The Wokingham Paper

WATCH: Kenneth Branagh shares his support for South Hill Park

South hIll Park
South Hill Park has launched a fundraising campaign and has bacming from Kenneth Branagh

AS A child, he enjoyed performing in school plays. When he was older he joined the Reading Film and Video Makers society. And he has also performed with amateur group the Progress Theatre.

Now he’s known for Hollywood blockbusters of the Shakespearean kind: Hamlet, Love Labours Lost, As You Like It and Much Ado About Nothing, among others.

But he’s not forgotten his roots.

Sir Kenneth Branagh has joined the campaign to help keep South Hill Park going through the coronavirus pandemic.

Last month, we reported that the Bracknell-based arts centre needs to raise £500,000 to secure its future.

It says that despite receiving funding from Bracknell Forest and Town councils and taking part in the Government’s furlough scheme, it lost 86% of it income when it was forced to close its doors in March as lockdown began.

Now it is looking to life on the other side and it needs a helping hand.

Sir Kenneth, who is a patron of the centre, said: “South Hill Park has been at the heart of the community in Bracknell for almost 50 years. Each year over 200,000 people enjoy all that this Art Centre has to offer, but that could all disappear. For so many reasons it’s vital that we do everything we can to protect the arts in our community and to protect South Hill Park.”

And he values the centre’s role in making all forms of art accessible, be it theatre, dance, drama, photography, pottery, music, cinema, or comedy, all of which is on offer at South Hill Park.

“The arts have the power to transform lives,” he said. “It brings our communities together, reduces social exclusion and isolation, has a positive impact on health and well-being, celebrates diversity, improves learning and education especially amongst the young and contributes to our local economy… but South Hill Park offers so much more.

“Members of our community living with dementia can enjoy special cinema screenings, young carers and some of our most vulnerable young adults can learn new skills, which builds confidence, improves career prospects and opens horizons, and there are opportunities for people of all ages to volunteer and make new friends.

“South Hill Park inspires us, it connects us, and it enriches our lives.’

And it seems that Sir Kenneth is not alone – the appeal has raised more than £36,000 already. But there’s a long way to go before the £500,000 donation is reached.

Craig Titley, the chief executive of South Hill Park, said: “When the Government tells us that we can open our doors, it will not be like turning on a tap.

“We will need to pay staff – once the furlough scheme ends – generate an audience, create a programme, sell tickets and resume our community engagement work and as yet we do not know the full impact of social distancing in performance spaces.

“At first we will have all the costs but very little income, and it is likely to take several weeks, if not months to return to normal.”

He added: “We recognise that this is a time of uncertainty for everyone. However, if you can, your donation – however large or small – will play a significant part in helping us resume our role as a vital and much-loved venue and service.”

For more details, or to make a donation, log on to southhillpark.org.uk/donate where it is possible to make regular or one-off donations.

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