Graham's passion to save Sidmouth's theatre earns him Citizen of the Year award
PUBLISHED: 07:01 29 April 2019 | UPDATED: 12:29 29 April 2019
The 'face' of the Manor Pavilion, who turned the town's ailing theatre into a top attraction for the country's leading production companies, has been named Citizen of the Year.
Graham Whitlock has used his experience working front of house at theatres in the West End and Lewisham to turn the theatre's fortunes around.
When he came to Sidmouth in 2006, he was faced with the very real threat of the theatre closing – as well as the issues of no box office, advertising, what's on guide, internet or staff.
Mr Whitlock said: “In those days it was make or break. There was even talk they might close it and build flats there.”
Fast forward 13 years and the 56-year-old remains front and centre of the operation and is proud of the varied programme, which includes community productions, visits from Ballet Theatre UK and the sell-out summer rep season produced by Paul Taylor-Mills.
Since his arrival the East Devon District Council-owned theatre underwent a £90,000 upgrade and has recorded increasing audience figures every year.
When not at the theatre, Mr Whitlock is speaking to other theatres and groups about productions to provide a varied programme to suit all ages and tastes – with groups booking the theatre as far as 2021.
Mr Whitlock said: “It's about changing it up and never standing still. We have lots of loyal support from the public which is what matters. We have a mixed programme. We can never take it for granted. We have got to listen to what the public say. There are still things that we want to do and achieve. We have never been in a better position to be able to put on all these shows. Sometimes it was very difficult to make changes and there has been resistance – but it has been worthwhile.”
The competition is run by the Rotary Club of Sidmouth in partnership with the Herald.
Mr Whitlock received the award at a celebratory lunch held by at the Victoria Hotel.
Mr Whitlock said: “I'm quite happy to be in the background. I'm so humbled that people have read the paper filed out the form and taken the time to send it. “It speaks volumes. I'm in a job I love and I hope that comes across and the passion comes across. It's been amazing.
“I'm seen as the face of the theatre, we try and welcome people how we would like to be welcomed. We must remember theatre is a piece of entertainment they can choose to come or not and we want to make sure they have a great nights entertainment.”