10 ways to help save Berkshire’s arts scene

PUBLISHED: 12:29 10 September 2020 | UPDATED: 20:16 22 September 2020

South Hill Park
Photo: Alex Harvey-Brown

South Hill Park Photo: Alex Harvey-Brown


This year has been the most challenging of times for theatres across the globe, but there’s lots you can do to help Berkshire’s arts scene, from using their cafes to making a donation...

Shaw House  Photo: Joe Low/West Berkshire CouncilShaw House Photo: Joe Low/West Berkshire Council

Join a virtual event at Shaw House, Newbury

Grade I listed multi-purpose event venue Shaw House is back open for outdoor performances and exhibitions. Their open-air sculpture exhibition, Altered States, runs until late September. A spokesperson for West Berkshire Heritage said: “Your donations are always gratefully received and now, more than ever, they play a vital role in helping us to maintain our historic buildings, conserve and develop our collections and provide educational and outreach programmes for the community. No matter the size, your contribution will go a long way to supporting our aim to promote and nurture our local heritage for generations to come.” There are also some digital events (talks, tours, spoken word) on at West Berkshire Museum.

Enjoy dinner at The Mill at Sonning

While the theatre at The Mill at Sonning remains closed, you can help support them for the sake of their survival by putting your tickets on credit. You can also dine in their riverside restaurant, which is a new venture for The Mill, with a delicious À La Carte menu designed by Head Chef Mark Pocz-Nagy. The daytime Waterwheel Bar is also open Wednesday to Saturday, where you can tuck into artisan coffee, homemade cakes and hot bar food.

Managing Director Sally Hughes said: “Opening without the shows and in such difficult times was an exciting but nerve-racking time for The Mill staff. If you have visited us already, thank you so much for supporting us. If you haven’t tried us yet, please do. We are working very hard to secure new dates for our shows.”

See a live performance at South Hill Park, Bracknell

“Whilst these still remain challenging times for the arts sector, as a multi-art form venue, South Hill Park was able to plan for a range of socially distanced performances and events throughout the autumn,” says Chief Executive Craig Titley. “Courses and workshops in both the visual and performing arts resumed in September and we have put together a programme of cinema screenings from October. We will also present some live music – jazz, popular and classical – as well as stand-up comedy in the Wilde Theatre in October and November.” The bar and restaurant have also re-opened.

Like many theatres, South Hill Park has had to postpone their pantomime to 2021, but they are hopeful that they will be able to offer families an exciting alternative to enjoy over the festive season. “At the heart of everything we do we must keep our staff, audiences, tutors and performing artists safe, and have implemented several measures to ensure the site is Covid-19 secure and a safe place to visit and work,” adds Craig.

“Our ability to partially re-open the arts centre is a positive step forward but it will not be enough to cover the £1.2m annual running costs, so our fundraising campaign continues.”

Watch an old film at the Old Court, Windsor

The bar area and the cinema have re-opened at the Old Court. “We are taking advantage of the reduced number of new film releases to introduce some critically acclaimed foreign language films for the first time, in keeping with our arts centre setting,” says Marketing Manager Helen Ritchie. “All events and films will be held in our auditorium and the seating will be around socially distanced tables with a table bar service.” On 3 October, Berkshire Singer of the Year will be live-streamed as part of the Virtual Windsor Festival and is in collaboration with Berkshire Maestros. And on 17 October, Keith James presents an honest and loving reflection of the timeless and insightful music of Yusuf/Cat Stevens in the auditorium. There will also be an arts exhibition on display of Cynthia Barlow-Marrs until 14 October, which will be followed by Slough Arts Society 15 October–25 November.

“As a community interest company we are looking at how to encourage donations but have been incredibly grateful for the support of the local community in not all requesting refunds for films and other events that have had to be rescheduled,” says Helen.

Book tickets for the panto at Theatre Royal Windsor

Theatre Royal Windsor are going ahead with their traditional annual pantomime this Christmas. Theatre Royal Windsor’s co-directors Anne-Marie and Jon Woodley said: “After such a difficult year for all of us, we have been absolutely overwhelmed by the support of our audiences and are thrilled to be able to repay their kindness by finding a way to present our much-loved pantomime. It goes without saying that the safety of our audiences, staff and performers is paramount and we will be following government advice at all times ensuring your enjoyment and peace of mind! Roll on Cinderella!”

With social distanced seating in place to ensure the safety of their audiences, this will limit the usual number of seats available. Theatre Royal Windsor believe pantomime is such an important and beloved family tradition, and in a year where so many families might miss out, they are adding an additional week of performances so as many people as possible can experience that panto magic. They are also still due to go ahead with their season starring Sir Ian McKellen, featuring Hamlet and The Cherry Orchard – further details and performance dates are to be announced.

Make a donation to The Water Mill Theatre, Bagnor

The Water Mill is asking for financial support to help the beautiful theatre get back on its feet. They are also presenting a limited re-opening season featuring shows with smaller cast sizes, reduced capacity inside the auditorium and socially distanced seating. Until 17 October, you can see Bloodshot, a one-man show performed by award-winning composer and actor Simon Slater, who moves effortlessly from ukulele to saxophone with even the odd conjuring trick. And from 21 October-21 November, watch Lone Flyer: The Last Flight of Amy Johnson, a powerful play about one of the most inspirational women of the 20th century.

During this re-opening season, they will be serving a two-course pre-show meal. Cream teas are available after matinée performances. The bar will also be open.

Try a new workshop at the Corn Exchange and The Base in Newbury

The Corn Exchange has reopened with socially distanced performances, including the popular Corn Exchange Comedy Club. Their programme of films has also returned, with screenings taking place in both the cinema and the main auditorium. There will also be a range of broadcasts screened, including popular NT Live titles, musicals and documentaries.

The Base, at Greenham Business Park, is also re-opening, with an exhibition celebrating much-loved illustrator Quentin Blake and his 50-year literary partnership with John Yeoman. The dedicated workshop space, The Lookout Studio, has a wide range of workshops on offer, including willow-weaving, lino-printing, glass-fusing and jewellery-making, as well as festive inspired workshops, such as creating Christmas candle holders, wire robins and knitting a festive wreath. Young visitors aged seven to 12 can take inspiration in the exhibition in the Create Your Own Comic Book Character course in November.

Katy Griffiths, director of the Corn Exchange Newbury, which also runs activities at The Base, says: “The team, our artists and practitioners have worked hard behind the scenes to prepare for reopening and this new season of events. We know the arts has a positive impact on our community and we can’t wait to welcome visitors back once again.”

Plan a night out for 2021 through Reading Arts

The Hexagon has postponed the 2020/21 pantomime, however 
it will return for the Christmas season in 2021/22. Steve 
Boden, managing director of 
the Imagine Theatre, says: “We are disappointed that we will be unable to stage the pantomime in the Hexagon this Christmas but are delighted that this is only a temporary postponement and that Justin Fletcher and Paul Morse will star in Beauty and the Beast in December 2021.” All existing tickets will transfer over to the relevant 2021/2022 performances where possible.

Book for future shows, such as Diversity live at The Hexagon in April 2021. Reading Arts is also live streaming events. You can become a member and be a part of Reading Arts’ exciting future, plus you can buy gift vouchers.

Reading Museum has officially reopened too with a time-slot booking system online.

Sponsor a seat at Norden Farm, Maidenhead

After five long months of being closed to the public, The Farm doors are back open and some events and workshops and back up and running. You can also enjoy a socially distanced drink and bite to eatin the Cafe Bar. In an online statement, Jane Corry, Chief Executive and Artistic Director, said: “The future is uncertain and ever changing. None of us can be sure of what the world will be like in even a week’s time... The fate of Norden Farm is dependent on the continuation of support from you, our Norden Farm-ily. The many kindnesses you’ve shown The Farm throughout this crisis has given us hope.”

If you want to help, while also leaving your mark on Norden Farm, name a seat in the Courtyard Theatre for your family, for a friend or for you. You can also sign up to be a member of The Farm.

Visit the sculpture exhibition at Arlington Arts

Arlington Arts has been lucky enough to be able to reopen in September. General manager Emily McAuley says: “We have our first live music gig on 25 September, Big Boss Man. Social distancing measures have been put in place, including e-tickets, one-way systems and staggered entry times, so customers can come and enjoy an evening of live music in a safe environment.

“We are also delighted to be supporting local dance school ACE Dance Studios and VoxFresh Choir, as they both required temporary homes to run their weekly timetables.

“Finally, we welcome local artists Paul Forsey and Jim Crockatt with their exhibition, Structures of Faith.

“There will be more challenges to overcome as we move into the season – however, we are ready to move forward, so can continue to entertain the community and support Mary Hare School.”

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