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Manager of The Cut arts centre in Halesworth, Aafke Groeneveld .

Manager of The Cut arts centre in Halesworth, Aafke Groeneveld . - Credit: Archant

The Cut at Halesworth is one of the county’s leading creative arts centres. David Green spoke with manager Aafke Groeneveld about its exciting future as a mulit media hub

Hope for Haiti gig at the Cut, Halesworth.; Ed Sheeran.; Photo: Nick Butcher; Copy: Anthony Carroll;

Hope for Haiti gig at the Cut, Halesworth.; Ed Sheeran.; Photo: Nick Butcher; Copy: Anthony Carroll; For: EDP / EADT / BBJ; Archant © 2010; (01603) 772434 - Credit: Archant © 2009

When Aafke Groeneveld arrived in Halesworth after leaving her native Amsterdam she found herself amazed by an arts centre near its centre.

“Coming from a big city with multiple arts venues I was just not expecting such a wonderful facility to be here.

“I immediately fell in love with it. I thought how could such a small market town have such a wonderful theatre?”

Aafke soon became one of the many volunteers who enable The Cut, a former maltings, to survive and prosper – despite receiving no annual support from the Arts Council or other bodies. Ten years on she is now the centre’s manager, organising the many bookings - from theatre companies and bands to yoga, pilates, dance classes - and organising the team of volunteers.

The Big Meal by Dan LeFranc which is being directed by Michael Boyd at the HighTide Festival in Hale

The Big Meal by Dan LeFranc which is being directed by Michael Boyd at the HighTide Festival in Halesworth - Credit: Archant

The Cut still retains its maltings heritage with an original malt floor and various machinery retained in the upper level which also doubles up as an art gallery.

But downstairs the building has been transformed into a 200-seater auditorium, a dance studio, a concourse area complete with café and bar and, in the basement, dressing rooms, toilets and offices.

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Office space in the top floor is rented to businesses to ensure a steady flow of income to supplement the amounts produce by the box office and café. Aafke is the only full-time employee, but others work part-time and The Cut is buzzing with activity.

“Volunteers are immensely important to us. They act as stewards and man the bar. The centre could not run without them. There are between 50 and 60 currently on our list but I suppose about 12 of them form a regular core,” Aafke said.

Her stay in Suffolk was only supposed to be very temporary. “I thought I won’t be here long so I won’t look for a job.” But her love for The Cut blossomed and in 2004, after a six-month stint as a volunteer, she was a successful applicant for the job of centre manager.

The idea of transforming the derelict maltings beside a narrow road called New Cut originally came from James Holloway, the man behind many theatre productions in the area, and now the venue’s creative director. He and others got together to form a charitable trust to fundraise for the development of the building.

As the result of a mail-shot, local people donated more than £4,000 to get the project started and James, members of his family and other volunteers, rolled up their sleeves to begin the work of clearing the debris of decades of neglect and to try to make it possible to host arts events.

A mixture of funds from the East of England Development Agency and English Heritage enabled the leaking roof to be repaired, Victorian windows to be secured and basic welfare facilities to be installed.

Three of four further funding applications were successful, but they could only be accessed if Arts Council East backed the project. That backing did not come, the Arts Council deciding that it would not be possible for Halesworth to become a regional hub for the arts.

This was the lowest point in the history of The Cut. While devastated by the decision, the trustees did not give up. A series of events was staged to raise more funds, although audiences and performers had to endure cold and sometimes damp conditions.

The year 2002 saw the first Halesworth Arts Festival and in December of that year major funding was secured from EEDA and the European Union. Other funders included Suffolk Environmental Trust, Suffolk County Council and Waveney District Council.

In 2003 the late, great Sir Alan Bates officially opened the old maltings complex as The Cut and the theatre auditorium bears his name. Over the next three years more funding was obtained to convert the top floor into ten business units to secure a guaranteed income.

For the past few years The Cut has been the venue for the High Tide Festival – hosting plays by up and coming playwrights from the UK and abroad.

Although this festival has now transferred to Aldeburgh, The Cut is in a good financial shape and its future looks assured. One of its successes is a weekly film night which attracts tremendous support and was full to overflowing for the screening of the Mike Leigh film, Mr Turner, earlier this year.

Three years ago The Cut opened a media centre, providing education and training in website design, film-making, audio recording, social media and creative computer programming. One supporter has recently put up the money for the purchase of an adjoining part of the maltings building although the loan will have to be repaid over a period.

“Initially it is our intention to use it as an income generator via business units but there are also exciting plans for integration of parts of the building into our public arts space over the longer term,” Aafke said.

Another plan is to build another floor above the dance studio to create more public space for the community.

The Cut is now open six days a week and has a turnover of £230,000 per annum.

Every week about 900 people of all ages pass through its doors and it has now become a hub for creativity, entertainment, education and enterprise.