Thursday 19 September 2019

Hawk's Well ramping up renovation plans

Jessica Farry

"This is a long term project. You hope that people are behind you but I think people understand the Hawk's Well and what it means to the community," said Jane Parsons, Fundraising Executive with Hawk's Well Theatre regarding the theatre's current fundraising initiative.

In February 2017, the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs pledged €550,000 in funding to the Hawk's Well for badly needed renovation works.

In order to obtain the full grant, €550,000 would have to be raised by the Hawk's Well. In other words, whatever the Hawk's Well manage to raise, the amount will be matched by the department's grant, up to €550,000.

The fundraising side of it is well underway. And just last week, it was confirmed that the project has moved to the tender stage.

Marie O'Byrne, Director of the Hawk's Well told The Sligo Champion: "We went out to tender so we're excited about that. It's been a long time in the making in terms of getting there.

"Hopefully we'll get some tenders in over the weekend. We start assessing them and we're in the final stages of tying down the legal side of things and then we'll be able to appoint somebody in September."

Jane Parsons has been in charge of the fundraising drive at the theatre.

She said: "We've had loads of support from individuals, families, companies, both here in Sligo and also beyond. It's wonderful to see people who have still left Sligo who still recognise the importance of the Hawk's Well.

"It has gone very well but we have an awful long way to go. Now that we've gone to tender we're hoping that once we have a vision of what the Hawk's Well will be that will reignite our fundraising efforts and help us bring it over the line."

In order to raise funds for the renovation, the theatre added a €1 development fee on to the price of tickets, along with a number of fundraising events each year.

Marie said: "Fundraising happens on so many different, there's so many different ways. Jane has been amazing at keeping it going with the help of the staff. There's the €1 development fee on tickets. It's the tiniest thing but it makes a huge difference. There's the renovation sponsors like the families and corporates as well. Then there's fundraising events as well.

"Most of them we plan ourselves but then people are fantastic. We've had people come to us and give us part proceeds from their events as well. It's like firing from about ten different cylinders. People often come in off the street and give us donations. We got a new ticketing system last year and you can add a donation there and there's been great interaction there."

Jane added: "There's been a huge increase in donations that way, just people buying a ticket and saying 'I'll add a Euro extra or a fiver or a tenner'."

Now that plans are moving on to the next stage, Marie feels that they finally have something to show people for their support.

"It's a real case of feeling like the community coming behind you, in every sense. Even from the point of view that people are very happy to give us the development fee. That's why finally moving to tender is exciting because we finally have something to show people. We've had the development fee for a couple of years now. It'll be great to show people that this is where it's going."

Initially, when plans were being announced, it was predicted that the cost of the project would be in the region of €1.1million. Costs have since gone up, but in that time, more work has also been added to the plans.

There was also a deadline of March 2021 by which the funding had to be nailed down.

Marie explained why this has since changed: "If we only raise €200,000 then we'll get €200,000 of a grant. You have to match it. We were hoping to raise €550,000 but we added an extra layer . We applied for some LEADER funding to do some renovations backstage which was great because we just wanted to upgrade the whole state of the building.

"Construction costs have gone up. Our aim at the moment, last time we spoke was €1.1 million but now it's €1.27million but really it's not until we get the tender, the design, the construction tender we don't know. We do envisage that it will go up. That target is probably going to rise.

"For that Department grant, everything had to be signed, sealed and delivered by March 2021. Because the legal side of things took much longer than we had anticipated, they have extended that. That date was pushed out. We're hoping to be finished by September 2021. That is a tight schedule but in our heads when everything is all rosy in the garden, we would be starting construction in December 2020 and then finish by September 2021."

There is also the small matter of keep operations at the theatre going during renovations work. It is hoped that disruption to the theatre will be minimal while work is going on, but it is also possible that it may have to close for a short period.

Jane said: "We would need to keep the business of the theatre open for as much of that as possible so as part of the tender we have specified that we would need to phase construction so that we can start work without affecting the shows that we are running and that we minimize the time that the theatre is closed."

Marie added: "We're facing into the great unknown at this stage. We're hopeful that we can stay open."

The portion of the work being funded by the LEADER grant has already started and is separate to the work which is due to be carried out with the help of the grant from the department.

Jane said: "We've started some of the work. We've been renovating back stage, we've put in new floors, we've updated our green room, we've updated our dressing rooms, we've a new sound system in the theatre which is major but it's probably not as obvious to our customers because it's not something that they can see. That was a big investment. We got new curtains which everyone can see."

Marie added: "That was all the LEADER funding. And then the main bit with the department is the new foyer, new entrance, extended to the Peace Park wall and be able to overlook the Peace Park. Then there's bitty things.

"We have to fix the flooding which is a big thing that we haven't even included in the construction tender, that's going to be separate. We need a hearing loop in the auditorium, new seats. I'm still hopeful that we can look at the air conditioning in there. The thing that everyone will see is the foyer so that you have an entrance at ground level."

Both Jane and Marie are hopeful that it will be possible to have a lift in the theatre to improve accessibility. But, they cannot say for definite until plans are fully in place.

Marie said: "We want to make it more attractive for people to stay on after gigs, and to make it multi-purpose because we are tight for space because we use every inch. It's all in our heads so we just have to work with the design team."

There has been a huge volume of support for the theatre's proposed projects.

Whether it's customers, businesses, or artists who play in the theatre, everyone is pulling together to help this project. Hawk's Well is a part of the community.

Jane said: "People have grown up with it, it's part of their social life. This isn't just about making the place look better, it is essential. We're at a stage where it's essential, the theatre floods, we have accessibility issues.

"It's only a matter of time before we have new laws about accessibility and we won't meet those standards and it will be an emergency situation. That's why we're trying to be more proactive about this before it comes to that stage."

Marie continued: "People feel like the theatre is theirs. You couldn't buy that. We're only the caretakers here. It's our duty to leave it better for the next people. We can't not do this work."

As part of the fundraising drive, a summer soiree will take place in the beautiful surrounds of Markree Castle on Wednesday September 4th.

This is the second year of the 'Late Summer Celebration At Markree Castle' but this year's event is different.

Attendees will get to hear the premiere of a newly commissioned performance within the intimate setting of the castle's spectacular chapel. Siblings, Niamh, Deirdre & Séann Farrell will be performing a collection of stunning vocals accompanied by a string quartet, interweaving trad, folk and popular music. Following this, make your way to the spectacular Grand Hall for a wonderful late summer feast.

One of Ireland's most exquisite and versatile voices, Niamh Farrell's memorable performances are nothing short of spine-tingling. Her musical influences are vast, allowing her to move effortlessly between Irish traditional, gospel contemporary and folk genres, offering the audience an eclectic mix of material. Niamh has travelled the world with many different bands and artists including, Bobby McFerrin and David Gray. Niamh is joined in this performance by two of her earliest musical influences, her sister and brother, Deirdre and Sean Farrell and a string quartet led by Niamh Crowley.

Jane said: "With our fundraising we ask for donations but we also try and do fun events so that people can get something from it. We started this event last year and it was a huge sell-out success. It is great to take the theatre out of the building and bring it somewhere else such as the amazing setting of the castle.

"We are commissioning music that will be performed in the chapel. There will be a lovely meal in the grand hall, they will be music in the foyer, reception area. It's a full evening of entertainment and all for a good cause."

Tickets are €50 and are available from Hawk's Well Theatre.

Sligo Champion