Successful year for The Neeld
Staff at Chippenham Town Council’s entertainment venue are celebrating a successful year with bookings and audience satisfaction on the up.
But the small but dedicated team at the Neeld Community and Arts Centre barely has time to rest on the laurels with almost 30 shows already booked in for 2019.
The Neeld, added to the town hall in 1850 by MP Joseph Neeld, has been a corn exchange, a cheese hall and even, during the First World War, a military hospital. But the later 20th century saw it converted to an entertainment venue that in the 1960s hosted the likes of The Who and The Kinks (who played the week You Really Got Me went to number one and were chased off stage by rampant fans) and, in the 1970s, Roxy Music.
Now venues manager Julie Hook is bringing back the bright lights and the crowds to the 217-seat venue, which had a major refurbishment with new bar, sound equipment and state-of-the-art seating three years ago. In the last year the venue has sold more than 93 per cent of available tickets for its shows. The UK average for venues of its size is 51 per cent.
“We work really hard on coming up with something for everyone,” said Mrs Hook. “I get offered acts and I’ll run them past my team. We have a good range of ages and interests among us and we have a great idea now of what audiences in Chippenham want.”
Mrs Hook, who has been at the venue for six months, has a team of four full-time staff – a marketing and box office co-ordinator, technician Kieran Moore, venues bookings co-ordinator Helen Bywater and facilities supervisor Chris Ruddell.
“We are a small team but we provide a really high quality, professional service and we get incredibly good feedback for the acts that play here,” said Mr Moore, who joined five months ago after years of gig promotion in Bath, Chippenham, Devizes and Swindon. “The team here really punches above its weight.”
The team has a supporting cast of another half a dozen halls staff, three of whom are on duty at each performance to help get the venue ready, act as ushers and fire marshals and clear up at the end of the evening.
Deciding on the entertainment programme isn’t just down to the team’s opinion. Website and social media engagement are assessed to gauge the popularity of shows and Mrs Hook is often in the foyer chatting to show-goers as they leave.
“I love it when you see people leaving with smiles on their faces and there is a buzz in the air. That’s the reward we get for all the hard work that goes into the planning and also behind the scenes before and after the show. That’s why we do it,” she said.
She is expanding the programme with more youth events and sports stars coming to share their life stories, as well as senior citizens’ afternoon singalongs. With the hall booked for private events on almost two out of every three days, the building is never quiet for long.
Her experience as business manager at the Pavilion Theatre in Weymouth has given her vital experience and also the contacts that help secure better acts for Chippenham.
“We are busy booking shows for next year and it can be a struggle fitting them in because the hall is very busy with private hire events now too. But I can’t wait for people to see what we have lined up for next year, there is something for everyone and it is going to be fantastic.”
Town council leader Sandie Webb said Chippenham is fortunate to have such an asset run by the council. “The team there are wonderful and they work incredibly hard to put on professional shows that really add to the town and it’s economy. Many other councils who visit us are blown away by what we have here.”