Harpenden Public Halls attracting thousands every year 15 Jul 2019
The contribution of the arts and entertainment industry to the UK economy is often overlooked, but recent statistics from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport show that in 2017, the cultural sector contributed £29.5bn to the economy – a 7.2% increase on the £27.5bn it had generated the year before.
This figure shows that the economic contribution of cultural industries including theatre, galleries and music to the UK has grown faster than the wider economy for the sixth time in seven years.
In St Albans City and District, arts, culture and entertainment is a big part of our offering to visitors; we are so spoilt for choice when it comes to the number of venues in the area, which means that collectively, our theatres and venues are able to offer an extensive programme of shows, music and comedy that appeals to residents but also attracts visitors, helping to boost the visitor economy.
I have been general manager of Harpenden Public Halls for nearly five years, and prior to that I worked in live music promotion.
The halls were opened back in September 1938 with the sole purpose of being a community venue, but its objectives have certainly changed over the decades.
When I joined in 2014, my brief was to build a viable commercial entertainment programme as well as maintaining and nurturing the relationship that already existed between the Halls and the many community groups and charitable enterprises that use the venue for theatrical shows, film screenings, and club and society events.
The venue at the time was being grossly underused, and since then, there has been a significant amount of time, effort and money spent in promoting the venue, rebranding with a new logo, building a presence on the various social media platforms and creating a programme of entertainment that appeals to a wider audience.
The venue brochure mailing list is 16,000 strong compared to just 3,000 when I first joined, and the footfall hit approximately 45,000 last year compared to a fraction of that in my first year.
Music lovers can expect to see tribute acts such as Noasis, UK Queen and Absolute Bowie in the programme listings next to big-name acts such as Martin Kemp, The Christians, China Crisis and Bad Manners, while the comedians taking to the stage at Public Halls include Ed Gamble and The Lost Voice Guy. And of course a venue programme wouldn’t be complete without the annual panto, which is Beauty and the Beast this year.
And while the significant number of visitors to the Halls are from Harpenden, the venue sales reports show the next highest is Luton, Dunstable and Hemel Hempstead, with many acts drawing an audience from all over the country and even from abroad.
This stronger programme, presence, branding and footfall has created a springboard for progress with plans afoot to develop a new cultural centre in Rothamsted Park.
A new cultural centre fit for the 21st century will bring thousands more visitors to Harpenden and a much-welcome boost to the visitor economy.
By Glenn Povey, general manager, Harpenden Public Halls
This article first appeared in the Herts Advertiser on behalf of the St Albans Visitor Partnership in July 2019