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Coronavirus update from the Chief Executive of Awen Cultural Trust

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus COVID-19 in Wales and the UK in mid-March and the subsequent, and very necessary restrictions to try to contain it, nearly all of Awen’s venues, libraries and programmes came to a very sudden stand-still. Through Awen’s own resources, the support of partners and funders and access to Welsh and UK Government support packages, we have managed to navigate the early part of this crisis. We have done our best to ensure that staff, users and customers were safe and well informed.

I am delighted that over the past few weeks, with the easing of restrictions, we have been able to re-open some of our services and welcome back visitors and users. Working with our partners at Bridgend County Borough Council, we continue to take positive, yet cautious, steps to re-opening – all the time considering the relevant guidance from Public Health Wales and the Welsh Government. So far, we have Bryngarw Park now fully open, four libraries offering book & collect services, and on-line activities and resources to support reading, literacy and family learning.

Through August we are preparing to welcome back trainees to Wood-B and B-leaf. It promises to be an emotional return and I cannot wait to see them back. We will also be working to open more library services, including access to computers which I know is so important to many of our users.

While, there is much to be positive about, there remains tremendous uncertainty as to when and how the arts and theatre sector will be able to return to business. Even when they are officially allowed to re-open, the expectations on social distancing and other measures may make it uneconomical to do so. It was encouraging to hear that funding is finally being made available to the sector and as an independent, registered charity we will be engaging with that process, in the same way we have with other opportunities throughout this time.

But, the impact on theatres and venues is not a short-term matter. It is not as simple as turning the tap back on and we somehow get back to ‘normal’. For Awen, the Grand Pavilion, Porthcawl was the first to close its doors in March and will likely be the last to get back to full speed. Sadly, this has meant taking some tough decisions, ones that have consequences for some of our colleagues who after years of service will be leaving us and will be missed. These decisions have been necessary to protect the good financial health of the charity not just for the next three to four months but for the next three to four years as the recovery from this crisis unfolds. The Grand Pavilion, like Blaengarw Workmen’s Hall, will re-open but how and when remains very unclear.

Awen has a duty to invest in its beneficiaries – those who benefit from what we do as a charity. Therefore, by protecting our financial health we will continue to focus on investing in our venues, facilities and projects that make a difference to our customers, audiences, visitors, trainees and users. Maesteg Town Hall’s re-development is underway, Valleys Regional Park investment of over £500, 000 is happening at Bryngarw Park and at the Grand Pavilion we are considering changes that will help the venue re-open, refreshed and ready to go.

Throughout this challenging time, the support of the communities in which we work has been inspiring. From Blaengarw to Porthcawl the support of local people gives us great cause for optimism. We can’t wait to welcome you back, even if it may take a little while longer.

Richard Hughes
Chief Executive