Queens Park Centre is a charity that opened in 1980 in the former Queens Park School,where it is still situated. Originally funded by Buckinghamshire County Council it was run for many years by its first Director, Malcolm Thackwray. From the outset,great importance was placed on ‘Arts for All’. A range of arts and crafts workshops were set up on a ‘pay as you go’ basis, an ethos which still resonates at the Centre today. Volunteer support was also welcomed and tutors with expertise, skills and enthusiasm ran weekly arts and crafts workshops for the benefit of children and adults alike. This meant that affordable opportunities and ‘hands on’ fun sessions have been continually available to people from Aylesbury and beyond for over 30 years.
In time, the ‘Limelight Theatre’ was added to the Centre, an intimate 120 seater theatre which has attracted numerous superb acts and productions over the years including Eddie Izzard, Lee Evans, Shaun Hughes, Jo Brand and bands such as Show of Hands, John Otway and Theatre Companies including Hull Truck and Frantic Assembly.The Limelight also has a strong history of supporting in house and community productions. In 2011, the Centre revived it’s very popular annual Pantomime with’ Jack & the Beanstalk’.
That the Centre survived when County Council funding was withdrawn in 1998 was remarkable and largely due to the hard work and commitment of the hundreds of supporters determined to keep it going. The Centre was also fortunate to have some financial support from Aylesbury Vale District Council and local educational trust, Hardings. They provided,and continue to give, much needed annual core funding, although about 75% of income comes from workshop fees and ticket sales.
In 1998 the Centre became independent and a Company Limited by Guarantee named Queens Park Arts Centre Ltd. However with no security of tenure on the site and adjoining former school land being developed for housing an ambitious fundraising campaign was launched and £325,000 was raised by the deadline in 2009 to buy the freehold. Funding in excess of £200,000 has since been secured for the Stage 1 of the Refurbishment Project. This project included structural repairs and improvements to the external façade of the Centre to ensure that it is watertight and energy efficient. This included extensive repairs to the roof, windows, pebble-dashing, drains and guttering,chimneys, roof windows and flat roofs. In addition, replacement external signage,new integrated box office and website, new Centre logo and redesigned brochure and refurbished theatre seating. The Refurbishment Project is vital to ensure that the external appearance and its facilities reflect the quality of the activities inside the Centre.
Stage 2 of the Refurbishment project included repairs and improvements to the inside of the building. Funding is now being sought for a re-development of the under-utilised part of the site, which will further enhance the creative opportunities of the Centre.
In the last decade, the Centre has greatly increased the number of weekly workshops and now offers over 70 sessions a week. Many of which are drop in pay as you go. It has also introduced regular workshops for children and longer length courses for adults during the holidays and increased the opportunities for local hirers to use the facilities. There is now a well-established and successful annual Art & Craft Fair, as well as a popular pantomime, a May Maker's Fair and a Health & Wellbeing Day taking place each year.
As a charity with a huge breadth of programme on offer and commitment to affordable arts for all Queens Park Arts Centre and the Limelight Theatre remains the creative hub of Aylesbury and a much valued community resource.
Malcolm Thackwray (1943-2015)
Malcolm David Thackwray, born 30th April 1943 in Holland-on-Sea, Essex, was an artist craftsman in the broadest sense of the term. Others called him a creative polymath due to the range and quality of his artistic endeavours. He described himself simply as a maker.
A graduate of the Guildford School of Art, Malcolm’s first creative employment was as an associate in the studio of civic sculptor William Mitchell. Shortly after this he was commissioned to design and create a memorial wall to commemorate Robert & Elizabeth Browning’s residence in Little Venice, London.
His early career saw him undertake many civic and private commissions before joining the management committee of The Athenaeum, Warminster. He redeveloped the venue’s marketing and programming, seeing audiences for the venue’s theatre shows double.
In 1978 Malcolm was appointed the first Artistic Director of Queens Park Arts Centre. His contribution was immense – he helped to renovate the derelict building and make it fit for purpose, designed and distributed promotional material, recruited and supported a dedicated team of volunteers, planned and helped construct the Limelight Theatre (as well as the sets for many productions), ran workshops, raised funding and so much more.
He took early retirement after eighteen years at the helm and heart of Queens Park, as the long road to the Centre becoming an independent organisation began. His creativity was undiminished, undertaking all manner of projects from touring exhibitions to writing a series of novels.
Malcolm passed away on 22nd October 2015.
35 years after it first opened its doors Queens Park Arts Centre remains a loved and important place to a great many people – without Malcolm it would never have been possible.
“What a rare and special thing places like QPC are.” Malcolm, in a postcard from September 2015