Stamford Corn Exchange celebrates 10 years of putting on a good show

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Staff and volunteers at a Stamford theatre are celebrating a decade of putting on performances following a huge restoration project.

Stamford Corn Exchange Theatre in Broad Street ranits first full season in 2008, following a huge restoration project, and this year marks its 10th year in full-time operation.

And despite having no outside funding and still relying on an army of volunteers, the theatre is continuing to go from strength-to-strength, pulling in big name artists while still supporting community productions.

Judith Mackie, general manager from Stamford Corn Exchange, said the trustees could never have imagined the success they would have after taking on the huge project.

“I don’t think any of us could have dreamed that we would be sitting here now with a full programme of artists for 2018 and with the theatre looking as it does,” Judith said.

“It’s been an incredible journey.”

When the Corn Exchange Theatre Company was formed in 2000, the trustees had a daunting task ahead of them. The theatre was in a poor state of repair and the first task was to raise the required funds.

The first task was to revamp what is now the Theatre Lounge to provide a source of income and that opened in 2004. The shop area, which is now Stamford Shopping Emporium and was previously Sukie’s Party Shop, was next on the agenda - again a source of income.

And the theatre itself required more than £1 million, to be raised to install the 399-seat raked auditorium, along with a disabled lift, orchestra pit and two bars.

Dressing rooms were added, thanks in part to an £80,000 shot in the arm from ITV programme the People’s Millions and now the theatre boasts six changing rooms, including a green room - a huge draw for incoming artists.

And the exterior of the building has been returned to its original state - a project that started in 2010 and remains a work in progress.

But today the main focus is on making sure people are sitting on seats watching the shows - and many of the volunteers that helped with the refurbishment are now selling drinks and snacks in the foyer - again to raise vital cash - or leaflet dropping.

But thanks to the high standard it has been finished to, gone are the days when Judith would spend hours on the telephone trying to attract artists to perform.

Now people contact her, such is the reputation the theatre has built and there is already a waiting list for 2019 of acts wanting to visit.

Judith said: “It’s absolutely amazing. The amount of acts that want to come here is just great and it continues to grow.”

That being said the theatre operates on what is known as a box-office split. If the theatre cannot sell the seats, the act walks away having not made any money - and nor does the theatre itself.

“We don’t make a lot of money from the shows themselves,” admits Judith. “It’s always acts taking the chance that we are going to be able to shift the seats. But our motto is to find something for everybody and it’s about bringing the community together.”

The theatre has come in for criticism for running a lot of tribute acts - something that is the bread and butter of the Corn Exchange.

Judith says they remain popular with people just looking to have a sing and dance and enjoy themselves but she is keen to build on the theatre’s growing reputation as an intimate comedy venue.

In the next few months alone, the theatre will play host to such well-known acts as Phil Jupitus, Rich Hall and Tom Allen and another big name is in the pipeline for some warm-up gigs ahead of a national tour.

And a stand-up monthly comedy gig is set to launch on March 1 in the Theatre Lounge with tickets costing just £5 each, making it affordable for students.

The theatre is also home to many community productions. The amateur dramatics groups that have always been the backbone of the theatre continue to perform and there is a packed programme of schools holding events there.

The theatre is also soon to support the Phoebe Research Fund by hosting a production of Kes, starring Coronation Street actor Steven Arnold.

Despite the fact Stamford is also home to Stamford Arts Centre, the Corn Exchange is regularly attracting more than 600 people a week with Judith’s main goal to make sure every performance is half full - at the very least.

She is now assisted by Jan Schley, who works full-time as duty manager, as Judith herself has put in hundreds of voluntary hours over the last 10 years.

Despite the theatre costing in the region of £250,000 a year to run, the volunteers are still not resting on their laurels.

As a registered charity any spare cash goes into a pot and Judith has set her sights on a fly tower which will enable the stage curtains to be lifted up and down, allowing the theatre to stage more musicals.

And funds are raised by hiring out the Theatre Lounge for private hire - and now the venue and the theatre itself are licenced to hold weddings. Volunteers can often be found working away behind the scenes to lay on a spectacular - and often themed - day for the bride and groom.

Volunteers are always needed whether it’s to help at front of house or in the box office - or even delivering a few promotional flyers.

To find out more about what’s on at the Corn Exchange or getting involved as a volunteer, visit www.stamfordcornexchange.co.uk or call 01780 766455.