Shropshire family builds own theatre as venues struggle in crisis

A family estate near Wem has built its own amphitheatre to enable creatives, locally and nationally, to put on shows there.

Tim Ashton
Tim Ashton

Tim Ashton and his family own Soulton Hall near Wem. After hearing about the devastating impact coronavirus has had on the live theatre and performance industry, Tim decided to help out using his land.

“During lockdown I went on a long walk and I ended up going down into Wem High Street,” he explained. “There were lots of handwritten notes on shop windows saying we’ve had to close.

“I thought all of us are going to have to care about our culture a lot. Walking down further, there were notes on so many building and also Wem Town Hall had ‘cancelled’ banners across all the planned events.

"I felt upset by this, even if you don’t consume theatre or culture constantly, the people who put the shows on put in a lot of effort and hard work. It is part of how our culture functions.

“People started to talk about how dire it was for live performance, it’s something we all enjoy and it has been diminished. Parts of it hold a mirror up to us and we are all impoverished if that’s gone.”

Soulton Hall is home to the long barrow, a burial mound created for the site, inspired by the Stone Age and Bronze Age era. If you go down to Wiltshire, to the Stonehenge World Heritage Site,” Tim said, “and look at it properly – it must have been the capital of stonehenge Britain. They were probably there gathering, being outside, and sharing something.

“When lockdown eased, I went on a research trip down there. We were already going to be doing some landscaping at the barrow. The impact on cultural and live performance made us realise that maybe we could do something to help. So we built an amphitheatre.

“From the idea to the existence, it took around five weeks. We’ve had people getting in touch asking if they can put on shows there. We have the National Youth Theatre and Horrible Histories Live coming.

Devastating

"It is something farmers can do to help, it is being copied in Oxfordshire and New Zealand and a few other farms around the country. The impact on people who run theatre and earn their living through it, is devastating.

“They missed out on furlough because many are freelance, they haven’t been paid since March. They potentially don’t have prospects for jobs until late next year.

"The Government bailout barely touched the sides. As theatres come back into play, these are things that can toned down. It is not competition.

"If other people have an advantage like us, they should all look to see how they can help.”

Visit soultonhall.co.uk for more information.

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