Getting to know the National Rural Touring Forum

Getting to know the National Rural Touring Forum
24 January 2018 by Chris Cowcher,

The National Rural Touring Forum (NRTF) is one of those wonderful under the radar organisations that helps keep rural Britain thriving. I’m its Chair, Tom Speight.

Hosting rural touring shows has been a crucial mechanism to keep the hall busy and talked about.

My journey to that heady position began when I became what is known in the rural touring world as a “promoter” eight years ago. That is, a volunteer who makes a professional performance happen in their village hall. There are currently 1,659 of us across rural England, Wales and Scotland. And last year, we put on shows to over 330,000 paying audience members – a whopping 26% increase over the last ten years.

My village of Castle Carrock has about 270 inhabitants and it’s located 10 miles east of Carlisle, on the edge of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. We still have a good pub, a thriving school, a church and crucially, a village hall, The Watson Institute. Hosting rural touring shows has been a vital mechanism to keep the hall busy and talked about.

My hall. It’s a very special place and means the world to me. Built in 1897 by the richest family in the village originally as a Reading Room, it’s now a wonderfully intimate village hall and venue where I can sit 65 people at a push, cabaret style, small tables, candles, subdued lighting and a small stage that I borrow from the school next door.

There are two seasons to the rural touring year where I live in Cumbria – the spring season and the autumn season. A small organisation called Highlights acts as the clearing house for me as I choose which shows to put on. Highlights is a charity, one of twenty seven such schemes across the UK.

The schemes get some of their money from the Arts Council, some from the box office and some – though less and less – from local authorities. It means that they can help subsidise more “risky” shows, encouraging more confident promoters to try out shows that might on paper be more difficult to sell. And the schemes are affiliated to the NRTF which advocates for rural touring as well as helping to drive a central strategy. A recent three year campaign to get professional dance into village halls – yes, dance into village halls – has been a huge success.

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