A bright future for Stroud Subscription Rooms

PUBLISHED: 12:05 24 May 2019 | UPDATED: 12:05 24 May 2019

Front: Hugh Phillimore and Alex Cowan, joint chairmen of the trust. From left: Abi Wood (Trustee), Kevin Cranston (Stroud Town Mayor), Julie Wickham (Trustee), Mattie Roberts (Stroud District Councillor) and Helen Bojaniwska (Stroud Town Clerk) at the official handover of the Subscription Rooms from the Stroud District Council to Stroud Town Council and the new Trust © Andrew Higgins / Thousand Word Media

Front: Hugh Phillimore and Alex Cowan, joint chairmen of the trust. From left: Abi Wood (Trustee), Kevin Cranston (Stroud Town Mayor), Julie Wickham (Trustee), Mattie Roberts (Stroud District Councillor) and Helen Bojaniwska (Stroud Town Clerk) at the official handover of the Subscription Rooms from the Stroud District Council to Stroud Town Council and the new Trust © Andrew Higgins / Thousand Word Media

©Thousand Word Media

Up until recently the future of the Subscription Rooms looked decidedly shaky, but now Stroud's much-loved venue is looking forward to a bright new life as a dynamic arts and entertainment hub

The rebirth of Stroud's Subscription Rooms is a love story - a story about a community which came together to keep an iconic venue in public ownership.

It's a love story that saw scores of people join hands to 'hug' the Sub Rooms in 2017 during the two-year campaign to keep it in public ownership.

That love is still in evidence as Stroud Town Council and the Stroud Subscription Rooms Trust take over the venue and begin an ambitious programme to turn it into a thriving and dynamic arts and entertainment hub.

It's been a long journey since Stroud District Council, which owned the Subs, announced plans to consider the future of the building as part of a cost-savings initiative. There was the possibility that it would be sold to a private owner.

But Stroud is known for its big community heart and following consultations and public meetings, it was made perfectly clear that Stroud wanted its Sub Rooms to stay in public ownership.

So began the mammoth initiative by Stroud Town Council to do just that. Working in partnership with the District Council, the ownership of the building has been transferred to the Town Council and the newly-formed charity, The Stroud Subscription Rooms Trust, will lease the venue.

During the campaign people pledged £50,000 to support major renovations for the building and more than £24,000 has already been donated.

Work is due to start in August on the first phase of improvement works starting with a new bar and café on the ground floor with a new kitchen, a more accessible bar upstairs and an improved access ramp.

Future phases will include: retractable seating in the Ballroom; a multi-use space with retractable cinema seating in the George Room; improved toilets, including a fully accessible disabled toilet with adult changing facilities; a new cellar; and improved circulation around the stairs.

The Beatles' concert at the Subscription Rooms, 1962The Beatles' concert at the Subscription Rooms, 1962

The Subscription Rooms have a rich heritage. With the implementation of The Reform Act 1832 the Borough of Stroud was formally created. To mark this new status it was decided that a new public building should be erected. It was paid for through public subscription and opened in 1834.

The Beatles performed there in 1962 - before Beatlemania swept the world. It's witnessed scores of bands and performers. For some, such as Stroud singer songwriter Hattie Briggs who is touring with Alfie Boe, it was their first public performance.

The six new Trustees have an enviable wealth of experience in entertainment and arts fields.

Joint chairman Hugh Phillimore has produced his own Cornbury Festival in Oxfordshire for the past 15 years. He has worked in the entertainment world for over 30 years. He shares the chair with Alex Cowan who has more than 30 years' experience in television, film production, museum and art exhibitions and the educational sector.

Andy Woods launched Gloucester's Guildhall arts centre for the City Council in 1988 and was its chief executive until 2004. He then launched and managed the lively Artrix arts centre in Bromsgrove. He is currently the secretary of Gloucester's Strike a Light Festival Trust.

Julie Wickham has worked in community engagement since 2005. For the past four years she has worked with staff and trustees at Stroud Valleys Project to triple the charity's unrestricted income.

Abi Wood spent 10 years working as a technician and stage manager. Before she moved to Stroud Abi worked 14 years an Arts Event Manager for the Barbican Centre.

Kate Kay is a retired solicitor with more than 30 years' experience in both the private and public sector. She has been a trustee of Strike a Light (which is an NPO Arts Council charity in Gloucester) for six years. It produces bi-annual spoken word and dance festivals in the city with particular emphasis on vulnerable and deprived communities.

They are all passionate about the Sub Rooms and its potential. For them it too has been a journey to learn to work together. None of them knew each other before embarking on the project.

But there is no doubt that they share a vision for the Subs and that they understand the challenges ahead.

"We're all passionate but we are also realistic. We've taken on a £0.5 million business and we have a certain amount of time to make it work," explains Hugh. "To make it work we need to ensure that the Subs is more than just a place where you go to. It has to go back to being the heart of Stroud, the town and the district."

Their priority is to give the Subs a bit of love - not to mention the staff who have had to cope with a great deal of uncertainty during the negotiations. It will be a quiet transition as they sort renovations, launch new community initiatives such as a pop-up café, called 'Stroud's living room'.

Work needs to be done to improve the sound quality of the venue. There will be a lot of initial renovation work.

They plan to ensure that the programme supports and celebrates culture and creativity of every kind with a range of live performances covering dance, comedy, rock and pop, jazz and classical, community clubs and groups and creative workshop sessions.

But make no mistake, these trustees have ambitions to put the Sub Rooms - and Stroud - firmly on the cultural map. They want to see it as a destination venue, a place where performers want to come to launch their tours. Their contact books would be the envy of any arts and entertainments venue.

The future for the Subs is just beginning and it's looking bright.

Visit the Subs

Find out what's on and book at thesubrooms.co.uk. Contact the Box Office on 01453 796880.

Be a Subscriber

Support the Subs Rooms by becoming a Subscriber. You can make a donation to the charity at thesubrooms.co.uk.

Join the team

Volunteers are vital to help the Subs be the best that it can be. You don't need to have a specialist skill to become a volunteer. A friendly smile, a reliable attitude and a desire to be part of the team is really all that the Trust is looking for. Details can be found here.

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