This weeks Friend for Friday is Alton Assembly Rooms manager, Jason Passingham, a local resident with plenty to say and reveal on one of Alton's cherished buildings:
What Part do the Assembly Rooms play in a town like Alton?
The Assembly Rooms in Alton is a great focal point for the town, being situated right in the centre of Alton amongst the high street names, local traders and tourist interests. We offer to local Altonians and others from across Hampshire a number of Halls and Rooms for events and activities for all ages – varying from Drama and Dance, to Arts and Crafts. The Assembly Rooms allow young and old, disabled and well bodied people to try something new and get involved with their local community.
How have the rooms changed over time, seeing as they were founded in 1880!?
Yes, with our 130th Anniversary two years ago, it does show what a reliable and accessible focal point the Assembly Rooms have created. The rooms have been occupied by Dance Halls, Cinema, Council Offices and even a hospital! Elaborating on this – we have been well known in the Dance Community – with classes ranging from Folk to Street Dance, however we have strong mediums in our Drama, Art and Horticultural sessions too.
You mentioned you have a range of activities and interests for young people – so what do you actually offer for students like us?
Most of our activities may have certain target audiences; however we have many Groups that offer student participation. For example, our Art Groups have been running competitions recently for young aspiring artists, and the Alton Operatic Drama Society (AODS) continually present Alton with a mix of young and old performers and actors. I do admit though, that our demographic has been aimed more to an older generation, considering that many people in the area are of an older age – however we are working to create a more integrated society by mixing the young and old together. That’s one of our main aims at the moment: to encourage the whole community to come together, instead of being pigeonholed into different categories.
How will you get more young people inspired in the Assembly Rooms?
Well, we have many rooms holding many different organisations and events, which are mostly free or cost a limited amount of money. Our dance and drama programmes already accommodate young people, and this is increasing with out horticultural and art groups. The recent production of Dracula, although expensive, successfully targeted and reached a young audience – and we hope to offer more of these productions and events in the near future.
Elaborating on the future – what events/ plans have you got in the pipeline?
One of the main things we have had through response and surveys is the inclusion of a professional pantomime, which many Altonians would like to see in the Assembly Rooms.
We are looking into many new ventures, as well as keeping up our ties with local establishments like Holybourne Theatre and the Community Centre. We are also trying to create more of a presence through advertising. We have plans, like talks on dinosaurs or special art days, but we need to get this known to people. The recent creation of a Facebook page and our continued communication through the local press are helping spread the message. I understand and relish the fact that the youth are the way forward and that we need to incorporate more students and young adults into the Assembly Rooms!
So all in all, how would you sum up the Assembly Rooms?
Alton Assembly Rooms has and will always try to integrate the community of Alton through the various mix and diversity of productions, events and activities available for them; by working on our ties with Alton College and the students of Alton, we hope to embody a mixture of ages into the rooms.
Interviewed by Kieran Watkins and Clare Vigers
You can find out more from Jason Passingham and the Alton Assembly Rooms on their website.