Film star Emma and playwright Roy Williams ask locals to give to drama charity for vulnerable children

By Emma Pengelly

Austerity is jeopardising vulnerable children’s access to arts – and one group which transforms the lives of children is facing an uncertain future.

Lewisham Council has supported Montage Theatre Arts for nearly 20 years – but the performing arts charity lost nearly 90% of its grant after town hall chiefs announced its cut on February 28.

Montage now faces cuts to its bursary and concessions programme which helps kids from low income backgrounds or those facing social hardships to take part in singing, acting and dancing classes at minimal cost.

One Montage parent said: “My daughter absolutely loved attending the Montage Summer School. I could see her confidence grow over the week.

“Without the scholarship, she wouldn’t have had the opportunity to engage in such a worthwhile programme.”

But Montage is one of 15 organisations in the borough which had its grant axed after reduction in the council’s fund for voluntary groups under its Widening Access to Arts and Sports theme.

Last year the council reduced its grant to Montage from £13,500 to £8,474 – but in February cut it completely.

But on appeal Lewisham Council provided a £1,000 grant and the endorsement of its logo on April 8.

The Main Grants Programme 2019-22, from central government, enables the council to fund its community and voluntary sector organisations which address four areas: access to arts and sports, cohesive communities, care work and advice.

A spokesman for Lewisham Council said: “Due to ongoing austerity and continuing reduction in the council’s budget, the total available for main grants to the voluntary and community sector is £2.5 million which is a £600,000 cut from last year’s budget. However, this is not the severe cut that was anticipated of £1 million.

“The applications the Council received totalled over £5.8 million, nearly two and a half times the budget available.”

Lewisham’s mayor and cabinet March 27 report states the council received 92 applications requesting annual funds of £5,869,223 but only has £2,562,102 to hand out.

The report said: “Montage Theatre Arts is unfortunate not to be recommended for funding. Montage is well run and delivers excellent activities in the borough. However, Lewisham benefits from a wealth of organisations providing similar activities and it is not possible for the council to support all of them financially.”

Montage’s prospects have been boosted by support from local business.

Brockley estate agents Bryan & Keegan pledged £600 which will be doubled during the charity’s participation in the Big Summer Give.

The match funding campaign runs from June 10-17 during which public donations will doubled by the charity’s sponsors The Williams Foundation and The Childhood Trust.

Bryan & Keegan partner Jon Keegan said: “We are delighted to support a charity that has such strong roots in the community and has changed the lives of so many children and families.”

The Big Summer Give campaigns to reduce child poverty in the capital during the summer holidays when children are particularly vulnerable.

Montage will be fundraising to offer at least 22 bursaries which include a free lunch every day and 50 concession places across its five weeks of summer holiday programmes this year.

Montage’s summer programme will offer children the chance to get involved with productions including Under the Sea, Circus, Aladdin, Revolting Children and Circle of Life.

The charity is backed by famous faces including actress Dame Emma Thompson DBE and one of Britain’s leading playwrights Roy Williams OBE.

Mr Williams said: “Montage is about community and giving access to the arts to those who desperately need a safe place where they can be creative, have fun, make new friends and build their confidence.”

On average Montage offers 305 concession places and at least 52 bursaries per year costing the charity around £42,000.

The other 14 groups affected by cuts are BOW Arts, Hartslane, Horniman Museum and Garden, Magpie Dance, Max Media Arts, Penny Dreadful Productions, Sounds Like Chaos, South East London Arts Network, South London Art Map, Sydenham Arts, Teatro Vivo, The Maypole Project, The Royal Society for Blind Children and THYSF – Platform cricket.

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