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Matthews Yard owner to use crowdfunding to set up independent theatre in Croydon

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A CAFÉ and co-working space has turned to crowdfunding to find money to open an independent theatre.

Matthews Yard owner Saif Bonar believes the project could help fill the culture gap left following the closure of the David Lean Cinema and the Clocktower arts complex.

But he says investors – in the traditional sense – will not touch his idea for a free-to-hire community theatre and rehearsal space with a barge pole.

Instead he has turned to Kickstarter, a crowd-sourcing website where designers and developers pitch projects and ask the public to back them with their cash.

Mr Bonar is seeking £5,000 to transform a 100 square metre space at the back of Matthews Yard, off Surrey Street, into a theatre capable of hosting live performances and rehearsals.

He believes that continuing cuts to arts budgets could mean crowdfunding will become the primary method of financing such projects.

He said: "If I went to a private investor with a business plan for a community theatre they wouldn't go near it with a barge pole.

"Traditional venues such as the Warehouse Theatre have gone into administration, and funding cuts mean there is less outside help available.

"There's definitely still demand but if you are going to try to do this sort of thing then, increasingly, it makes sense that the community buys into it.

"If people value arts and creativity then they should step up and fund it."

Kickstarter gives each project a month to reach its goal. If the target is not met Mr Bonar will get nothing.

To encourage people to lend their support, project creators are able to offer incentives.

Whoever pledges £5 towards the theatre will have their name permanently painted on a supporters' wall, plus a free tea or coffee and a cake. Back Matthew's Yard with £25 and perks include 12 months' social membership to the lounge, with benefits increasing incrementally the more money is promised.

Mr Bonar hopes to encourage other businesses to pledge larger sums in exchange for having their logos displayed above the entrance to the studio.

He said: "It's not just about asking people for money, or being greedy with the equity. If someone puts £5 in, they get £5 back. If they put £50 in they will get £120 worth of stuff."

Matthews Yard opened as a café and co-working space in April. Since then, however, events, including art exhibitions and live music, have become its main source of income.

Even though groups get the space for free, the business benefits from selling food and drink.

Mr Bonar hopes the theatre project will help build on this momentum, and also help the office space to thrive.

He said: "A community theatre is a risky idea but I think there's a demand for it. For me this isn't just about making money.

"It's about creating something people can take ownership of and which really adds something to what's on offer in Croydon." The studio at Matthews Yard would be designed for amateur theatre, performing arts, film and live music. The £5,000 funding would allow for the refurbishment of the space, installation of a stage, green room and seating as well as a public address system, lighting rig and relevant public safety equipment such as a fire alarm system. If owner Saif Bonar is able to raise more money, the venue could soon be equipped with better quality equipment and acoustics. Mr Bonar acknowledges the risks involved with the project but believes they can be mitigated by the interest Matthews Yard has generated, and – by allowing the theatre groups, troupes and artists to use the space for free. He said: "This unique model will attract more productions and ensure the space is rapidly established as a vibrant, lively and positive performing arts resource for Croydon and south London." To ensure it remains viable Mr Bonar will continue to sell alcoholic and other refreshments alongside food. The hall will also be available for private hire, at a cost, from time to time. To back the Matthews Yard theatre project click here

Matthews Yard owner to use crowdfunding to set up independent theatre in Croydon


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