Jenny Parker – Chairman

Jenny Parker is Chairman of Shaftesbury Arts Centre. Here she tells about how she came to take up the role and explains a little about what it entails.

Q. How long have you lived in Shaftesbury?
A. John and I have lived in Shaftesbury now for an unbelievable twenty-one years. We had just retired, I, from teaching in the Primary sector with a speciality in behaviour management, and we were seeking pastures new to be a bit closer to several family members.

Q. When did you first start volunteering at the Arts Centre?
A. We arrived in the snow in April 99 not knowing a soul and I was pleased to find the Arts Centre and to see it needed Box Office volunteers. My mother had run the Box Office for our local Am Drams from our kitchen table, in our Kent village, so it must have been in the blood!

I soon settled into that tiny office where we took only cash or cheques (no cards in those days) and most of the tickets were made by hand. When dear Mary McGonigal left to live with her family in France, I was persuaded to take the reins.

Q. How did you get involved in management of The Centre?
A. At that time, the Centre was run by a management committee comprising a representative from each group and I represented the Box Office.

Q. You obviously very quickly made your mark?
A. I tend to be a bit outspoken at meetings and when Number 11, the shop next door to The Centre came on the market, despite many members having ‘cold feet’, I was driven to say that this was a chance in a lifetime. I knew we needed to go for it or lose it forever.

The committee was looking for a new chairman at the time and I was asked if I would stand, but I declined. I was still a newcomer, not a member of Music and Drama, not one of ‘the gang’.

Q. What happened next?
A. In 2005 the Arts Centre acquired limited company status and a new board of trustees was formed. A couple of years later the old management committee was disbanded and I was elected as a trustee.

Q. And of course, when Number 11 was purchased it provided a whole new wing, including the Gallery?
A. A very strong team of trustees saw us through the lengthy purchase of Number 11, plus the refurbishment and reordering of the building. For some of that time, I, with the help of many volunteers, ran a charity shop at the front of the building until we could finally afford to convert it into The Gallery and open up the Foyer as we know it today.

Q. And when did you eventually become Chairman?
A. When it was all over and Phase 3 of our extension plan was complete, some members of the board retired through illness or for other reasons and John Cadmore, who had led the way as chairman throughout, wanted to step back. So I was elected chairman.

Q. And the work still continues?
A. In 2016, we received a legacy and so began thoughts of moving on to Phase 4. The initial plans for expansion had been drawn up when the land at the back of the building was bought way back in 1995. New plans were drawn up and planning permission gained, but despite huge efforts, the all-essential big grant eluded us.

Q. So what work has taken place so far?
A. Fears of losing the planning permission, something we might never regain, drove us to divide the project into bite sized pieces and in order to retain it, we raised the roof on the Proctor Room to create our new Dance Studio.

As we grow we are desperately short of space. The eventual aim is to provide the Centre with workshops for both the stage and other areas plus a meeting room and up to date dressing rooms, so we’re ready to serve all its members and the community both now and in future years.

Q. And how long will you continue as Chairman?
A. I’ve just been elected for another year but this can’t go on forever, age is catching up with me and it’s is time to look for new blood. Also, increasingly, I find paperwork, agendas, minutes, reports, grant forms and filing more than tedious.

Q. Do you have lots of support in your role?
A. I’m extremely grateful and thankful for the support of fellow trustees and a marvellous team around me. They draw up rotas, manage the hirings and bookings, sort the website and the ticketing system, organise the marketing, stock the bar and order ice cream, manage the finances, raise funds, manage the Gallery, run the various groups, run the bar and undertake Front of House duties, make costumes, paint scenery..….the list is endless. What an amazing organisation, and nobody is paid!

Q. What’s your favourite part of the role?
A. My first love is still the Box Office, serving our devoted, friendly and grateful customers and seeing the ticket sales increasing, welcoming excited audiences and seeing the hordes of little children arriving for their morning activities, greeting those arriving for yoga, Pilates, keep fit and all the dancers who are delighted to use the new studio, welcoming travelling theatre groups, visiting artists and companies hiring our premises and best of all, interacting with the very loyal Box Office staff.

Q. Any final comments?
A. Coronavirus has put a stop to everything and for everybody at the Arts Centre, the future is uncertain, although, amazingly we have a number of great online activities happening during lockdown.

If, as chairman, I can help to see us through this crisis, and little by little, bring us back to providing at least some of the Arts that our community enjoy, I will be happy. I firmly believe that Shaftesbury Arts Centre is an integral part of the town and local life.

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