Cumberland’s “Show” Business Star

Glen Cavers, Business Manager
The Buccleuch Centre in Langholm is a triumph of community spirit over financial deficit. And one man has a mission to ensure it survives and thrives.

Glen Cavers is a man with a passion: The Buccleuch Centre, a treasured small-town venue and theatre facing uncertain times.

Typically, you might find Glen ushering audience members to their seats, finding Haribos for demanding stars, putting up posters, encouraging school children to visit, helping out in the box office, or locking up the doors at the end of the night. Not to mention sweating over funding applications into the early hours.

He oversees a dedicated team of 50 volunteers, six paid staff and another 15 casual paid staff. On top, he works on the Buccleuch’s regular theatre shows and the Christmas panto.

Amazingly all this work Glen does voluntarily, outside his full-time job as a business manager for The Cumberland building society in Carlisle.

“I have been volunteering at The Buccleuch Centre for half my life,” says Glen, the son of a Langholm farming family. “I’m 30. I was just 15 when I started.”

More drawn to amateur theatre than sheep, he had joined the town’s two theatre groups and turned up as soon as The Buccleuch Centre opened as a brand-new facility in 2007.

He has dedicated a lot of his time to it ever since.

“I am always popping into the venue or going to rehearsals. It’s pretty much my life outside work,” he says.

“We welcome probably more than 15,000 visitors per year to a town that’s only got 2,000 people. And we have an entertainment programme right through the year.”

One of the perks is meeting some “really cool people” says Glen.

“I have met Joan Armatrading, Elkie Brooks, The Searchers. And Basil Brush and the Bay City Rollers.

“I won’t disclose who – but we get some really bizarre riders, the requests that famous people put on to the venue. We have had requests for a hand massage, a toaster, a certain type of alcohol depending on the day of the week they are performing. Someone wanted salmon and one person requested two packs of Haribo Starmix.”

Glen became chair of the centre last year – the youngest in its history. It means he is responsible for managing the centre and acutely aware of a wider responsibility to the community and audience.

In common with many venues, the pandemic hit The Buccleuch Centre hard.

“There was a real drop off of audience numbers when the centre opened up after the pandemic,” he says.

Glen hit the road running and within three months of his appointment as chair he brought in more than £30,000 of funding. Some was channelled into improving the facilities and décor.

“The money came from local trusts, supporters and wind farms. I wrote to them and went out to them and spent hours doing funding applications,” says Glen.

The funding was also used to push forward with Glen’s ideas for building new audiences and diversifying the offer.

It is paying for a development co-ordinator who is tasked with bringing in young people and new genres of entertainment such as this year’s popular Beer Festival.

The centre has set a target of engaging 1,000 young people per year and is on track, says Glen.

“We want to offer opportunities for young people to volunteer like I started out,” he says. “To get them involved in technical work such as sound and lighting engineering, and with the arts.

“Getting kids from schools to come along to maybe an afternoon performance, or to see a small quartet and get an introduction to classical music.

“We want young people to come and meet some of the actors and ask questions about what it’s like to be a touring artist or to play an instrument professionally.

“We have funding for the post for a year and we are currently looking for funding for another two years.”

The Buccleuch Centre has a dedicated following, attracting some visitors from as far as Edinburgh and Glasgow. A seemingly indefatigable band of volunteers do everything from duty management to staffing the box office, booking the acts and setting the tables for the pre-theatre meals.

“We get people coming back and back saying what an incredible venue,” says Glen. “It doesn’t have that commercial feel of bigger venues, it is friendly, it’s about people working together. It’s a happy little venue.”

Crucially The Buccleuch Centre provides valuable support to the town and wider community.

“We know we are filling accommodation and local pubs and restaurants. We are also providing employment in the town. We provide local organisations with a venue, and a quality meeting and conference space. We have a really great purpose apart from providing entertainment to people,” says Glen.
But the future is far from certain.

“The biggest challenge is just continuing to find the funding to keep going,” says Glen.

“It’s not a secret we make an operational loss of £20,000 to £30,000 each year. And so we are so grateful to our patrons for their ongoing financial support which helps us bridge the funding gap.

“We are not trying to make a profit because we are a charity. We just want to keep it going.

“I’m in this role of chair for three years so I am a custodian. I want to make sure it survives, and for the longer term.”

Now is one of the busiest times of year at The Buccleuch Centre as everyone gears up for the Christmas panto – this year The Wizard of Oz.

“I have lost confidence as I have got older,” says Glen. “I used to star in the panto and have leading roles and I have directed them, and I have written one in the past. But now I tend to do technical backstage roles because that’s what I enjoy most.

“The panto is always a full sell out. There is a huge amount of work behind the scenes to make it happen. There is such a community behind that, and people love doing it.”

Families come back year after year for the panto which is staged by Langholm theatre group Centre Stage Community Theatre of which Glen is a member.

“We only charge £10 or £8,” says Glen. “We have kept it low because we know that costs for families at Christmas are high and with a family of four you don’t want to be paying £100 to see a show.

“It’s really important to us that we keep ticket prices low. The panto is a real tradition for the community to see.

“We do five performances with 250 people. That’s 1,200 people who come to see our show from a town of 2,000.”

Glen’s colleague Beth Smith, 26, is trainee Legal Counsel at The Cumberland as well as a key volunteer on the panto each year. She joined the community theatre when she was 11, starred in the pantos and is now co-director. She volunteers on top of her full-time job, but can work flexible hours because of the fantastic culture at The Cumberland.

She says the magic of community panto is priceless.

“It’s the fact that everyone who comes to see the show is getting such enjoyment and happiness at Christmas. They always come away saying it was the best one yet. I love to see little kids getting to experience the magic.”

Even Glen’s mum and dad find time away from the farm to pitch-in as stage crew for the panto.

But how does Glen find the time for everything?

“I honestly don’t know,” he says. “One thing is The Cumberland is absolutely great at allowing me to be flexible with the time. I am really fortunate to have an employer who is so supportive.”

Cumberland Chief People Officer Jill Johnston said: “Glen is an amazing colleague. I am inspired by the way he balances his day job brilliantly whilst taking on the demands of his ongoing volunteering as chair of the Buccleuch Centre. Glen’s loyalty to all he takes on is truly selfless.”

After his term as chair of The Buccleuch Centre ends what will he do?

Glen says: “I will absolutely carry on volunteering. I don’t see myself stopping any time soon.”

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