‘I hope anyone who comes into St Andrew’s feels welcome, whether they are there on a Saturday night or a Sunday morning’
The Reverend Tom Houston is vicar at St Andrew’s Church and Manager of Kettering Arts Centre, which is housed within the church. He explains how those two roles fit together.
By Julia Thorley
To have an arts centre in a fully functioning church is quite unusual. Did you realise what you were taking on when you moved to St Andrew’s?
“Oh yes, but it was a challenge nonetheless. I’d never run an arts venue before! I completed my training in Burton Latimer, and when it came to looking for a post the parish of St Andrew’s appealed to me. The previous minister, the Reverend Nick Wills, had a real passion for the arts, especially comedy, and with his wife Becky built up the Arts Centre into a thriving enterprise. I happily took up the reins from Nick and the original Arts Centre team, alongside my role as vicar.”
Is there any conflict between the two roles?
“On the contrary. Both offer wonderful opportunities to forge connections within our community and to inspire people to get involved with the things that matter. Both offer ways to help people overcome feelings of isolation, too, which is a legacy of the pandemic, of course, but also a part of modern life. Online connections can be valuable, but there’s nothing to beat face-to-face contact. In fact, attendance at arts events is now part of the ‘prescription’ to help people improve their mental health.
“When I took up the post, I asked everyone in the congregation how they felt about the Arts Centre. In the hiatus caused by Covid it would have been easy to let it quietly fall by the wayside. However, the majority of people approved, even if they hadn’t yet been tempted to attend an event. Overall, I hope anyone who comes into the church feels welcome, whether they are there on a Saturday night or a Sunday morning.”
Why is Kettering Arts Centre so important to you?
“As well as building community, I see its function as a way to boost the arts across the whole town, and I mean arts in the broadest sense. We have a good foundation for this with the variety of events we already have on our programme. Our monthly Rolling in the Aisles Comedy Club is a big part of this, but we also host drama, improv, music and spoken word, as well as art exhibitions and practical, creative sessions. Our ‘Have A Go’ arts day is a good example, which brings together a whole array of people who can demonstrate what it is they do and offers people the opportunity to have a go themselves, or simply to come and have a look at the incredible range of talent we have in our town.”
How does it fit into the wider arts scene in the town?
“There are promising signs that this sector is growing. KettFest, for instance, has grown over the years, thanks to the incredible efforts of a range of volunteers working hard behind the scenes. This year it attracted another great crowd despite the appalling weather. There’s a vibrant scene developing at The Yards, too.
“I’d like to see more of this and to expand connections with, for instance, The Bonkers Playhouse, The Lighthouse Theatre, The Masque, North Pole Productions, ISM Music Academy and many more. Kettering Arts Centre could be a catalyst for the promotion of arts events being held throughout the community, not just at our own venue. I want Kettering to be in a position to attract big names and national touring productions and exhibitions.”
The church and the Arts Centre will be closed for the early part of the next year for some renovations. What’s the plan?
“We were fortunate to secure £100,000 from the FCC Community Foundation, and with other grants and fundraising we have £360,000 to pay for much-needed improvements. The whole building will benefit from the investment, both as a place of worship and a community space. Underfloor heating will bring much relief after some very cold winter events over the years. The floor tiles will be replaced. At the moment the floor is so unstable in places we have had to cordon it off, which obviously restricts what we can do in the space. We are going to improve accessibility, too, including installing a ramp up to the stage. We’re having blinds installed so we can increase the range of daytime events we can hold – for example, film shows – and better stage lighting.
“We will be reopening in the spring and plans are in hand for a grand relaunch. We’re already working on the programme for 2024, including an exhibition by the Arts Department of Tresham College, which will occupy the body of the church and the church rooms.
“We’ve only scraped the surface of what we can offer in terms of entertainment and participation. For instance, one new thing I’d like to try is to pick a big topic and invite a range of inspirational speakers to come along and offer their different perspectives to provoke some lively debate. I believe this would offer a stimulating complement to the lighter events we put on.
“Kettering has of course produced some very well-known artists and performers, perhaps most noticeably at the moment James Acaster, the Reverend Richard Coles and Mae Stephens. Who knows who else is out there waiting to be discovered?”
Further information about Arts Centre events is here
To volunteer at the arts centre, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Julia Thorley is a Kettering-based writer.