Andrew Thomas talks to Miriam Randall, chief executive officer of the Brewery Arts Centre, about how the coronavirus pandemic lockdown has impacted on the Kendal venue

The Brewery Arts Centre is one of those organisations that is part of the fabric of society in Kendal.

With its cinema, theatre, concerts, exhibitions, classes, bars and restaurant it attracts thousands of residents and visitors of all ages.

But the coronavirus put a stop to much of the activity at this thriving community hub.

Chief executive officer and artistic director Miriam Randall, who has been in post for a year, described how the decision was taken to shut the Brewery to protect staff and visitors.

“For us it was the week before the Government announced the lockdown,” said Miriam. “We were seeing the news stories and noticed the drop in numbers visiting the cinema immediately. It got to the stage where I was worried about the safety of the public and staff.”

On March 16, four days before pubs and restaurants were ordered to close, Miriam and the Brewery’s board agreed to shut the venue down the next day.

“We all got together on the 17th in the Vats Bar for a meeting and I told everyone they should go home,” said Miriam.

“We gave everybody the help they needed to get home as quickly as possible and everyone was still on full pay for that time, including our freelance tutors because we had to cancel all the classes that should have been on.

“We were in the midst of one of the busiest months of the year. We had never done better than we had done in February and March in terms of sales and people coming in. We were booming in the cinema, bar and music venue.

“The community dance platform had to be cancelled and I really felt for all the students who had been working hard all term on their performances and for their parents, who were looking forward to watching them.

“But for public safety reasons we took the decision to stop all public events.”

Also postponed was a major event in May aimed at showcasing the music industry, where some international acts and special guest stars had been due to perform.

“We gave some of the food and drink away to local paramedics, who told us they were finding it hard to stop and have proper food breaks and were living on snacks,” said Miriam. “So we delivered as much of our snacks and drinks as we could to them.”

She said most of the Brewery’s 92 members of staff are now on furlough, although a small team was working from home to continue delivering the Brewery’s creative learning programmes online with young people, including the Brewery’s youth arts, youth dance and youth theatre groups.

“Our creative learning team has been running their usual classes in arts and craft, theatre and dance from home,” said Miriam. “The response we have had from young students has been amazing. They have said how they really appreciated being able to continue feeling connected to the Brewery during lockdown and to keep on being creative.

“We are also doing a lot online with the more vulnerable groups we work with, such as community groups, a refugee group and care homes, through our outreach project.”

Miriam said: “We have been trying to support the companies and artists affected by having their shows and projects cancelled by honouring as much as we can the fees that we had agreed.”

She said 15 per cent of the Brewery’s funding came from the Arts Council and local councils and they had been ‘brilliant’. But she added: “The other 85 per cent of our funding comes from our income so when we closed that stopped overnight.”

She said it was a ‘really challenging’ time. “I believe we are going to be OK. We are in a good place, we have a great network of supporters and funders and loyal customers and we play an important role in the local community.

“I am working with partners, the board and our team about how we can open in a different format and probably in a phased way so we can keep our place as a real community asset for Kendal and beyond but do it safely.”

Plans were being developed but reopening the doors to the general public would only happen when it was safe to do so.

She praised the Brewery’s staff, many of whom had volunteered to deliver food to those who could not get out of their house and who were ‘phoning all the Brewery volunteers to keep them connected and offer help during the lockdown.

“I have never been more proud of them,” said Miriam. “They have shown care and dedication for each other, the Brewery and the local community.”

Meanwhile she urged anyone to get in touch if they thought there was anything the Brewery could do to help them, or with ideas for community collaborations. Miriam said people could email her at