The Wokingham Paper

‘I love South Hill Park so much – we must keep it open’ say EastEnders actor Lin Blakley

Lin Blakeley
Lin Blakeley is a big supporter of South Hill Park

Lin Blakley is known to millions for her EastEnders role – but she owes a lot to an arts centre that needs our help. PHIL CREIGHTON finds out more

AN ACTOR known to millions for her role as an undertakers’ wife in EastEnders is hoping that the coronavirus doesn’t force a much-loved arts centre to go under.

Lin Blakley, who played Pam Coker in the BBC soap, is a massive fan of South Hill Park and is looking forward to to the Bracknell-based venue reopening its doors for live performances.

And she is lending her support to a campaign to raise £500,000 to keep the centre going.

Along with many other UK theatres and arts centres, South Hill Park says it is facing uncertainty for the future after the Government’s announcement to close arts venues in March to combat the Covid-19 outbreak.

Although the arts centre continues to receive a grant from Bracknell Forest Borough and Town councils, and is part
of the Government’s furlough scheme, it lost 86% of its income overnight. And it warns that without help, it will take many months for revenue to return to pre-covid levels: when it reopens for performances, it is likely that social distancing measures will need to be kept in place meaning that it will be months before anything like normality can return.

The centre is planning some open-air events this summer, but it won’t be anything like what we’re used to.

Lin has been part of South Hill Park’s story since its conception as an arts centre back in the early 1970s.

“I’ve been involved for many years on and off,” she says. “It means an awful lot to me.”

That involvement includes a friendship with Peter Stark, the artistic director who launched the centre and seeing her youngest daughter take part in performances at the venue.

“I pray to God it always lasts.”

She adds: “People that love theatre: comedy, drama, music, whatever – to have to have South Hill Park for our sanity.

“It’s expensive to go to London, not just the prices in the theatres, but the trains as well. But we’ve got South Hill Park on our doorstep — let’s see what’s on there.

“A lot of people are (currently) put of public transport (due to the virus).”

Lin has had a long career in the industry, but it nearly wasn’t to be.

“I always wanted to be an actor, but my Father didn’t. He wanted me to get a proper job,” she recalls.  However, Lin followed her heart and got her Equity card – the actors’ union – in the late 1960s.

Love struck – she married The Tremeloes’ Alan Blakley in Sunninghill in 1969. Becoming a mum put her acting ambitions on hold.

“I wanted my children to have their feet on the ground,” she recalls.

“I got to back by joining amateur theatre companies.

“They often include a lot of people who never went into the business but know what they’re doing.”

This led to some engagements with South Hill Park, where she met visiting companies and also people such as Adrian McDougall who launched Blackeyed Theatre – “I was in their first production” Lin says.

Although her career has blossomed since and her stint in Walford has
seen her become a household name, Lin does not forget her roots. She is patron of both Windlesham Drama Group and the Quince Players. She also helps with workshops and directing.

“South Hill Park gave me the confidence to push me forward in lots of ways. We can’t lose it. It gives you that inner confidence.

“EastEnders opened up a lot of doors for me, I went in on a three-month contract and stayed for three years. A lot of people saw me and said, ‘We’ve got to get Lin in’.”

She’s full of praise for South Hill Park’s other aspects: being an old stately home it also benefits from plenty of space.

“It has beautiful grounds to relax in, a restaurant to relax in and meet friends, a wonderful cinema, there is so much there – it’s a fantastic meeting place. I’m so thankful for it.

“It’s amazing, we mustn’t lose it.”

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