The organisation which ultimately became Petherton Arts Trust Limited was originally conceived in 1986 by a group of local people in the South Petherton area of South Somerset who shared a common interest in the arts. The group called themselves Petherton Arts Trust (PAT). They, in turn, were an offshoot from the activities surrounding the South Petherton Folk and Craft Festival (click here for more details).
The group saw the potential in a former United Reformed Church, (Click here to read a comprehensive history of the church prior to 1980) a grade two listed building which occupies a prominent position in the village, as the venue for music and theatre and a centre for the arts in the locality. The church building had recently been bought by a local businessman, Brian Hall. (Click here to read a newspaper article from 1986 - nb It''s a large - 4Mb file so may take a while to download if you have a slow connection). He allowed PAT to occupy the building and in August 1989 PAT entered into a formal 15-year lease. One condition, was that the building be called 'The David Hall', in memory of his son David who was killed in a road accident.
The rent was guaranteed in the lease by two of the group and it was soon felt that, to safeguard their interests, PAT should become a limited company and this was incorporated in November 1989. This was followed by the registration of the company with the Charity Commission in July 1990.
In June 1993, with the assistance of South Somerset District Council and a grant from The Foundation for Sport and Arts, PAT was able to purchase the building, securing a permanent home for the organisation. Its location in a fine building in the heart of the village gave PAT an additional importance as a valuable community resource.
In 1994 work commenced on the building of office space on the first floor in anticipation of a successful Lottery funded grant. For various reasons this grant did not materialise and work on the proposed improvements was abandoned.
For the following eleven years and despite considerable setbacks, PAT survived and grew beyond the conservative hopes of its founders. Although struggling with the problems which beset small arts venues nationwide, it was successful in what it did and gained a reputation for providing quality arts entertainment. The intimate size of the venue, coupled with the most unusual arch immediately above the stage which provide extremely fine acoustics, gave a unique setting, much admired and appreciated by audiences and many of our visiting performers.
For a number of years, the hall received financial assistance from South Somerset District Council and Somerset County Council. However in 2005, following discussions with SSDC, the Trust was informed that revenue grant assistance would end. A ˜Save the Hall" campaign ensued, with considerable support being generated from the local community. As a result, the Council agreed to provide a tapered reduction in grant over two years to permit PAT to reorganise its business and become self sufficient.
The following three years saw a huge amount of work done by the staff and volunteers to examine and rationalise every aspect of the management and operation of the organisation, transforming it into a much more coherent business, albeit one run almost entirely on a voluntary basis. It was necessary to reduce the amount of paid hours worked by staff to 28 hours per week, losing one of the two paid part time office staff and spreading the workload to volunteers. This, in turn, meant a large amount of effort necessary to create office systems which were understandable and easy to operate by volunteers. New technology paid a large part in this, enabling much better communication and the opportunity for some work to be carried out from volunteers homes, rather than having to come into the office which is only manned on a three day a week basis.
The entertainments programme was analysed and a decision taken to try, even though constrained by practical considerations such as cost, to book the best artistes and acts possible. The printed programme was switched from four to six monthly publication, both to save printing costs and to create a better product. A new website with on-line booking, created and run 'in house', also greatly widened the exposure of the hall to new audiences and the hall's reputation as a venue for top quality entertainment continued to grow.
An ambitious detailed programme of improvements to the physical structure of the building was also drawn up, albeit with little idea of where the finance might come from! The strategy was to focus on individual critical structural problems, one at a time, especially the leaking roof and damaged gutters and down pipes.
A huge fund raising effort over the next three years, combined with several successful grant applications to SSDC and the Lottery, saw significant improvements to the hall, including major works to the roof and guttering, roof insulation, rebuilding and renovating the bar and store room, a new porch, front steps, railings and notice board and the purchase of new seating. This culminated in the Big Lottery 'Peoples Millions' grant of £60,000 in 2009 which permitted us to achieve the long held dream based on the original 1994 plans. (CLICK HERE to read the blog) The creation of a further floor above the balcony enabled a 'proper' office for staff to work in together with a meeting area and lighting console. The existing balcony was refurbished to provide not only storage rooms and additional seating, but also can now be transformed into a fully equipped meeting/conference/ rehearsal room. Our somewhat inadequate toilet facilities were greatly improved, a box office and artistes facility built and, again with the assistance of our wonderful volunteers, the interior of the hall was redecorated and the stage raised and improved.
Christmas 2010 brought an unexpected and potentially terminal problem for the hall when it was discovered that there were major problems with the fuel oil storage tank. This needed to be replaced immediately, otherwise without heating the hall may have had to close, thus threatening its whole future. A public appeal to our supporters brought forth a massive response and within four weeks, donations of £3,000 to purchase and install a new tank been made. During the summer months volunteers from the hall also worked to install four new and much more efficient, radiators in the body of the hall.
In the past few years we have continued to work hard to maintain and improve both the structure of our building and the events that we offer in it. New event initiatives have been tried, some with more success than others. Sadly the lack of any external Arts funding means that we have to concentrate on those areas where we are reasonably confident of commercial success. This means that some forms of event - eg Poetry, Childrens events and sadly, classical music, which lose us money are under represented in our programmes. We continue to search for sponsors to permit us to be more adventurous! Our improvement work has seen the purchase of new lighting which has transformed the 'look' of our stage events and has been very popular with our artistes. During the Summer of 2015 we worked to refurbish and brighten up our bar area..
The Hall faces a bright but still challenging future in light of the current global financial climate. There is a determination to succeed which permeates the whole organisation and one can only feel that having existed successfully for 30 years, the David Hall has every intention of continuing well into the future.