The British National Lottery And The New Forest Arts Scene

The UK lottery draw funds arts projects throughout the United Kingdom. One area of England presently profiting from the largesse of the British National Lottery is the New Forest in southern Hampshire.

The Forest Forge Theatre Company has been in existence for more than 30 years. From its base in a purpose built base in Ringwood, Hampshire, the Forest Forge group radiates out to village halls, art centres, schools and theatres in the vicinity to entertain and inspire audiences with at least three new productions each year.

The producers of the plays showcased embrace not only established plays but encourage new and emerging playwrights.

During January 2012, for example, the team is presenting a special production of an adaptation of E. Nesbit's novel, the Phoenix and the Carpet. The audience will be comprised specifically of disabled children and their families.

At the end of November 2011 the Forest Forge Theatre Company received a grant of 80,000 from the British National Lottery for their Bloom Project. This will take place later this year and will involve the company travelling around Hampshire to seven varied venues. They will base themselves in each base for a week, presenting events and short scenes in public spaces before culminating in a new play written for the project. The play closing each of the events financed by the British National Lottery will be written by Dinos Aristidou and will have a gardening theme.

The events will involve more than 1000 members of community groups local to the venues. Kirstie Davis of the company tells how the project will involve 42 community groups working with professional actors. "The overriding theme is 100 years of gardening and so look out for garden gnomes and enormous plants coming to a venue near you!"

A venue regularly used by such local theatre groups has also received assistance from British National Lottery funds.

The first records of Hangar Farm at Totton on the edge of the New Forest exist from Saxon times. The site may have been in use before this time and was continuously occupied until the 1950's. Since that time the two hundred year old buildings have fallen into disrepair.

It was feared the site would simply become part of the constantly expanding housing estates to the south but in 2003 Totton and Eling Town Council came up with the idea of using the farm buildings as an arts centre. The local college became involved in the scheme and agreed to help run the site.

Of course money had to be found to fund the project and welcome contributions came in from Hampshire County Council and New Forest District Council but the total was still 230,000 short of the 757,000 needed.

An application was made to the UK lottery draw for money.

The Heritage Lottery Fund was pleased to provide the financing needed and a careful and appropriate restoration of the buildings began. The facilities were first opened to the public in July 2006. Now the Hangar Farm Arts Centre includes a barn converted into a 140 - 200 seat theatre, a rehearsal room and a gallery for exhibitions by local artists.

Using the UK lottery draw funding, the careful conversion of the buildings revealed fine and beautiful timbers and these have been left exposed as a dramatic backdrop to the activities going on inside. As well as the Forest Forge Theatre Company, other amateur and professional community groups use the facilities with the college occupying the site during weekdays for examinations, lessons and showcase events.

The Arts Centre is now the venue for an extensive range of plays, pantomimes, art exhibitions, musicians, dancers and comedians and the remainder of the farm buildings and site also include a cafe, tennis centre, community paddling pool and children's play area. Even the original farmhouse has been turned into a beautifully preserved family home.

The New Forest arts scene has more than one reason to be grateful to the British National Lottery.