday (Aug 3) accused of 34 sexual assaults.

James Oulton, 34, of Richmond Crescent, denies all the charges.

Oulton, who was granted a continuation to his bail, was represented in court by his barrister Chris Clee QC.

The case is listed for administrative hearings in November and the trial date is provisionally set for April 12, 2021.

Oulton is currently suspended from work at Mary Immaculate School.

It is understood that the case does not involve children who are pupils at the Roman Catholic primary school.

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Phased re-opening for Leisure Centre facilities

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FACILITIES at Pembrokeshire County Council’s Leisure Centres will begin to re-open in a phased and safe manner from Monday, August 17.

Following further easing of Welsh Government restrictions, Pembrokeshire Leisure will be opening its doors for the use of fitness suites only in the first phase.

The fitness suites at Fishguard Leisure Centre, Haverfordwest Leisure Centre, Milford Haven Leisure Centre, Pembroke Leisure Centre and Tenby Leisure Centres will open from Monday, August.

You must book and pay for your gym slot in advance.

Without a pre-booked slot you will not be able to gain access to the facilities.

There will be no bookings or payments taken at the centres. In order to make a reservation you will need to be a registered user of Pembrokeshire Leisure.

You can register via the website https://pembrokeshireleisure.co.uk/ or by calling 01437 775504, Monday to Thursday, 9am – 3pm.

See below for further membership information.

Bookings can also be made via the website and telephone numbers above and through the Pembrokeshire Leisure app which is available to download on both Apple IOS and Android.

You will be able to book your session from Tuesday, August 11, onwards.

For everyone’s safety please do not attend any Pembrokeshire Leisure facilities if you are experiencing any Covid-19 symptoms.

Users are asked to bring only a full water bottle (drinking fountains will not be in use), a towel and their Pembrokeshire Leisure Card for their exercise session.

Please note there will be no changing facilities available so please arrive dressed ready for your session.

Buildings may operate one-way systems and equipment may be set out differently than normal with some equipment set up in other areas of the centre to allow more space to exercise.

Those visiting with pre-booked appointments are respectfully asked to adhere to social distancing rules in operation.

There will be an enhanced cleaning operation in place with hand sanitising stations and customers will need to use the provided cleaning products to clean equipment before and after use.

The second phase, from Tuesday, September 1, will see Crymych Leisure Centre re-open and swimming pools, indoor fitness classes and facility hire available at all centres.

Again, all activities will be via pre-booked appointments only.

Further details will be released in due course, including opening arrangements for all of the remaining leisure facilities.

Currently all Pembrokeshire Leisure memberships are frozen with no payments being taken.

To allow members to return when they feel safe and happy to do so Pembrokeshire Leisure will be offering the following:

If you are ready to return to us:

  • Everyone with a frozen current membership will be able to access the fitness suites for free from August 17 to 31.
  • We will be offering a ‘BeActive’ membership while our facilities have a reduced offering at £19/month.
  • You will need to sign up to the membership using our app or website.
  • This membership will be paid on a monthly basis with no minimum term.
  • It will be available until our centres are able to offer a more complete selection of activities, when existing membership subscriptions will be restarted.

If you don’t feel ready to return to us yet:

  • All memberships will remain frozen and you will not need to contact us until you are ready to return.
  • All subscriptions will receive an extension as Appropriate.
  • When we are able to offer a more complete provision of activities then memberships will be restarted. Members will be given notice before the payments are taken.

More information regarding the BeActive membership will be sent to all members.

All relevant information will also be published on

https://pembrokeshireleisure.co.uk/ and the Pembrokeshire Leisure App.

If you are unclear on the process of re-joining please contact 01437 775504.

Pembrokeshire County Council Cabinet Member for Economy, Tourism. Leisure and Culture, Cllr Paul Miller, said: “With restrictions easing further in the coming weeks the team have been working hard to ensure we can offer a safe, phased, return to leisure facilities across the county.

“We’re looking forward to welcoming back members and the general public from the 17th.”

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