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The Flavel


13 years and still going strong.


Ray Bridges


Doug Twigg


Dartmouth’s Flavel Centre opened its doors 13 years ago in 2005 and quickly became a vital part of community life. Few towns of this size possess such a successful arts centre. By The Dart spoke to Ray Bridges, who was the driving force behind the launch of the Flavel, and the current Flavel Trustees Chairman, Doug Twigg, about how it became a success and its prospects for the future.


Is what the Flavel does today what you planned when it launched over 10 years ago? Ray: Yes, the first year’s entertain- ment programme is not dramati- cally different to what we put on now – a wide and varied selection of films, performances and music that appeal to a wide age range.


Was it tough financially to get it off the ground? Ray: We raised a huge amount from donations and grants to get it built. But we still had a shortfall of approx £60,000 when we launched so a number of things, like the immedi- ate installation of air conditioning, were not possible. But people came together to save it with donations, it was just extraordinary. The mood of people wanting it to happen was very strong and it kept everybody going.


Doug: It’s worth putting that £60,000 in context, in a total of a £2million spend. It is a lot but you were very, very nearly there in get- ting right across the line. There was some tremendous financial support from individuals and from Devon County Council and other generous sources.


Ray: We got to the point of it being built and we were absolutely broke. A bill came up for £26,000 in settlement of the builders final fees; the day was saved by a very generous local donor who said “we can’t have you going bust now” and he immediately put a cheque in the post.


At the time did you meet with any resistance either from those that didn’t agree with the vision or didn’t believe it was going to work? Ray: Many people in the town were hugely supportive and second home owners made big donations as well, it wasn’t just people living here. There was a group of people in the town council who saw it as a complete waste of time, and ques- tioned why we needed it.


Doug: There was the concern about the possible obligations in the future. The council wondered what would happen if it collapsed financially.


Ray: Dartmouth Town Council went from being in support of it to against it but that’s because South Hams District Council turned very negative about the whole thing. Be- cause the support of volunteers was


to be a crucial part of how it would operate, there was concern that this made it vulnerable.


Doug: Of course that’s a judgement, which is so difficult to call. What they didn’t realise was how strong the volunteer instinct is in Dartmouth.


Do you know how many volunteers you have had since the Flavel opened? Doug: Not off hand but there are certainly more than 100 active volunteers at the moment.


Ray: Curiously enough there have been that number right from the start. We visited several similar theatres in Devon and Cornwall when we were trying to get it built, and a number of them were seedy, not very clean and needed a coat of paint. One of the great things about the Flavel is the maintenance team who have kept it looking crisp and fresh; it’s been absolutely fantastic. The voluntary element has been so important. Also, people who move into the town find it a marvellous place to volunteer and meet other people.


Doug: It goes beyond that because


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