A CASH-STRAPPED arts and education charity has been overwhelmed by the public’s support as more than £70,000 has been raised in just a week towards is survival fundraising appeal.

But in a bid to raise £225,000 Play to the Crowd, which runs Theatre Royal Winchester, the Hat Fair and Playmakers, says there is still a long way to go to stop a possible closure at the end of September.

It comes as the charity has been forced to cancel events and performances following the coronavirus lockdown in March.

On Friday last week (July 26) the charity launched the appeal, with chief executive Deryck Newland saying on Monday: “We have been overwhelmed by our community's generosity, raising over £50,000 over the weekend since we launched our Survival Appeal, and from the messages and offers of help and encouragement. We thank you - we are so sincerely grateful. Please keep going as our target is £225k which is challenging, and we will need you, as well as the government to help us achieve it. Together we can!”

Also on Monday Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden announced a rescue package worth £1.57 billion for the UK’s struggling arts sector.

It is hoped the money will support theatres, museums, galleries and heritage sites, with PM Boris Johnson describing the sector as “the beating heart of this country”.

Play to the Crowd said the government’s package was welcomed, thanking those who have been “working to highlight the important role the arts play in our society and the impact they have on communities”.

Mr Newland said: “We eagerly await the news as to what this investment package will mean to Play to the Crowd and how quickly it can be distributed but we hope it will go in some way towards securing our future. It is important to remember that this package, although large, has to cover an incredibly broad range of organisations including thousands of live music venues, heritage organisations, museums, galleries, historic palaces and independent cinema as well as theatres and festivals. I also hope that freelancers, independent producing companies and the whole creative sector supply chain will not be forgotten.

“Therefore, despite this generous support package from the government, and with the uncertainty around whether we are able to present a pantomime this year or when we can open viably at all, we will sadly need to continue to consult on the possible need to reduce our staff cost base and continue to ask our community for urgent financial support via our survival fundraising appeal campaign - it will take many years for the theatres and audiences to recover from this pandemic and this recognition from the government will hopefully help mitigate, to some extent, all the challenges we will inevitably continue to face in the years ahead.”

To donate to the charity’s appeal, go to www.crowdfunder.co.uk/playtothecrowd or call Theatre Royal Winchester’s Box Office on 01962 840 440.