The story of one person’s fierce determination to secure the future of Bridport Arts Centre.
“I remember the stunned silence that greeted my offer”, Peggy Chapman-Andrews
In 1983 Peggy Chapman-Andrews retired as the secretary of the Arts Centre after fifteen years of service. As she was the only person to know its full history, she was asked to write down the story of how the Arts Centre came to be. Two years later, Peggy finished Where Angels Fear to Tread: The Formation of the Arts Society and its Early History.
In the short text, Peggy shares her dreams for the community:
“One of my daydreams was to win the pools so I could build a proper theatre for Bridport where visiting professionals and local amateurs alike could enjoy performing in a properly equipped theatre, however small, which would become some sort of cultural centre for the whole district.”
Little did she know that she didn’t need to win a lump sum of money for her vision to become a reality. Her actions in years to follow would fulfil her dream of building a cultural centre for artists and creatives alike.
Peggy had worked with the Operatic Society before she was asked to become the Secretary of the newly formed Pantomime Players. The group rented a small space but continued to search for somewhere to build scenery, props, develop special effects, and so on. Whilst searching for such a location, the group would begin to form ideas about expanding this space into a theatre workshop and a Centre. It was during this time that the term ‘Arts Society’ began to circulate:
“It is clear to me now that none of us had the faintest idea what an ‘Arts Society’ was. But it sounded good…”
In 1968 their idyllic ideas for their Arts Society were nearly thwarted when another group was said to be forming an Arts Society of their own. Within a week of hearing this news, a meeting was organised, and the formation of the Arts Society was announced. Peggy was made Secretary. Sharing her thoughts on this time Peggy said:
“We were all as green as they come and knowing how many mistakes we made in those first few years, I am amazed we survived at all.”
Months passed and the Arts Society were still unable to find premises suitable as a club room or an arts Centre. It wasn’t until May 1970 that they decided to rent part of the St. Swithun’s House from the Church authorities as headquarters. Just one month later, they were advised that there was a Methodist Chapel in South Street which had huge potential – the building that would ultimately become Bridport Arts Centre.
For eighteen months the Committee favoured the idea of buying the Methodist Chapel, but a firm decision was continually evaded. In 1973, the Arts Society had managed to raise £6,000 towards the cost of buying the Methodist premises, but still, no one was willing to commit to such a large investment. Understandably, the Methodist authorities grew impatient. They gave the Arts Society an ultimatum; sign the contract before 1st July or the property would go back on the Market. This was the final straw for Peggy who decided to make her dream a reality:
“It was then that I pulled a fast one: I undertook, if necessary, to pay the interest on a bank loan myself to remove the only real objection the ditherers had to sign the contract. I remember the stunned silence that greeted my offer. No one could find any reason to defer a decision any longer. And so it was that on the 18th May 1973, at a table specially placed outside the door of the then Methodist Chapel, we at last gathered and publicly signed the Contract for the purchase of the Methodist premises: a milestone in our story.”
Peggy Chapman-Andrews remains to this day an icon to the Arts Centre and the vibrant community that surrounds it. So, here’s to Peggy and to continuing her legacy of supporting the arts in Bridport.
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