SAVE THE CONNAUGHT Big Society could save Worthing theatre

Jon Woodley
Jon Woodley

COULD this man be the Connaught Theatre’s saviour?

The spotlight has been firmly fixed on theatre consultant Jon Woodley, 26, from Worthing, after he stepped in to spearhead the campaign to keep the Connaught open.

He told fellow campaigners there was no point in just protesting – they also had to offer a solution.

Mr Woodley, whose mother, Kim, ran Broadwater Manor School, Worthing, believed the best way forward was to form a not-for-profit registered charity, overseen by a board of local trustees, to run the Connaught, and possibly the town’s other entertainment venues.

Theatre petition

Thousands of people had signed Save our Theatres petitions after the Herald exclusively revealed that the Connaught could close next January as the council sought to slash costs.

Council leader Paul Yallop said the town could no longer afford to spend £3,000 a day subsidising the theatres.

Mr Woodley, who lives in Windsor with his fiancée, Anne-Marie Clarke, was a member of Worthing Youth Theatre, which performed at the Connaught, before becoming a casual stage technician at the Union Place complex.

He then attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and had since worked with many well-known theatres and companies, including the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal Opera House, the National Theatre of Ireland, Bill Kenwright Ltd, and Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.

Solution needed

Mr Woodley said: “I feel passionately because I was born and bred in the town.

“Lots of people are signing petitions, a website has been set up, and people are writing to the paper.

“But we cannot just scream and shout about this, we need to offer a solution.”

“We want people to support the campaign rather than just saying ‘somebody has got to do something’. We are saying we can do something.

“Various businesses around Worthing have offered support, from business consultants to legal companies. People are saying ‘how can we help you do this?’

Mr Woodley said the Connaught had been successfully run by a trust before.

Cost consideration

He also drew inspiration from Worthing’s Dome cinema, which was a classic example of what could be done if people united to save something they cared about.

He had spoken to council leader Paul Yallop and hoped to have a face-to-face meeting with him before a council cabinet meeting on Monday, March 21, when the issue would be debated in public.

Mr Woodley wanted the £1.2 million subsidy to the town’s theatres explained more clearly.

He said: “Last year, 408,000 people went through the doors, and even if they only paid an average of £5 a ticket that’s more than £2 million.”

“Are we really saying it costs £3.2 million to run these venues?”