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Issue 344 – Community pulling together for the future of the Merlin

THE future of Frome’s Merlin Theatre is starting to look brighter, with the introduction of a new arts strategy in Frome and members of the community turning out to support the venue.

Last year, the future of the Merlin hung in the balance as Somerset County Council announced its county-wide cut to arts funding. For the Merlin, this saw a deficit of around £100,000 per year.
Over the next year, dedicated local groups will put on a variety of entertainment at the Merlin; donating 100 per cent of their proceeds to the theatre.
In December, Frome Town Council signed off a budget that will see £5,000 injected into the development of an arts strategy, to drive the arts provision forward in Frome.
While Merlin Theatre’s director, Claudia Peplar, describes last year as “the most horrific year in the history of the theatre” she admits that slowly, it’s starting to look up.
“We’ve had a hard time last year,” she said. “I think we all had to accept that the Merlin was going to change after the arts cuts and once we got our head around that, we could really start to address what needed to be done to ensure the survival of the theatre.”
Call for volunteers

Claudia says that in this month alone, three staff will be laid off. “It’s a tough decision, but we have to do something,” she said. “Around 20 years ago, the theatre was run with help from volunteers and I’m hoping that people will be willing to help out once again.
“It’s as if we are moving forward, but also taking a step backwards, looking at how the theatre was run all those years ago. We have groups coming on board just so they can raise funds for the theatre by putting on performances – it’s the perfect example of the community pulling together.”
Claudia is also optimistic about a new arts strategy for Frome, which could see the implementation of a Frome-wide box office; a collective point where tickets for all shows and performances in the town are available. She commented, “I think it would be great to have a presence in the town centre. It cannot be a bad thing.”
While the funding for the theatre has dried up, Claudia and the scaled down Merlin team are looking to ascertain possible funds from an arts council grant. “We’ve submitted an application that could see some funds supplied towards a new business model at the theatre,” said Claudia. “We are just waiting to hear back from the authority dealing with the grants, this should be around mid-February.”
• If you would like to volunteer your time at the Merline Theatre you can contact the team on 01373 465949. For a full run down of what’s coming up at the Merlin, visit their website at

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