WHEN I messaged Colchester Art Centre’s director, Anthony Roberts, about writing a feature on the struggles the centre has faced over the past year he called back straight away.

“Before we start, Lewis,” he began, “I must say we’ve had a refurbishment done and our loos, well, they’re absolutely stunning, they’re beautiful. An artist came and they’ve done a wonderful job.”

In that moment you’d think everything was ok in the music and arts sector - one which seems to have been forgotten throughout the entirety of the pandemic.

But this was, after all, the voice of an ever-optimistic man who has steered his ship through the most uncertain of times.

And now, as the pandemic appears to be drawing to a close, Anthony is keen to welcome the crowds back to once again face the music - and the sparkly new toilets.

“It’s been a journey,” he said, “it has been for a lot of people.

“We’ve gone from blind panic, to stabilisation, to working differently and now we are ending with optimism.

“Live performance is just what we do, that visceral thrill when the band walks out, the stage lights come on and the house lights go down.

“It’s the shared experience of being in a space or room at a particular time to see a particular person which is so unique, it’s the lifeblood of a performance venue.

“When it stopped overnight we were all a bit shell-shocked - ‘what are we going to do? Do we need to pack up and go home?

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“We didn’t know anything about the virus, or how the financial side of things would work out, but the venue never gathered mothballs - we just worked differently.”

And different certainly appeared to be the theme for Anthony’s intriguing approach to keeping himself entertained throughout the lockdown periods.

Back in March 2020, he initially thought the venue would only be shut for a matter of weeks, so he announced he would stop shaving his face until it reopened.

A year down the line, however, and the beard is now a more permanent feature than perhaps anticipated.

He has also been delighting people far and wide by recording a daily poem and distributing it for all to enjoy.

On Thursday he hit poem number 475.

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“I’m ready to get back onto the saddle now,” he added, “performance is, of course, what we’re really about.

“It’s humbled us how important our venue is to people’s sense of community and belonging in the town.

“We’ve been overwhelmed by the warmth and love extended towards us.

“It has really recharged us and lifted the spirits to know people truly care about what we do. They’ve felt some kind of shared sense that it’s their venue as much as ours.


“We can’t create communities or make music but it’s our job to amplify all the good things that are out there.

“The people are the lifeblood of everything, without them there is no venue to enjoy. We are so completely thrilled about the whole experience of having people back in the venue.

“It is, after all, just a space - it’s nothing without people and it’s true what they say, that absence makes the heart grow fonder.

“It will be the kind of stuff that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

“Our schedule is cautious up until September and from then on in we’re packed until Autumn next year.

“If there’s another lockdown, who knows what we will do.

“For now though fasten your seatbelts everybody, because we’ve got one hell of a ride coming.”