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Many thanks to everyone who helped us lobby support from Uttlesford District Council. Below is a copy of Cllr Lees' response to the letters of support and an update from Chief Executive Angela Dixon.

Response from Chief Executive Angela Dixon

Following our call for support from Uttlesford District Council, hundreds of people wrote to the Leader, Cllr Petrina Lees and Chief Executive Peter Holt. We were deeply touched by the strength of support from audiences and supporters and it was important to be able to demonstrate the high regard felt for Saffron Hall and it's work in the community. We are grateful to Cllr Lees and other district councillors for their attention to this matter. Cllr Lees sent out the following response a few weeks ago to all of those who wrote to her, which you can read below.

Thank you to Cllr Lees for her fulsome response and support. We are extremely sensitive to the Councils current position and completely support their strategy of looking at existing grants to aid Saffron Hall, such as community, health and wellbeing and funds ear-marked for culture. Saffron Hall is a new model of cultural and community provision and the hope is that it can survive without the large regular grants afforded to other arts organisations, which may well prove unsustainable in the future. In the last month Uttlesford District Council has awarded £3,500 to Saffron Hall from the Health initiative funding pot, via the Community Project Grant Scheme to support Together in Sound, our project for people living with dementia and their companions and also £15,000 from the Rural England Prosperity Fund towards our obselete and expensive stage lights. We are grateful for these grants and also for the suggestion by Cllr Lees that there might be further money from environmental funds such as the Zero Carbon Communities Grant Scheme towards this costly but necessary project.

In response to questions posed at the Council meeting on 18 July, the Leader agreed that local authority investment in culture can have a positive impact on tourism, health and wellbeing and the local economy and that investment in culture could therefore be a solution to many of the challenges faced across the district, whether economic or health related. Cllr Lees has also agreed to meet with the authors of the UDC cultural strategy to hear more about how the arts can contribute to the sustainability of our community. We also look forward to meeting with Cllr Lees and her team ourselves.

Message from the Leader of Uttlesford District Council, Cllr Petrina Lees

Dear fellow resident, visitor to Saffron Hall and music lover,

Thank you for your email, one of hundreds I and the council chief executive have received this month. Indeed, rather ironically, as an individual patron of the Hall, I received the same email as you did, encouraging me to write and lobby myself!

I, like you, am a huge admirer of the work of the Saffron Hall Trust. I have personally enjoyed many world-class performances in the Hall and am equally in awe of the work they do supporting the next generation of talented musicians, as well as out in the wider community such as with programmes for people suffering from dementia and their carers. Saffron Hall is a jewel in our cultural crown locally and regionally, and we are much indebted to the generous private benefactors behind the original build, as well as everyone involved in its decade of success – staff, volunteers and funders alike, as well as the musicians.

You have written, essentially, asking for financial support for the Hall from the District Council. I have no dispute with the facts and figures you quote as to how much some other district councils spend in support of their local arts and cultural scene. Equally, I could quote you as many examples of district councils who spend less than Uttlesford on arts and culture, or indeed nothing at all, as I am sure you will appreciate the decade-plus of austerity that local government has faced. When I and my fellow residents were given the huge privilege in 2019 of majority control of Uttlesford District Council we inherited an authority from many years of Conservative administrations that had long since cut its whole budgets and staffing complement in both arts and culture and also in sports development. Returned to majority control in this year’s elections, we face like most other councils a further financial black hole not of our local making, needing to reduce net spending by about 25% over the coming four years, so the prospect of finding any substantial new monies would merely add to the difficulty of the task facing us, spreading our scarce spending power across all of our duties to local people.

But let me accept the underlying challenge of your letter, and not just brush you off - some things are too valuable to our community to be allowed to fail, and the risks that you highlight to the sustainability of Saffron Hall are a real and genuine worry to me as they are to you.

So here is my commitment to you: I and my administration will sit again with the staff of the Trust and redouble our efforts to offer practical help and support, on top of the free office space that we have long provided to the Trust in our own building, which saves them a substantial sum on needing to pay rental elsewhere. Indeed, we have in the last year moved them to a much bigger suite of offices in the building to reflect their growth, again with no charge for any rent or utilities. We do not give an annual cash grant to Saffron Hall, though if we didn’t provide their rent-free offices, we would otherwise let them out commercially for £47,000+, as we have long since done with other offices in our headquarters building. This makes Saffron Hall one of the largest recipients of support from the District Council, alongside groups such as Citizens Advice.

I won’t give instant guarantees outside of our proper processes which force us to balance how to apply our scarce resources as effectively as possible, across multiple areas of demand that far exceed our funding available. We will though see what grant monies we may be able to help the Trust access from multiple sources, including funds we have ourselves made available to support tourism and to support the climate crisis. I know that one of the costly challenges facing the Trust for example is the affordability of replacing
expensive and failing old fashioned house lighting with cheaper to run and more sustainable energy efficient lighting, so we will see what we can do to help find a green grant in that area.

We are going to need to be creative in the kinds of help we can give, such as that last example, as essentially our coffers are close to empty, so I would not want to raise false hope that there will be any regular and ongoing new yearly grant available. Our net spending is a little over £19 million a year on all of our services to the public put together, and our savings requirement over coming years is estimated at £6.6 million, at the same time that our costs are rocketing both through inflation and through having to service just about the fastest growing population in the region.

You mention in your letter how the national Arts Council has contributed £790,000 to the Mercury Theatre in Colchester, where I think they give Saffron Hall nothing. We will be allies in the work to redress this balance, so that the taxpayer funds given to the Arts Council specifically for arts and culture funding to organisations like Saffron Hall, are perhaps in future spread more equitably, as I think we can all see how much bigger a positive impact that such a sustainable, dedicated funding stream would be to Saffron Hall than modest crumbs from our already bare local cupboard.

Thank you for writing and for raising your concerns. I and my colleagues will accept the challenge, and redouble our efforts, and I will write to you again in a few months with an update to let you know how we are getting on.

Cllr Petrina Lees, Leader, Uttlesford District Council