Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds

Suffolk County Council Cuts Spending for Arts & Culture

Posted on: 3rd January, 2024

Suffolk County Council has announced that they will cut all investment in the Arts and Culture sector from 1st April 2025. For Theatre Royal, this leaves them just over 12 months to plan for a £100,000 reduction in funding.

Investment in the arts, culture and creativity is investment in our communities, our businesses and our people. Theatre Royal’s funding from Suffolk County Council is entirely invested in their Community Engagement programmes supporting the County’s most vulnerable residents.  This cut comes at a time when venues are still recovering from the effects of the Covid 19 closure and the current economic climate, this is devasting news for Artistic Director Owen Calvert-Lyons.

“Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds has played a vital role in West Suffolk for 200 years. The proposed cut from Suffolk County Council poses a very real threat. Local authority budgets are under extreme pressure, and we understand that councils are having to make difficult decisions, but ceasing to invest in arts and culture is short-term thinking. At Theatre Royal we deliver after-school drama clubs, teach literacy projects in schools, provide spaces for the elderly to stay warm over winter – these were all once the work of Local Authorities. Our services, and those of the wider Arts and Culture sector, represent fantastic value for money. These cuts will have a major impact on our theatre and the savings generated are miniscule compared to the value of our cultural offer.  Ultimately, this is about quality of life. Suffolk has always been a great place to live because of the work of organisations like ours. Without arts and culture, Suffolk will be a far poorer place to live. If you are a Suffolk-resident, I urge you to contact your local councillor to express your concern at these cuts.”

Theatre Royal is a registered charity, the only working Regency theatre, one of only six Grade-I listed theatres in England, the only theatre in the National Trust’s portfolio and considered to be one of the cultural sector’s crown jewels. Theatre Royal is a major cultural and social asset and a key part of West Suffolk’s culture, heritage & tourism offer.

In April last year, Theatre Royal became part of Arts Council England’s National Portfolio of cultural organisations. The investment from Suffolk County Council underpins the ACE funding and could not be replaced.

Roger Quince, Chair of Theatre Royal’s Board of Trustees fears for the impact on employees “This is really bad news.  We have made great strides in recent years, not just in overcoming the problems created by Covid but in reaching many disadvantaged groups within the communities we serve.  Much of this work has been funded by the County Council, whose contribution we have been able to leverage with matched funding from other sources. These sources themselves may now be threatened.  With a small staff team of only 25, who have worked tirelessly over the past few years to recover from Covid and get Theatre Royal back on its feet, the loss of County Council investment will be devastating for all of us.”

The cultural and creative industries generate over £272m for our region and contribute immeasurably to the visitor economy, community wellbeing, sense of identity and enjoyment of life at its every stage.

Theatre Royal is the only producing theatre in West Suffolk, reaching 85,000 audience members each year. This loss of funding will impact on Theatre Royal’s crucial work in our community. Over the last 5 years Theatre Royal has reached over 300,000 people through their performing arts and creative learning offers. Their annual Doorstep Festival has toured high quality theatre to schools across rural Suffolk reaching over 10,000 primary school pupils. Their year-round Youth Theatre provides a creative education programme for young people aged 6-22 from all backgrounds, particularly those who are learning disabled & neurodivergent through the SENsory Youth Theatre programme. Their Tiny Plays, BIG IDEAS programme, has taught over one thousand primary school children to write their first play.

Through close partnerships with specialist organisations such as Women’s Aid, Bury Drop-In, Suffolk Young Carers, GeeWizz, Mind, Age UK, Julian Support, Suffolk Artlink, The Mix in Stowmarket, the Benjamin Foundation in Thetford and The Hub in Mildenhall, Theatre Royal have specialised in working with vulnerable people to make their voices heard through performing arts.

A shared statement from DanceEast, Eastern Angles Theatre Company, First Light Festival, The New Wolsey Theatre, Primadonna Festival, Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds, and Suffolk Artlink – the local organisations impacted by Suffolk County’s proposal to cease investment in the cultural sector from April 2025. ‘Whilst we will need some time to consider the full impact of these proposals, our immediate concern is how any decision might impact the people of Suffolk. The proposed cut to these organisations will provide an extremely modest difference to the Council’s overall finances, representing a saving of just 0.057% of the Council’s 23/24 revenue budget.  However, the ‘cost’ to our County will be so much more significant. Collectively, our organisations support 24,493 children and young people and 76,516 vulnerable** people through our community engagement work.  We also provide permanent employment for 154 staff, and project or contract employment for a further 499 staff.  Suffolk-wide, the culture sector plays an important part in providing employment for local people, with almost 6,985 jobs* being supported by the sector. Our organisations, both collectively and individually, call on Suffolk County Council to consider the merit of a small cost saving, compared to the huge impact this will have on communities across Suffolk who benefit from our work.’


“As Theatre Royal’s Life Patron, I am deeply shocked to hear of the proposed cut to its funding by Suffolk County Council. Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds plays a vital role in the lives of so many, especially those most vulnerable. The removal of this support is heart-breaking, regional theatre is the foundation of British theatre and its place in our lives must be protected.”

Dame Judi Dench, Life Patron TRBSE


*New Anglia LEP Cultural Evidence report April 2021 Evidence Report

**those over 65, or with disabilities, in receipt of means tested benefits or who are rurally isolated.

Names and contact details of your local Suffolk County Councillor can be found here Find your councillor – Suffolk County Council


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