The Kenton Theatre hosted its AGM on Tuesday evening this week at the theatre and online.
Chair of the Board of the Trustees, Julie Huntington welcomed the audience before introducing the current Board of Trustees who came then came on to the stage.
The accounts reported a contained loss of £35,000 for the last financial year. Vice Chair, Claire Hewitt, talked about the current economic and financial environment which has seen scores of theatres fail and close their doors for the last time. Theatres and performing companies have seen their costs rise and have not wanted to put up ticket prices substantially in order not to dissuade audiences from coming to the theatre. So, profitability has been hit hard, and it continues to be a fundamental issue for the Kenton – and for all theatres. Claire Hewitt said: “The Kenton Board of Trustees and Theatre Manager are continuously looking for ways to reduce costs and to increase income. We are looking at all costs – staff costs, maintenance costs, IT costs to keep them as low as possible, as well as reviewing the balance of programmes, bar revenue, audience numbers and revenue share from professional shows, in order to optimise income. However, ticket sales and on-site income alone will not cover the running costs of the theatre. The Board is working towards a more sustainable business model, which will include seeking all manner of grants and fundraising of all kinds. We are also exploring new ways to diversify our income, developing additional revenue streams, developing and diversifying our audiences alongside building mutually beneficial partnerships with key organisations in Henley.”
New Theatre Manager
Lottie Pheasant, Theatre Manager, presented an overview of activity in the theatre since stepping into the role in March. There has been a focus on reviewing all financial aspects of the theatre which has included implementing a staff re-structure to support the changing needs of the theatre’s operation and provide the resilience the Kenton needs to be sustainable into the future. Significant progress has been made in improving health and safety in the building and it was confirmed that a grant of £20k had been secured from the Anthony Lane Foundation to replace both boilers. The Anthony Lane Foundation has also provided a grant of £12k to build a new website which will overcome the highly problematic technical issues of the current website and will feature a new visual identity for the theatre. A member has also made a significant donation towards the website project.
Lottie said, “It has been really tough since I joined. The role hasn’t been easy at all and it has been set against a difficult financial backdrop. I’m currently wearing quite a number of hats including the vacant Company Secretary, secretarial and marketing roles and it’s been difficult with John (our Treasurer) being off sick. I’ve been implementing a lot of change and as we all know many of us struggle with change and I probably haven’t been the most popular person at times. What I have been struck by is the level of support from the local community for the Kenton and how loved and treasured it is. I think winning the Muddy Stilettos Best Theatre award really reinforces that. I am also struck by the support of the Board of Trustees, staff, volunteers, members and also people in the wider community that want to see me succeed in this role and more importantly see the Kenton succeed who have been incredibly generous with their time and professional advice. I’m really grateful for that. It has made a difficult job more achievable and more like a team effort.”
Volunteers, Ecologically and Economically Sustainable
Steph Maxwell, Trustee and Volunteer Co-ordinator, explained that the Kenton heavily relies on its wonderful volunteers to be able to put on all of the shows. 20 new volunteers were recruited since the recruitment drive back in March to bring the current level of volunteers to 92 but the theatre is aiming to increase this level to 150 by the end of the year with another recruitment drive happening in the near future. Anyone who is interested in learning more about volunteering opportunities at Kenton Theatre can email email@example.com.
Sarah Bell, Trustee, spoke about the theatre industry going green and how the Kenton is finding ways to improve their carbon footprint. The Arts Council is encouraging all theatres to be as ecologically and economically sustainable as possible, and with their sustainability mission statement in place, the theatre will have a better chance of securing future restoration grants. Small changes can result in long term savings. The theatre has made a start by replacing old lights with new motion sensor lighting. All single use plastics will soon be a thing of the past, and they will be buying local wherever possible – and that is just the beginning. The theatre is over two hundred years old and to ensure its viability for future generations, the Kenton knows it needs to act now.
Julie Huntington, Chair, stated that a skills audit for the Board had been carried out and she had been overwhelmed by the calibre of the people who had come forward to become a Trustee, which is a testament to the value that the people of Henley put on the Kenton Theatre. There were six vacancies on the Board of Trustees and ten nominees in this year’s Trustee elections. Members voted John Beckerleg and Laura Law onto the Board for their first terms as Trustees having been co-opted in September 2022 and June 2023 respectively. Sarah Bell was elected for a second term as a Trustee and Tara Macleod and Fiona Sanderson were voted in as new Trustees and will start their first terms.
John is a qualified accountant with over 40 years’ experience, mainly in the public sector (both local and central government), with turnovers of over £500m. He has served on senior leadership teams and contributed to the sound financial management of organisations and their corporate and business development. John has run a management consultancy undertaking a range of assignments for organisations as varied as the Youth Justice Board, South Downs National Park, The Royal College of Radiologists, and the Bar Council.
Laura’s professional experience as a general commercial lawyer of over 10 years (currently Group Head of Legal for a company based in Hurley with over 70 companies in 20 countries). Laura is also Chair of Henley Youth Festival. Laura is passionate about supporting the local community and increasing volunteers from younger generations and is a member of the Henley Volunteer Network initiative.
Sarah Bell is a current Trustee at the end of her first term and was very eager to continue in her role for a second term. There have been a lot of changes in her term, and she feels privileged to have been a part of the Kenton team responsible for steering the theatre’s recovery through the later stages of the pandemic and beyond. As part of the trustee’s Building and Fabric working group, Sarah is looking into ways of furthering sustainability, improving the energy output and the theatre’s carbon footprint.
Tara is a volunteer and is keen to use her skills and experience in marketing to help raise the Kenton’s profile and improve its success. She is currently working with the new Theatre Manager, in a voluntary capacity, on some key marketing activities including customer feedback, branding, audience development and redeveloping the Friends scheme. Tara believes it is particularly important for young people continue to have access to the theatre and to be inspired by what it provides and to ensure its future and place in Henley.
Fiona has a thorough knowledge of the arts, in a distinguished career in TV and film spanning some 25 years, working as a business leader, journalist and filmmaker. As founder and CEO of The Luxury Channel, for the last 15 years Fiona has been lucky enough to film and curate features across a broad spectrum of the arts. She has a deep understanding of international marketing and communication, tight deadlines, and budget restrictions, and has a finger firmly on the digital pulse. From strategic business plans to client pitches, Fiona has been responsible for delivering new business to a broad range of companies. As a Trustee of Lewa Wildlife Conservancy Fiona is proud to have sat on a Board that has exceeded budgetary expectations.
Kenton for Keeps
At the end of the meeting, Julie Huntington formally announced the re-launch of the Kenton for Keeps fundraising campaign to raise £500K over 2 years. It was highly successful during the purchase of the freehold of the Theatre and raised over £35k during lockdown.
Julie then thanked Trustee Claire Hewitt for her outstanding contribution to the Board and the Kenton over the last six years as her second three-year term came to an end but she would continue to be on the working group.
Afterwards members were invited to ask questions – Would there be another increase in hire rates for community groups (they currently receive a 50% off the professional rate and this is frozen until 2025) as it may mean this will make it impossible for some local groups to perform at the theatre in the future? Whether money should be spent on branding? and suggestions on how the theatre should be promoted better.
Members voted in favour to pay an annual subscription of £25 and that next year’s AGM would only be in person.