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Fast-forward into a brighter future for the new-look Brewhouse

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: August 28, 2014

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BURTON people love the Brewhouse arts centre, but the venue hasn't always been used to its full potential and needed a few fresh ideas.

That's the verdict after East Staffordshire Borough Council brought in Derby's QUAD (a venue that has become the creative heart of its arts community) for expert advice on the Brewhouse.

Former QUAD chief executive Keith Jeffrey led a detailed look at what has and hasn't worked at the Brewhouse. That challenge has since been taken up by his successor at QUAD Adam Buss, who has been with the venue since it opened in 2008.

Now, the Brewhouse is about to use QUAD's insight to build a new future for itself with an official launch of a new programme on September 4.

Adam says: "The Brewhouse is open for business. There is a lot of exciting stuff going forward. We want people to come, enjoy the activities and let us know what they think."

QUAD's recommendations for the venue come after discussions with a wide range of participants.

Adam says: "We did a lot of audience research and had several workshops at the Brewhouse. The vast majority of people had real affection for the venue and loved some of the activities that had happened before.

"They felt a real connection with the venue but everyone wanted to see more activity in that space and more people engaging with the work.

"We recognised that there was a lot of potential – there is a good feel to the Brewhouse. But when it is at its best is when it's busy, buzzing and people have been interacting and that hasn't happened enough.

"But people feel it is their space and want to see it as a hub for Burton and that's what it should be going forward.

"Things didn't happen overnight for us so it will take time. QUAD opened in 2008 and fully hit its stride in 2009-10. What we have tried to highlight to the borough council and the Brewhouse team is that this is the start of a journey. Within a year though we hope to see significant change.

"At QUAD there is always a spirit of change and endeavour. We work with audiences closely and new ideas come forward and we react to those. We hope to see that happening at the Brewhouse."

QUAD's research identified some of the key issues with The Brewhouse.

Adam says: "It has been under-used and we want to make it a community hub for Burton.

"There have been several different approaches to programming. There have been a lot of fantastic events that have taken place but they have sometimes not been repeated or built on.

"So we looked at what has worked and not worked and at the type of programme that's out there."

QUAD brought in Simon Hollingsworth, an arts programmer who has worked with venues like the Lincoln Drill Hall to help.

Adam says: "Because Simon is programming a number of smaller arts centres he can negotiate some collective deals. So he can bring in comedians or bands across several centres. It makes it more viable for artists to come to Burton, whereas in the past the Brewhouse has been more isolated in its programming."

The Brewhouse team will now work with Simon on the programme in the future.

It's part of QUAD's overall plan.

Adam says: "We looked at the overall operation and made recommendations based on our experience of developing an arts centre from scratch to where we are now. But we were very keen to make sure that the Brewhouse and the sense of it being in Burton was front and centre. We never wanted to do QUAD Mark 2, as we knew that wouldn't work.

"We looked at everything, from marketing activity and the programme, to the café-bar and community engagement and pulled that together for a set of plans and recommendations. The local authority is taking forward some of those suggestions and considering others."

The two key developments are a 'new focus' around the programme and QUAD managing the café-bar space.

Adam says that QUAD now wants to stay involved in the Brewhouse's future.

He says: "We worked with the Brewhouse before this project, so it's not a new relationship. We want the Brewhouse to be as successful and engaged as it possibly can be and if there are ways of bringing work over there or helping out, we will do."

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