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How the local community helped save Rum’s Eg gallery in Romsey

PUBLISHED: 11:54 09 October 2017

The interior of the gallery

The interior of the gallery

Archant

When the Rum’s Eg gallery in Romsey faced the prospect of closure earlier this year, the local community rallied round to help to secure its future. Viv Micklefield takes a look at the bigger picture

Where Art meets the Community, has always been the Rum’s Eg motto. Never has this been more appropriate than when, following a tough trading year, the Romsey gallery which prides itself in promoting Hampshire art and craft put out an urgent public appeal to enable it to stay in business. If the response was ever in doubt, then any worries quickly turned to joy, as £10,000 was raised in just over a week (it has since risen to over £12,000).

It meant that this hugely popular enterprise bought valuable time to build on the impact Rum’s Eg has made on the market town, and surrounding area, since opening in 2012. The creation of somewhere that the county’s artists and craftspeople can show and sell their work was the brainchild of local botanical painter Siriol Sherlock. Her passion and energy saw the conversion of a run-down three storey listed building in Bell Street into a vibrant hub with a shop, exhibition space, workshop, and café.

Choosing a name a little out of the ordinary helps spark interest too, with Rum’s Eg the old English for Romsey. Which is also fitting for somewhere that’s proved accessible, approachable and affordable, and, as so, is a past winner in the Test Valley Business in the Community Awards.

“We were overwhelmed with the support received, which proves that there are many individuals in our community who value what we are doing here,” says general manager Rebecca Maddox, speaking after the success of this summer’s crowdfunding campaign. Having joined the independent not-for-profit creative business 18 months ago, she’s positive about its long-term future. “A community spirit underlines everything that we do here. We now hope to use this support to move forward, stronger, and with the community more at the heart of Rum’s Eg than ever.”

Rebecca continues: “What’s unique is that we have the local community in Romsey and a community of artists. Quality of the art is excellent as there are some fantastic artists in the area. We sometimes scout for new artists at open studios and craft fairs. Or, if an artist approaches us, they go before a selection panel.”

Over the past five years, almost 150 artists living or working within a 70-mile radius of the gallery have been represented: from ceramicists to woodturners, and from sculptors to printmakers. One of those whose craftsmanship is regularly on display is silver jewellery creator Monica Wilson, who says: “As a Test Valley-based designer-maker, inspired by the Hampshire countryside, it is really valuable to have such a good gallery nearby. And so much better for a customer to be able to see, and personally choose, a piece of jewellery before buying.” Monica adds: “Rum’s Eg is a destination for feasting the senses, as well as for buying inspiring gifts.”

In addition to supporting established artists, of equal importance to the gallery is emerging talent, as painter Victoria Williams discovered when she was appointed artist-in-residence at Rum’s Eg during 2016. “I’m from Romsey originally, and graduated last summer in art and design from Leeds School of Art,” she explains. “When the workshop was offered to me for a month I jumped at it. I’ve painted all my life. I just love all the different textures and effects that you can create. It’s about the journey too, how the painting evolves from when you start out.

“I quickly got used to talking to people – fellow artists and visitors – about my work, as I worked, and really enjoyed the residency.”

Her experience at Rum’s Eg gave her career a boost too. The coastal series of paintings she completed were later shown at a solo exhibition and private commissions followed.

According to Rebecca, there are unlikely to be any drastic changes at Rum’s Eg during the coming months, although some new initiatives could be introduced. “We’re looking at having three big exhibitions each year and to having featured artists with more interaction, which might see them working onsite, running workshops and showing their work,” she says.

“And we’d like to develop the community workshop programme. Recently, there’s been support from the Art Society in Romsey and Talisman Homes who’ve sponsored a community art project in two local schools; willow sculptors went into Wellow Primary School and The Mountbatten School and did workshops with pupils based on the science of cells and microbiology.”

Rebecca says that Rum’s Eg will maintain its involvement with community events in the town. “We’ve got lantern-making workshops coming up which you can then take along to this year’s Lantern Parade. And we hope to continue as a venue for the Romsey Festival.”

Hosting performances of Shakespeare, as well as providing a meeting place for a monthly poetry group, and an innovative art therapy class, suggest a willingness to think outside the box in sustaining the gallery. And, she says, opportunities to attract more visitors to Romsey from tourist areas such as Winchester and Southampton, as well as other parts of the New Forest, will be explored.

Yinnon Ezra, chairman of Test Valley Arts Foundation, which along with Hampshire Cultural Trust added its artistic clout to the Rum’s Eg re-think, says: “What is good is that having shared their financial predicament with the community, it is this community within Romsey and the Test Valley that came to their rescue. We (at Test Valley Arts) have donated money to the current appeal but we’re doing more, by helping them make their arts funding bids and acting as a bridge between the business and the local councils. There’s a debate to be had about whether Rum’s Eg might need to consider becoming a charity.”

Yinnon remains confident of a solution being found. “There’s a huge amount of goodwill. Rum’s Eg provides an opportunity for people to meet in a nice place with a welcoming, supportive atmosphere. We’ve got to work hard to make sure that it survives as a really good platform for artists to get involved in a whole range of things, not just selling work but networking with each other. We think that there’s a huge future for Rum’s Eg.”

Victoria agrees: “Romsey is incredibly lucky to have such a place that really tries to involve many different aspects of the community in projects and the creative arts. It’s so inspiring.”

To find out more, visit rumseg.co.uk

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