Eastgate books festival’s Moffat as chairman

Alistair Moffat
Alistair Moffat

ALISTAIR Moffat, founder of the Borders Book Festival, is the new chairman of the board of directors at the Eastgate Theatre and Arts Centre in Peebles.

His appointment, confirmed at last week’s annual general meeting, comes as the 230-seat venue is facing considerable financial pressure after the loss of its main sponsor, Cala Homes, earlier this year.

Kelso-born Mr Moffat is taking over from James Taylor who said he would stand down at a meeting of directors before the AGM. Neither Mr Moffat nor the new vice-chairman, Jacob Van Houdt, were previously members of the board.

Mr Moffat, administrator of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe from 1976 to 1981 before enjoying a successful career in television, launched the Borders Book Festival as a low-key event in Melrose in 2004 – coincidentally the year the Eastgate opened its doors after the £2.7million conversion of an old church.

Under Mr Moffat’s directorship, the book festival has gone from strength to strenth. Last year, with a raft of sponsorship deals, a secure home at the National Trust for Scotland’s Harmony Gardens in Melrose and a stellar line-up of celebrity writers, ticket sales topped 10,000.

TheSouthern understands that figures due to be released later this month will reveal that the 2011 event, in June, broke all previous attendance records.

The Eastgate has had a more stuttering seven years. It headed off a loss of more than £300,000 in 2005/06 with a rescue package involving redundancies and an increase in the annual subsidy it received from Scottish Borders Council (SBC).

A new board was appointed under the chairmanship of businessman David Coltman and, within two years, the Eastgate had hit its commercial and attendance targets.

But Mr Coltman retired through ill-health 18 months ago, sadly passing away in June, and in March this year, Cala Homes ended a three-year sponsorship deal.

“We have tried to find meaningful sponsorship since then, but we have been unsuccessful, which is not surprising in these recessionary times,” said Mr Taylor who took over from Mr Coltman. “The state of the economy is obviously hitting attendances which makes us more dependent than ever of support from the council.

“We have cut our spending as far as we can and remain hugely dependent on and indebted to our volunteers who save us around £40,000 a year in staff costs.”

Two years ago, SBC increased its annual subsidy from £60,000 to £90,000 and that level of support remains in place.

“That is core funding which is not under threat,” confirmed Councillor Gavin Logan (Tweeddale East) who represents SBC on the Eastgate board, adding: “I am sure Alistair Moffat will be dynamic addition to the board and build on the sound foundations put in place by James Taylor and the late David Coltman.”

Mr Moffat, who is due to meet theatre manager Caroline Adam tomorrow, said he was “privileged and flattered” to have been asked to head the Eastgate board.

“It is a wonderful space which I have enjoyed many times as a punter and, of course, my first love is theatre which was so predominant when I was in charge of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe,” he said.

“The arts are always under financial pressure, so I am looking forward to working with Caroline, staff and fellow directors to assist in any way I can to develop a programme which will bring in revenue, while exploring all other funding avenues.

“James Taylor has done a fantastic job under difficult circumstances and the contribution of the volunteers is fantastic.

“The book festival has proved that, despite difficult economic times, Borderers will support the arts and, although there are challenges ahead, the Eastgate has a huge amount going for it.”