It has taken longer than expected, but on 16 March Woking Borough Council's Planning Committee unanimously approved the planning application for NewSPAL's prospective new library in the centre of Woking (in Morris House, Commercial Way, Woking). The library will be on the ground floor of two large former shops (currently empty shells) facing on to one of the main pedestrianised shopping streets. It is near the station and town centre car parks and there is controlled vehicle access for deliveries and collections at the rear. You can take a look at the proposed floor plan by clicking the documnet at the bottom of this page.
The area on the left and top of the plan is the main browsing area which will be open to all visitors. It has full height glass windows along the street frontage which can be used as display areas when the library is closed or can be opened fully if (for example) we wanted to have an event (e.g. a chamber music group) performing which passers-by could listen to. The browsing area is flexible so it could also be arranged for small group events when the library is closed to the public. The working area for the librarians (who will definitely include an experienced music librarian) is immediately behind the reception desk so they will always be readily available to help visitors when the library is open. To the right of the plan and along the bottom is the storage areas for stock (including all the current rolling stacks which will be moved from Ewell).
We believe that the building and its design, which we worked on together with the council’s experts, suit our needs and those of our users very well, and we are looking forward to becoming a positive cultural presence in the town centre.
The next stage is for us to have detailed discussions with Woking on the terms of a lease and also on the arrangements for the fitting out (including who pays for what). This is a busy time for all local authorities and we also have to co-ordinate with Surrey County Council. Because of this, the timing is not within our control, but planning permission is an important first step which we are delighted to have taken, and we will be pressing ahead as quickly as we can.
Slowly marinade, and watch the child grow up immersed by theatre and dramatics.
The exciting performances started with the stairs going up to the attic, and the dressing up drawer.
In the drawer were hats, cloaks, skirts, false armour, crowns, weapons, skirts, stage jewellery (overlarge and shiny), wigs and hairpieces.
These became whatever we thought up and the stories made up. The attic stairs became the mast in Treasure Island for Jim to climb. Best of all was the chance for Jim to say ‘One more step and I’ll blow your brains out.’
Cushions became Peter Pan’s raft, it was easy to do. ‘Tick, Tock,’ was for the crocodile swallowing the clock! Just to say these words make my spine tingle, ’Growing up must be an awfully big adventure.’
We all fought to be Captain Hook, and make a hook for his hand. Adventures were simple but at least we could have them. Outside our garden wall provided climbing experience, and danger, especially with barking dogs on the other side. Always wondered if the neighbours minded being spied on.
On an early trip to the theatre the house lights fade and I am on the edge of my seat to see whatever is lit up on the stage. ‘I am watching Peter Pan; my mother knows most of the actors on the stage at the
Scala. She is anxious that I go to the loo before the next act. The lagoon lights up; Captain Hook and his pirates are ready to pounce, Peter Pan, the lost boys, and the Red Indians are circling.
The crocodile continues to tick, Wendy, John and Michael fly home to Kensington Gardens, leaving Peter behind in Neverland. ‘I never want to be a man.’
Exploration and adventure are on offer here in the theatre. Safe space!
Quick as anything we go backstage so my mum can have a gossip with Russell Thorndike alias Smee the pirate. In the meantime, a good corner for me is under his sewing machine while they reminisce and bitch about other actors! ‘Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble.’
‘Now is the winter of discontent made glorious summer by this son of York.’
‘Come what come may time and the hour run through the roughest day.’
‘This sceptred isle set in in a silver sea.’
Being soaked in Shakespeare felt normal to me; according to my mother Shakespeare would have been asked to be my Godfather! The dimming house lights and another world appearing on the stage is the magic of theatre, to set our souls on fire.
Grayson Perry has recently challenged us to think what art will there be after this pandemic, and if it will change.
Theatres are dark now, actors do not have live jobs. How much do we want theatre? Personally, being taken into another world is for me as good as travel. The experience can change me.
The escapism and experience on offer in theatre and drama seems to me irreplaceable. It is an ephemeral art form, blink and you miss it.
Written by Julia Jarrett, one half of 'The Julias' Play reading group, as a plea for live theatre and drama during and after the COVID pandemic.
COVID-19 disrupts the transition project
In March, along with every other organisation in the country, NewSPAL was disrupted by the restrictions arising from COVID-19. Having already by then acquired and tested the future IT systems, the work of checking and re-cataloguing the collection by our wonderful team of volunteers had to be suspended. We no longer had physical access to the collection in Ewell Library (which has since re-opened for borrowing in September). Work on planning the physical move of the collection to a new home in Woking had to be halted as Woking Borough Council had to re-focus its attention on grappling with the pandemic. With the timetable and other aspects of the project thrown into uncertainty, NewSPAL trustees decided the time was not right to approach grant-awarding organisations for major funding towards the completion of the project.
What did we do?
We were (and remain) acutely aware that every pound we spend is a pound which has been donated by the many individuals, groups and small trusts and other grant-giving bodies who support NewSPAL. So we have continued to make progress on the transition project where we could safely do so "virtually", but being even more than usually careful to minimise expenditure. By co-incidence, because of other commitments, Victoria Taylor, our excellent Transition Project Manager, had already asked to reduce her time commitment to NewSPAL to the equivalent of one day a week. That has helped us to keep expenditure down. We have also received a number of generous donations and a legacy since March, meaning we are now in roughly the same financial position as we were in March.
Does it make sense to continue with the NewSPAL project?
We think so. The reasons for transferring the former Surrey Performing Arts Library (SPAL) collection to a charity and giving it a new independent future remain compelling. The financial pressures on Surrey County Council which led to the closure of SPAL in Dorking, the withdrawal of specialist music librarian support and the reduction in services to SPAL users (including withdrawal from the national Inter-Library Loan scheme) have, if anything, got more severe. NewSPAL's new IT systems will allow user groups to do everything they need to (for example, check availability of sets, reserve and pay for them online and request courier delivery) more efficiently and safely than the current system. NewSPAL will be able to offer its services to a much wider range of users from around the country too, so, despite the current disruption to the activities of choirs, orchestras and drama groups, we are confident there will continue to be a demand to borrow from the SPAL collection.
So what comes next?
First, one of the pre-COVID challenges was with the proposed building in Woking. Woking's structural engineers were concerned the building would need structural reinforcement to take the weight of the SPAL collection. The cost of doing that work was starting to look prohibitive. As a small silver lining amongst the clouds of the COVID emergency, however, another (rather better) building (at ground floor level), situated in the centre of Woking, has been proposed to us as an alternative. We are currently evaluating that and working with Woking on the layout, but it looks promising. If all goes well, the building might be ready to occupy in Summer 2021.
Secondly, we need to update our medium-term business plan and budgets to make sure that the economics still work. NewSPAL will not receive any financial support from Surrey County Council and we need to make sure the income which can be generated from subscriptions and hire charges will be enough to cover the running costs of the new library service (particularly staff costs). Since September there has been some tentative resumption of activity by some orchestras, music groups, choirs and drama groups - but it is early days and the new lockdown has put a stop to everything again until 2 December. To be able to make reasonable projections about future demand for resources from the SPAL collection, we need to see how users adapt to the "new normal". It will be early in 2021 before we can get an idea about that. We know everyone is keen, but the challenges - particularly for large choral societies and orchestras and informal groups (e.g. play-reading groups) under the current restrictions - are considerable. On the other hand, perhaps previously less used parts of the SPAL collection (such as the chamber music collection) may be in more demand.
Thirdly, when we know we have the building secured and when we are confident that we will be able to generate enough income to cover our operating costs, we will still have to resume fundraising to complete equipping the new library, pay for the removal from Ewell to Woking and to employ staff for a couple of months in advance of the opening. With so many charities and organisations in desperate need, we know this will be an even bigger challenge than before.
NewSPAL was set up by and for SPAL users - committed to making sure its large and important collection of performing arts resources should continue to be available to current and future users and potential users. With your support, we have come a long way. The COVID crisis will eventually recede. It has made all of us appreciate the performing arts even more than before. Let's make sure the SPAL collection and NewSPAL are there to help them flourish again. Thank you to all our wonderful volunteers, donors and supporters for all you have done to get us this far.
If you have any comments, would like to get involved or have ideas to contribute to the project, please do get in touch with Victoria – Victoria.email@example.com .
'The Julias' Play Reading groups
Our two play reading groups have successfully met outdoors once since March. Each member has brought a speech from a Shakespeare play. The other members have to guess who is speaking, which play and the context! It is not the same as reading a full play but until a few weeks ago were not able to borrow the play sets. It was a fun way of keeping in touch before the winter!!
(The Julias consist of the Leatherhead Evening Play Reading Group and Leatherhead Afternoon Play Reading Group.)
Cantamus Reigate managed to squeeze in what was probably the final live concert before lockdown on Sat 14 March! Did anyone sing in anything live and analogue even later? If so, please leave a comment. We still have some of the copies hired from the library awaiting return. We would normally be planning for the next one now, but it’s likely we won’t meet again until 2021.
ONLINE ENTERTAINMENT BY ENGLISH ARTS CHORALE
Reigate-based English Arts Chorale (EAC) has continued to rehearse online during lockdown, polishing up Mendelssohn’s Elijah for two planned performances next season, as well as a host of other works. In addition, over 30 EAC members and associates have taken part in the three lockdown concerts, bringing a wealth of musical and other talents into the limelight! The concerts, for members, family and friends, included diverse musical works ranging from Bach to Richard Rodney Bennett and John Williams, as well as poetry and readings, some of which were self-authored. Season highlights were accompanist Jonathan Lilley’s stunning performances of works by Vierne and others, live from Waltham Abbey, where he is Director of Music.
If you’re interested in joining this lively and ambitious choir, please see details here. You might also like to join EAC’s planned tour to Prague next spring.
The Promenade Choirs, based in Horsham, has continued to work remotely during lockdown. Monday evening rehearsals for the Junior and Youth Choirs have been well attended and have offered a note of creativity during these strange times. Here are a few remote recordings to showcase the work of our members.
Kyrie from Puccini's Messa di Gloria (remote recording by the Promenade Youth Choir)
Disney Medley (remote recording by the Promenade Junior Choir during Covid lockdown)
The Bluebird by Stanford (remote recording by the Promenade Project Choir during lockdown)
The Promenade Youth and Junior Choirs are non-auditioned choirs for all young singers who want learn and are prepared to work hard to achieve a high standard. Bursaries are available for those who cannot afford the moderate termly fees. The Promenade Project Choir is a chamber choir for experienced adult singers who have strong reading ability. Many are members of local choral societies. The choir joins in one or two events a year and works on challenging repertoire that members might not have the opportunity to work on elsewhere.
Visit our website here to find out more: www.promenade.org.uk
The Redhill Sinfonia, founded in 1891, is one of the country's longest established amateur orchestras. It has had its highs and lows over the years, but it has been rehearsing and giving concerts in Redhill and Reigate every year for nearly 130 years, including through both World Wars. Although rehearsals had to be suspended in March and both its March and June concerts had to be cancelled, it is determined not to let a global pandemic prevent it from continuing to make music. On 24 June, it held a Zoom string sectional rehearsal on parts of Beethoven's Symphony No 6 (Pastoral) which it would have been performing at the cancelled June concert. Violinist and Honorary Librarian Jo Anderson took part and says it worked surprisingly well.
The first ever Redhill Sinfonia string sectional via Zoom was held earlier this month. Not of course how we would choose for it to be held, as nothing could and should replace live music making, but a positive of the current situation is that it does foster adaptability.
The Orchestra is very fortunate in having David Burton, a very experienced violinist and tutor, as its Leader. String sectionals, led by David, normally take place once a term - a time to focus on particularly tricky or awkward passages, and to pick up tips on technique. They are always enjoyable and players come out feeling that an awful lot has been learnt and achieved.
That was also the case this week. A good proportion of the string section joined the Zoom meeting, plus our conductor John Beswick, our President, Maureen Lovell and even a couple of our wind section, who were able to come and play along. String parts had been bowed by David in advance and scans distributed. David was joined by members of his musical family, wife Jane Tyler on viola and son Tim Burton on cello, and so a string trio could be seen and heard playing sections of the first and third movements of Beethoven’s 6th Symphony. All other participants were put on mute (an impossible time delay of up to 3 seconds making simultaneous playing impossible) and were therefore able to play their own part along with David and his family. Technical tips were discussed and participants were able to unmute themselves to ask questions. It was great to be reunited with desk partners and other orchestral colleagues, to be playing orchestral music once again and to feel a sense of purpose and optimism by working on a piece for our next concert. A further sectional is planned for a fortnight’s time.
Many of our regular audience are members or former members of choirs, orchestras and ensembles which use SPAL's loan service and some are in playreading, drama and musicals societies too. Plus, our churches are the rehearsal venues for Leatherhead Choral Society, barbershop group The Downsmen, and the Surrey Philharmonic Orchestra. Although Leatherhead Concert & Arts Society is not a SPAL user the collection is close to our hearts.
This would have been our 9th year of lunchtime concerts in Leatherhead's churches. With their closure we have had to adapt. We are a fairly mature bunch, so we are going to be careful well after lockdown ends.
Instead of live concerts we have gone online. We put up a selection of YouTube video links to performances that fit our usual concert profile. We are also taking advantage of the opportunity to listen to larger forces than would fit in the churches. We can hear part of a concerto with full orchestra rather than a piano reduction. We can listen to bigger organs than are found in Leatherhead. A brass band instead of a quartet.
Each Tuesday we email our 400 followers to tell them what we are preparing, and then, early on Thursday morning off goes the email with the link to the day's concert webpage.
We have been adding video links to our concert webpages since 2014. Back then one of our staunchest supporters became unwell and told us she was missing the concerts. At first we sent her links to videos and then realised more people might enjoy a YouTube concert, especially if illness, caring commitments, or work, prevented them from coming along at lunchtime. Now we always put videolinks on our webpages.
With regulars (that we know about) in Nottingham, Blackburn, and the Netherlands, Leatherhead's Lunchtime Concerts are likely to run both live and video even after we have all had COVID vaccinations. Right now, we are planning how we will take part in October's Mole Valley Arts e-Live Festival.
Listening alone is never the same as attending a live concert. We are doing what we can until it is safe to get together again. Imagine the happy faces when that happens!
List of weekly video concerts: musicinsurrey.co.uk
Written by Peter Steadman