Spot On Rural Touring brings theatre to Croston

Spot On programmer, Lyndsey Wilson with Old School Trustee, Stephen Parkinson and Centre Manager, An

Spot On programmer, Lyndsey Wilson with Old School Trustee, Stephen Parkinson and Centre Manager, Anne Peet - Credit: Archant

From the great outdoors to great drama indoors, this pretty village shows real community spirit. Rebekka O’Grady reports

The River Yarrow and St Michael & All Angels Church

The River Yarrow and St Michael & All Angels Church - Credit: Archant

For many people, a visit to the theatre is as grand experience. From the Manchester Opera House to Preston Guild Hall, these buildings located within a city centre are a familiar sight. But what happens if you live in a rural area such as Croston? Such visits to the arts can be difficult task, so that’s where Spot On Rural Touring comes in.

‘Spot On has been helping to bring theatre and performance to rural areas in Lancashire for almost two decades,’ said programmer Lyndsey Wilson. ‘Whether the town is big or small, we believe theatre and the arts bring something of value to an area. We work is to broker a relationship between a professional theatre company and a venue, such as Croston Old School, and then subsidise to make it affordable for a rural audience.’

In a survey carried out by Spot On, it revealed that 86% of people who live in rural areas hadn’t visited an urban arts centre within the last year. This statistic is applicable to some residents of Croston, and chairman of Croston Parish Council Anne Peet, has seen the positive effects of what Spot On brings.

War memorial at the corner of Grape Lane viewed from Croston Park

War memorial at the corner of Grape Lane viewed from Croston Park - Credit: Archant

‘Spot On has been visiting Croston for over ten years. A fair percent of the residents here are aged 60 or above, so making there way to an urban arts centre can prove challenging. They feel safer in their local community, and this way enables the community to enjoy theatre without having to go far from their doorstep.’

Anne, who is also centre manager for the Old School, added that without Spot On’s support they wouldn’t be able to afford to fund such projects: ‘It is only a small hall and theatre can be a tricky business! We normally have one performance in the spring and one in the autumn.’

However it’s not only the older community of Croston that are feeling the benefit. Trustee of the Old School and vice-chairman of the Parish Council, Stephen Parkinson, said that a good amount of tickets for the upcoming October performance, My Big Fat Cowpat Wedding by London-based Kali Theatre, have been sold to under 18s.

Church Street and St Michael & All Angels Church

Church Street and St Michael & All Angels Church - Credit: Archant

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‘Performances aren’t expensive, with most tickets ranging from £6 to £10,’ said Stephen. ‘People also travel from neighbouring villages and towns, even as far as North Wales and Lincolnshire to watch a show. The groups that perform here have a following.’

‘People are surprised when they come here to watch a theatre piece,’ added Lyndsey. ‘They think they are coming to watch a community theatre piece or amateur performance when in actual fact they are professionals, many of which have come from around the world.’

Another project aiming to bring the community together is Tim Blythe’s Croft Field initiative. Tim, a manager at Lancashire County Council, wants to transform the space into a nature reserve and the plans have already secured £6,300 in grants from the National Lottery. ‘It will be like a miniature country park, with conservation for the wildlife but a space for the community to enjoy,’ said Tim.

Licensees, Joanne Bentley and Rob Thornton at The Crown Pub in Station Road

Licensees, Joanne Bentley and Rob Thornton at The Crown Pub in Station Road - Credit: Archant

The ‘sustaining our volunteers – improving the Croft’ scheme has already picked up interest and a number of volunteers regularly attend sessions to start the redevelopment. Tim is also keen to run a summer holiday project called Project Countryside to introduce young people in the site, getting them active and involved in events and forest-type activities.

‘For years it has been a grey field. There was a fair held there each summer but that has stopped now,’ said Tim. ‘As a resident of Croston, I became aware the parish council didn’t have the resources to develop the field, so around 18 months ago I approached them to take the project on and oversee the site.’

Tim began the first project in September of last year, clearing the rubbish and brash. Since then, and with the help of the grant money which is used as a modest budget to maintain and sustain an enthusiastic group of volunteers, they are well on their way with their plans. They aim to, among other things, construct a woodland path connecting the village and create a wildflower meadow.

‘Most recently we held a haymaking session where 26 people attended,’ said Tim. ‘I regularly update on-site notices of what we’re up to and when the next session is. The sessions are also an excellent way of people getting to know one another – that social side is just as important for your wellbeing as a recreational space.’

Jewel in the Crown

It may be a familiar sight in Croston but the Crown pub has had a complete overhaul, thanks to its new proprietors, Joanne Bentley and Rob Thornton. The couple took over the pub in April 2013 and fully refurbished the space six months ago. The results are astounding as the pub has won a series of awards, including the North West winner of the Best Cask Beer Pub in the Publican Morning Advisor’s Great British Pub Awards 2014.

‘We are over the moon,’ said Rob, 47. ‘A proper pub is now a dying breed. Many call themselves restaurants, but for us we wanted to revert back to the core values of what a pub is.’ The former landscaper decided to completely gut the old building, removing partitions, pool tables and televisions. It is now a traditional establishment and images of the village throughout the years adorn the walls. ‘There is no football on in here, just low music to set the mood,’ said Rob. ‘I want this to be a social place where people can relax and enjoy a bite to eat of no-fuss food with their pint.’

The bar now has six hand-pulls of cask beer, and they are looking to increase their range. ‘We have achieved our three year plan in 14 months, so we are always re-evaluating to go onwards and upwards.’

‘Sometimes you have to pinch yourself,’ added Joanne, 40, who used to run her own fruit and vegetable stall. ‘Rob’s always been passionate about beer but we never thought we would achieve all of this.’

Along with their Publican award, the Crown has also been included in the CAMRA Good Pub Guide 2015 and awarded winner of the best pint in the Thwaites Awards for Excellence 2014.

‘We are a Thwaites pub and I am proud of that,’ said Rob. ‘They recognised our achievements and asked if we would like a beer named after us. We decided to call it Wobbly Winston, after the pub dog.’

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