Deputy Editor of Rhinegold Publishing, Lucy Thraves, catches up with our Chief Executive on the last five years at Saffron Hall.
How has Saffron Hall evolved over the last five years?
When I arrived at Saffron Hall in April 2014 there was no programme in place for the following September. I was the only member of staff and there were around 1,000 people on the database. Five years on, we are presenting over 100 events a year, there are nine full-time staff, 40 casual staff, 80 volunteers and 23,000 names on the database.
The first full programme in 2014/15 was principally classical music but now, alongside an extensive classical music programme, we present jazz, folk, world music, dance, talks and a foyer folk and jazz programme.
Over time we have also established ourselves with young people and nearly 10 per cent of our audience is now under 18. Sunday afternoon programming has really helped grow this audience demographic.
How have you raised the hall’s profile?
It is quite hard to grow profile in a venue outside London. Local press tends to be supportive but very general in their coverage, and concert reviews are simply unheard of. We are reliant on word of mouth, so I keep the quality of the programme high and our front of house team deliver a superb standard of customer service. A few weeks ago, we held a gala dinner for 300 people in the hall and Nicola Benedetti was the special guest. It was hard work but these kinds of events help to highlight achievements and show off the flexibility of the venue. We changed the acoustic setting in the hall three times during the dinner!
How does the hall’s location within school grounds affect its atmosphere?
Unlike many arts venues, Saffron Hall is constantly teeming with life. The hall itself is also the school hall and so is used for music concerts, musical productions, public exams, masterclasses, parents’ evenings and a careers fair. The dual use of the space means that the community are very familiar with the hall and very comfortable within it. Amateur music groups and school groups are frequently in open rehearsals or in the audience for concerts with the London Philharmonic Orchestra or Maxim Vengerov but are just as likely to find themselves on stage performing with English Touring Opera, the BBC Concert Orchestra or the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. Last weekend the Saffron Building Society Choir appeared on stage with the London Community Gospel Choir – it was quite an evening!