County youth theatre could be closed down

THE WEST Sussex Youth Theatre could face being closed down.

This is one of three options being considered.

West Sussex County Council’s Cabinet Member for Education and Schools says he will be looking closely at all the issues raised after a scrutiny committee debated the future of the West Sussex Youth Theatre.

A new partnership with Chichester Festival Theatre is one of the options that was explored at a meeting of the West Sussex Children and Young People’s Services Select Committee.

Peter Griffiths, who was at the meeting, is due to take a decision in the near future on the best option for sustaining many of the activities of the Youth Theatre, which was formed in 1989.

He said: “The decision to end the subsidy we give West Sussex Youth Theatre (WSYT) from April has to be seen against the backdrop of the very large reduction in grant from the Government that the county council is having to cope with.

“It is unfortunate that we cannot find the money for discretionary activities, but instead of just ending the subsidy the County Council has been actively looking for alternatives.”

A report to the committee listed three options –

End the Youth Theatre completely

Continue to maintain it through the Learning Service but with savings to the County Council through seeking further sponsorship and external funding

Integrate the Youth Theatre with the Chichester Festival Youth Theatre and re-brand it as the Chichester Festival Youth Theatre West Sussex.

A report said the Festival Theatre option included exploring the possibility of extending its satellite operations to include outlying areas, which would otherwise have little access to high quality Youth Theatre such as Billingshurst, Burgess Hill, Storrington and East Grinstead.

The report said: “They would also seek to develop their partnerships with other theatres such as The Hawth in Crawley.

“The proposal is to initiate two new satellites in the summer term 2012, with the possibility of a third being established in September 2012 and a fourth group coming on stream in 2013.

“Each satellite could cater for around 50 participants, and so by the end of 2013 there would be up to 200 young people able to participate in weekly professionally-led Youth Theatre sessions at least 30 times per year during term time across the county.

“In addition to participating in local activities, the young people would also have the opportunity to rehearse and perform in professionally-led productions and to audition for the major CFYT annual productions.”

The Select Committee agreed to endorse the development of a partnership with Chichester Festival Theatre as its preferred option for ensuring continued access to a youth theatre for West Sussex young people in the future.

Members also agreed to ask Peter Griffiths to ‘continue to explore alternative sources of funding and partnerships which would result in subsequent expansion of the service to at least the current level provided by WSCYT to include touring productions and provision for 19-25 year olds.’

Richard Burrett, Chairman of the Select Committee, said: “It was a very good debate, and clearly showed how highly youth theatre work is valued in West Sussex.

“We heard from all sides of the argument including the organisers of a petition launched on an independent website.

“I hope that our conclusions will assist the Cabinet Member in making his decision.”