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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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Electrician has ‘fallen from height’ at Neyland Community Hub

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EMERGENCY SERVICES are attending to an injured electrician who has fallen from a height at Neyland Community Hub, whist working on the project.

The air ambulance has been called and is now in Neyland, ready to medivac the casualty.

Cllr Paul Miller, Development Director at Neyland CIC said in a statement: “This afternoon one of our electrical contract staff has unfortunately fallen from height during the course of his work. He has been attended to on site by paramedics and is currently being prepared for “transfer to hospital by air ambulance.

“The thoughts of everyone at Neyland CIC are with him and we wish him a speedy recovery.”

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Local politician reacts to Corbyn’s suspension

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A LOCAL politician has commented on Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension from the Labour party.

With the announcement that former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been suspended from the party, local parties have reacted.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who became leader in April, suspended predecessor Jeremy Corbyn from the party after Corbyn said the scale of it’s anti-Semitism problem had been dramaticall overstated.

In an official statement, Labour said that the suspension came after Corbyn’s failure to retract his words.

Jeremy Corby reacted to the suspension by stating he was going to strongly contest it, calling the move ‘political’.

Corbyn in Haverfordwest before election

Commenting on the news that Jeremy Corbyn has been suspended from the Labour Party after an inquiry found the party was “responsible for unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination” during his time in charge, Paul Davies MS, Leader of the Conservatives in the Welsh Parliament said:

“Mark Drakeford was the first Senedd Member to back Jeremy Corbyn for leader of the Labour Party. He needs to confirm whether he supports Sir Keir Starmer in suspending Corbyn or if he backs his political idol.

“The Jewish community in Wales, alongside all those who have fought against anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, deserve to know whether he’s with them or against them.”

The decision was made by Starmer following the publication of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) report.

Speaking on the findings, Starmer said the report had brought forward a day of shame for the Labour party.

The report found 23 instances of what they called ‘inappropriate involvement’ by Corbyn’s office – with the Labour party responsible for three breaches of the Equality Act.

These were: Failure to provide adequate training to those handling anti-Semitism complaints, Harrassment and political interference in Anti-Semitism complaints.

Speaking on the suspension, Jeremy Corbyn said: “I will strongly contest the political intervention to suspend me. I’ve made absolutely clear that those who deny there has been an antisemitism problem in the Labour Party are wrong.

“It’s also undeniable that a false impression has been created of the number of members accused of antisemitism, as polling shows: that is what has been overstated, not the seriousness of the problem.

“I will continue to support a zero tolerance policy towards all forms of racism. And I urge all members to stay calm and focused – while this problem is resolved amicably, as I believe it will be – to defeat this awful government, which is further impoverishing the poorest in our society.

The implementation of the recommendations following the report will be ‘as soon as possible in the New Year’ promises Sir Kier.

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Penally asylum seekers warned for breaking Fire-Break Lockdown rules

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POLICE have warned asylum seekers staying at Penally camp that there is currently a Firebreak Lockdown in Wales, and that they must follow the rules or face legal action.

Residents in Penally have said that they have groups of asylum seekers from the facility walking through the village.

“They were shouting, and drinking with a police van following them” one resident said.

A spokesperson for Dyfed-Powys Police issued the following statement on the incident: “On the evening of Tuesday, October 27, police were made aware that a number of men were on the village green in Penally, breaking the current Welsh Government restrictions.

“The men, from the Penally Asylum Accommodation Centre, were spoken to and advised to return to their accommodation. Officers followed the men to ensure they returned to the centre.

“Officers will always aim to engage, educate and encourage adherence to the national measures with enforcement being the last action.

“The management team at the centre will be advised so that the firebreak requirements can be reinforced to the service users resident at the centre,” they added.

Last weekend police issued a fixed penalty notice to a female who was deemed to be breaking the current lockdown rules by traveling to the Centre.

A spokesman told The Pembrokeshire Herald said: “A female who was spending time with the asylum seekers over the weekend was advised about her non-essential travel to the asylum accommodation centre”

“After failing to adhere to a warning she was issued with a Covid fixed penalty notice and made to leave the area.”

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