School pals fight to halt theatre cuts

thisisoxfordshire: School friends Ryan Clune and Anusha Abbas have been campaigning against cuts set to be imposed on the Pegasus Theatre. Artistic director Jonathan Lloyd is pictured behind them.  Picture: OX64490 Ed Nix Buy this photo » School friends Ryan Clune and Anusha Abbas have been campaigning against cuts set to be imposed on the Pegasus Theatre. Artistic director Jonathan Lloyd is pictured behind them. Picture: OX64490 Ed Nix

STUDENTS have rallied behind an Oxford theatre facing a cut to its budget.

Pegasus Theatre in Magdalen Road, could see its annual grant of £68,000 slashed by £46,000 if Oxfordshire County Council agrees to proposed cost-saving measures.

But schoolfriends Ryan Clune and Anusha Abbas, both 15, are campaigning against the proposal at their school, the Oxford Academy, and have gained the support of more than 1,000 people.

After learning of the plans the Year 10 duo took to social networking site Facebook to encourage classmates to sign a petition started by the theatre’s artistic director Jonathan Lloyd in December.

It proposes an alternative cut of just one third over the same period of time, leaving a grant of £45,511.

Ryan, from Blackbird Leys, first got involved with the theatre when they visited his school three years ago and has since joined its youth company.

He said: “People were shocked when we told them about the size of the cuts and were quite willing to get behind our campaign. My teachers have been forwarding the petition to other people and it has gone round the whole school.”

Anusha, who lives in Cowley, said the theatre was a huge part of lots of people’s lives.

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He said: “It is somewhere we go to do extra activities outside of school. We wouldn’t have got a chance to meet them otherwise. It’s a really great environment.”

Artistic director of the theatre Mr Lloyd, 44, said that the cuts could harm the work the theatre does with young people who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

He said: “We understand the pressure the council is under, but cuts of this scale will have a disproportionate affect on young people we work with.

“Pegasus is as much of an educational source as it is a cultural one and genuinely gets behind young people.

“Now, more than ever, that is really critical. They have done brilliantly and from our point of view having these students do this is the most powerful message of all.

“Seeing the impact that the place has had on them is fantastic.”

A county council spokesman said: “The council, in very challenging national financial circumstances, is proposing a budget for the next four years – no decisions will be actually made until February. The proposed phased reduction in the grant given to the Pegasus Theatre would not begin until 2015/16.

“The council is of course always happy to receive comments from the public regarding its budget proposals.

“If the overall proposed budget is approved in February it would give us more than a year to work with the theatre to help them access other sources of funding.”

  • To view or sign the e-petition, which closes tomorrow, visit www.tinyurl.com/pegasuscuts

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