'Let's bring more big touring shows to Doncaster'

The Free press round table on culture and entertainment at the Dome
The Free press round table on culture and entertainment at the Dome

More big name touring shows and exhibitions should be brought to borough, believe panelists taking part in the latest Doncaster Free Press round table discussion, on culture and entertainment.

And cultural experts would welcome the re-opening of the Grand Theatre if it was to prove possible in the future, it is revealed in the second part of the report of our event, held at the Dome. Meanwhile, there are plans for a touring pop-up cinema.

Our panel was made up of Nick Stopforth, head of libraries and culture at Doncaster Council; Ed Miliband, Doncaster North MP; Sally Lockey, project director, Right Up Our Street; Sian Dudley, head of marketing, Cast; Nik Pey, marketing manager, Doncaster Culture and Leisure Trust; Nikki Griffiths, director of sales, Doncaster Racecourse; Dominic Gibbs, Director, Diamond Live Lounge; and John Willis, promoter, Roots Music Club.

What sort of cultural activities should we have on offer in Doncaster?

Sally Lockey: In recent years we've had a project called Cosy Cinema in Mexborough. There's been a real need I feel in communities outside the town centre for access to a cinema in the outlying communities. it was trialled in Mexborough and worked really well for a period of time. They now have not as much funding as they had before so I've started initial conversations with the BFI looking to see if we can have a borough wide touring pop-up cinema that moves around working men's clubs across the borough because I think film is something that people really get and can engage. People want to be able to access it in their own communities so that 's something we certainly want to get behind

John Willis: I think the more things you can go outdoors on the street, art exhibitions, mime, theatre, music, you name it, in public space, so its highly visible and, so that it's around them on a shopping day.

Nikki Griffiths: I know its not finalised yet. but I think the 360 Media plan for a film studio at High Melton, if is the final choice for that site, would be so exciting for us as a town. It has the potentialto drive Doncaster from an engagement of students perspective. The excitement might engage young people in film and technology and have that aspiration without having to leave Doncaster to do it, which I think is potentially a great thing.

Dominic Gibb: That's the good side, but I've seen the bad side of the college leaving High Melton. I give my venue up for free to Doncaster College so the students have somewhere to rehearse and put a show on because they don't have the space. The college should have somewhere for them to rehearse and put plays on. Hopeful this comes off because that would be something good, but it's out of something bad - the college are always going to suffer for not having the space any more.

Sian Dudley: For culture and events, I think having really large scale international and world class events in Doncaster is important, so I think more west end tours, more iconic exhibitions that tour. I'd love to get Dippy the Dinosaur, things you shouldn't really have to head down the M1 and go to London to see.,

Nik Pey: You go off to see a show for the experience in a big theatre but if its on your own doorstep would you still make that trip? The Dome's been here for 25 years, but people still go to different facilities. We've got a brilliant facility on the doorstep. If you do get a show. how do you maintain that buzz that its here? We've had a lot of theatre shows here, we've had Annie, Blood Brothers. How do we educate people to see that its as a good a show as you'd see at the West End, but at the Dome or Cast

DG: Can we get that sort of show? The perception on the street is that the theatres are not big enough and that's why we're trying to get the Grand back up

SD: Last May we had the West End tour of Woman in Black, in a few weeks we've got Spamalot. We've got The Lyric Hammersmith's production of Midsummer Night's Dream, so yes we get world class stuff coming to Cast.

DG: So why are we trying to open the Grand Theatre?

Nick Stopforth: The Grand Theatre is a building which, with a grade listing deserves to be part of our recognised heritage. If we can work with the owners to see it opened in the future it has huge potential in terms of its location and its connectivity to retail. It could be used in multiple different ways around being an arts venue, there could be different types of theatrical opportunities there that complement Cast, and would be part of our overall plans for growth, so that it's not detrimental for Cast just as I don't want the library and museum to be detrimental to Cast. If we want more people coming into Doncaster, more people spending in Doncaster and more people staying in Doncaster, there has to be a range of opportunity there. That's why partership working is so important to understand what the range of the offer is so we can grow that collectively.

JW: Doncaster has knocked town too many of its old buildings and that for me has to stop, If you go back 50 or 60 years and look at Doncaster and Chester, think of the perception, they would have been twin towns in many ways, Chester has preserved and enhanced its heritage and kept it. Doncaster sadly has knocked a lot of the good bits down. I think that's a great shame, and that ought not to go any further. That site should not be given to a developer.

NS: There would have to be a clear business case that goes alongside it if the Grand was re-opened It needs to be sustainable. There would have to be the inward investment to restore it and then a business plan working with a company or a community group that shows that it can sustain itself.

SD: If a new theatre was to open in Doncaster tomorrow it would be great. If you have a restaurant, and another restaurant next door it doesn't mean you split your audience in half, it means more people are coming to eat food there. I think having a greater cultural ecology in Doncaster is fantastic and important . We just have to think about what is sensible for that building. Sometimes it gets confused in this conversation with nostalgia towards our heritage buildings which I think is important and that we have to acknowledge, but how do we mix that as part of the conversation about the exciting new things that we're doing, or how do we use those buildings. How do we use arts and culture to invigorate and enliven spaces?

NS: And that's not just about about buildings, its also about other spaces and communities. Its about the opportunities that buildings like Cast and the new museum present and also what do we do on the street and in our shops and businesses and our parks and so on.

Ed Miliband: The range of activities is important. It's not that there's only one type of culture. It is the diversity that's so important. People like different things and there is not one bit of culture that's better than another. I think its an important of part of any project to make that clear..

DG: If your pulling those figures in that's amazing and needs to be shouted about because there is a perception that its not big enough.

NS: We've had the most successful panto we've had this year. That's arts and culture.

SD: The important thing is that people get used to coming to Doncaster. If we have a big comedian one year, then we have him the next year, they get used to coming to comedy in Doncaster. That's why I think this partnership approach which I think is quite unique for Doncaster is important. Other towns and cities I've worked in I think are not as joining up as Doncaster. People are not territorial . We all want the place to succeed and that's something that comes across in every meeting.

NP: If we're trying to improve the culture of the town we have to work together.

NS: That has to include people who live in in Mexborough, Thorne, the villages. The town centre can have a massive pull but we need to sell that as a benefit and value to all our residents.

EM: But we also have to take it outside the town centre - that's really important. There are other venues that are outside the town centre. Its important to bring things to the town centre but also take it out to the whole borough.

SL: We're part of a network called Without Walls, and they all deliver activity in town centres. We offer a festival in Balby, in a working men's club car park and they were all flabbergasted when I was talking about that.

SD: Doncaster is England's largest borough. One of Cast's major things is how do we serve that full borugh. Its massive. We should be acting that way.

NS: Its the size of Iceland. If you look at Icelands tourism economy based on certain specific themes, the noise, the culture specifics, cultural and arts has to be fundamental to its core business. It is our DNA.