Arts centre to cut jobs, scale back opening hours and offer discounted tickets under 'warm welcome' survival plan

One of Scotland's biggest arts centres has revealed plans to cut jobs, scale back its opening hours and offer discounted tickets in a bid to secure its future.

Eden Court, in Inverness, has admitted it is facing “enormous financial challenges” due to a combination of increased costs, reduced audiences since the pandemic and the impact of the cost-of-living crisis. Around £1 million worth of savings are being made by Eden Court, which dates back to 1976, to balance the books during the current financial year.

One in ten jobs at Eden Court are going under cost-cutting measures aimed at ensuring it remains "viable and financially stable" in the long term.

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However as part of its plan to withstand the economic climate and the doubling of its own energy costs, Eden Court will be run as a "warm welcome" venue to encourage its use as a place of "solace, relief and escapism" for local people.

The Stamping Ground, a new musical inspired by the songs of Runrig, has been one of the most successful shows at Eden Court this year. Picture: Ewen Weatherspoon
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Eden Court, which became a humanitarian aid centre during the first Covid lockdown, will be promoted as a place to get warm, study, read a book or “just be around others”. The venue, which has had a 143-strong workforce and a turnover of around £5.7m, gets £500,000 worth of funding from Creative Scotland and £300,000 from Highland Council annually.

It has two main performance spaces – the 869-seater main auditorium and a 275-space studio theatre, two cinemas, and exhibition galleries, and a space for outdoor events such as its “Under Canvas” festival.

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Forthcoming shows include performances by comics Janey Godley, Susie McCabe, Ray Bradshaw and Jim Smith, Scottish Ballet's production of The Snow Queen, the new National Theatre of Scotland adaptation of Kidnapped, and a return for The Stamping Ground, the hit Runrig-inspired musical that premiered at Eden Court in the summer.

Eden Court’s opening hours will cut by 20 per cent from January 9, although it will remain open seven days a week to encourage people to use the venue, which will offer free space for community groups.

The Stamping Ground musical, which was inspired by the music and songs of Runrig, was one of the big hits at Eden Court in Inverness this year. Picture: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

New low-income ticket offers are being created for cinema screenings and events in the studio theatre, while an “Eden Court Connect” membership scheme will offer discounted tickets and working space to creative industry workers.

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An official announcement from Eden Court stated: "The impact of inflation and the slow return to full houses across the UK theatre sector following the pandemic also impacts the charity as well as audience members and artists. Following a period of planning and consultation, the arts organisation has recently taken moves to ensure that it will remain a viable and financially stable business for the long term.

"Eden Court’s key funders are aware and supportive of the actions being taken to manage the charity through this period."

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Eden Court chief executive Rebecca Holt told The Scotsman: “None of us quite knew what the audience demand was going to be when things restarted. There was a fair amount of confidence. We had big sell-out shows like Chicago and 9 to 5 here this time last year. It really felt like there was this pent-up demand.

Eden Court in Inverness runs the 'Under Canvas' festival in its grounds every summer.

“When things got to more of a steady state, that pent-up demand maybe wasn’t realised in the way we thought it was going to be. It quickly became clear that audience numbers were not returning at the same levels across theatre and cinema, and that we were not alone.

"That picture really made us think it was a sector-wide issue and wasn’t something specific to do with our programming or our marketing. Quite a lot of it was outwith our control. By the summer we were becoming aware that we really needed to take decisive action.”

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Ms Holt said although a post-pandemic trend for late bookings appeared to have "turned a bit of a corner”, advance sales were showing that audiences were gravitating towards better-known and “feel-good” shows.

She said: “We are seeing certain things perform really well and other things that in the past would have done well not quite performing in the same way. It’s a particular challenge for us as the primary venue in the Highlands which has a role to show a breadth of artistic output and keep hold of that.

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Eden Court in Inverness is one of Scotland's biggest arts centres. Picture:

“That’s about us showing lots of different genres, from emerging artists to really established artists, whilst also responding to what audiences are looking for at the moment. There are a number of different factors at the moment. Our utility costs have doubled, the cost of everything has gone up and our audiences are a bit lower, which has reduced our income.

“We know that we cannot just put ticket prices up. The answer is not to pass it all on to audiences.

"The reason we have introduced a low-income ticket price is to ensure that people can afford to continue to come to Eden Court and also take some risks on what they choose to come out for.”

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Ms Holt said the “decisive measures” Eden Court was setting out to reduce its spending were expected to bring it to a “balanced position”. She said: “We feel comfortable and confident in the plan that we’ve got in terms of how to address the scale of the challenge. It’s a big challenge, but it’s a challenge we know how we going to address.”

Don Robertson, chair of Eden Court's board, said: "Eden Court faces enormous financial challenges due to significantly increased operating costs and lower ticket sales revenues. This is a common issue across the arts sector and has unfortunately resulted in the closure of some key Scottish venues.

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"Eden Court's trustees have approved a decisive plan of action to avoid us incurring a financial deficit, which would have threatened the long-term sustainability of the charity. Through these actions and with the continued support of our audiences, staff and funders, we believe that we can secure the future of this vital and highly valued Highland asset.”

Eden Court in Inverness was turned into a humanitarian aid centre during the first Covid lockdown. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Eden Court in Inverness runs the festival 'Under Canvas' in its grounds in the summer.

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