When the Barrington Theatre closed suddenly on Friday 20th January it was as if the heart had been ripped out of the town.
However, thanks to Prama Life – a community outreach programme which is under the umbrella of the Prama Foundation – coming to the rescue, the community centre was re-opened the following week. Six months on it is buzzing and looking forward to an even healthier future.
“There were cash flow problems. We had staged some expensive shows and grants from East Dorset District Council – who still own the bricks and mortar – was reducing year on year. The centre isn’t designed to make money, but the grant from EDDC doesn’t even cover the electricity bill.”
“The centre is an ideal base for outreach for Ferndown and east Dorset.”
Andy said: “Bookings are buoyant. We have 82 per cent occupancy, but there is still space to accommodate more community activities.”
He added that they still attract stars such as Marty Wilde.
He said he was delighted that for the first time Ringwood Musical and Dramatic Society would be using the venue later in the year.
Activities at the Barrington are too numerous to mention, but one rather unique one is a free cinema every Monday afternoon, with special screenings for school children during the holidays. You will need to check with the box office for details of the movies.
“The films help with social isolation as people make new friends,” said Andy, adding that they do have a bucket for donations.
Funding the centre is all important.
“Prama are always competing for grant funding and we rely on donations and income from our charity shops. We are not for profit so everything is ploughed back into the charity,” said Paula.
On 5th August there is a variety evening at the Barrington to raise funds for the centre.
“We even have a local woman, Janet Wormwell, who is going on a 10-day trek to Kilimanjaro to raise funds for us,” said Andy.
Paula did warn that there would inevitably have to be price increases on hiring of the halls, but that regular users and those on low incomes would be eligible for discounts.
She said they would start offering social clubs for older people – such as dementia clubs, but that it was also important that some activities should be inter-generational.
The Town Centre Strategy for Ferndown will be a boost for the Barrington as one of the most important aims for the long term regeneration of the town centre will be improvement to Penny’s Walk.
This would include a more positive frontage for the Barrington and the extension of the cafe to provide a large café/bar.
At the moment the café closes at 3pm, but it is hoped in the very near future to extend the hours to 4pm or 4.30pm.
It opens at 8.30am and Andy said people sit in the Tesco foyer waiting for the café to open for breakfast.
“We may even open in the evening in the future,” he added.
The Ferndown Town Centre Strategy proposes replacing the nearby public toilets with three units, the loos being re-housed at the Barrington.
A market would take place in Penny’s Walk, with the Barrington providing a café .
The Barrington relies on assistance from volunteers and they have 12 active ones on their books doing a variety of jobs.
However, they always need more.