Music and comedy at church venue

Kettering, St Andrews Church arts centre: Becky Willis.'19/12/12

Kettering, St Andrews Church arts centre: Becky Willis.'19/12/12

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A church has an alter ego as a thriving arts venue after the new vicar and his wife said yes to hosting a book signing event by a famous author.

“Waterstone’s asked us if they could use the church for a book signing for Jacqueline Wilson and we said yes and started calling ourselves ‘Kettering Arts Centre’. It was a huge success and it snowballed from there,” explained Becky Wills, whose husband, Nick, is the vicar at St Andrew’s Church, in Rockingham Road, Kettering.

She added: “The church is home to a vibrant congregation but is empty a lot of the week so we thought we should put this beautiful building to good use when it wasn’t being used for worship.”

Since the book signing in March 2010, the arts centre has hosted big names, including comedians Jack Dee and Marcus Brigstocke, as well as holding a popular annual folk festival.

Becky said: “Most of the acts can’t get used to the idea of performing in a church and we’ve had to start telling them that although it’s unusual for them, it’s not unusual for the audience now. Musicians love the acoustics and the folk festival is so popular the acts ask to come back.”

The folk festival, sponsored by local brewery, Potbelly, is held every spring and autumn, and the headline act for next year’s festival in April is Lucy Ward, who was named Best Newcomer in BBC Two’s Folk Awards 2012.

“We’ve tried running it over two days and one day, and a single day works better,” said Becky. “It is a lot of work organising all the groups and trying to get a mix of local acts and bigger names.”

Some people might think it is strange selling alcohol and having acts that use “fruity” language in a church, but Becky said the congregation had been very supportive. She said: “The events break even or run at a small profit and all the money we make is put back into the church. We’ve added more ladies’ toilets and we’re now working to improve the flooring, staging, sound deck and to install a permanent bar area. The money that gets spent on the church is all money that would have to be raised somehow.”

Forthcoming events at the venue include a show by Kettering lad made good, Jack Acaster, who wowed the critics at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe. “He’s told me it’s more nerve-wracking playing his home crowd than other shows,” said Becky. “But he’s really looking forward to coming back.”

The arts centre’s next show is Fagin’s Last Hour, a comedy based on Oliver Twist, with all parts played by James Hyland, which is on January 16. Visit www.ketteringartscentre.com.