Farnham Maltings: the craft-loving community that’s a close-knit success – The Guardian

For almost five years, Little Bulb theatre have been based in a lovely, green, picturesque market town called Farnham in Surrey. About five minutes (if you run, as I always do) from the train station is Farnham Maltings, a thriving community arts hub and quietly unassuming creative powerhouse of artists, producers, craftspeople and theatre-makers working simultaneously on a local, national and international level. Living, quite literally, on its doorstep is a unique experience. I watch the seasons pass from my window, not only from the colours of the leaves but by seeing which craft festival is setting up outside my garden.

If it’s the knitting festival, Unravel, then I know it’s nearly the end of winter. If it’s the cake festival, Sugarcraft, I know that spring is on its way. If the whole car park has been transformed into a garden, it’s sure to be summertime. You don’t have to be a genius to know what the Christmas fair might indicate. Naturally as we live and work so close to the place, we inevitably end up being part of such festivals. This year, we’ve played some outdoor gigs for summer barbecues, and in the past we’ve found ourselves announcing raffle prizes, benefitting from the more obscure unclaimed items ourselves (a knitted cactus being one of them).

It also works the other way round, with the locals bringing their craft skills to our productions, too. For example, in our forthcoming children’s Christmas show at Bristol Old Vic, The Night That Autumn Turned to Winter, the chosen aesthetic for the woodland animals is knitwear, so a local knitting group, Knitwits, have kindly agreed to make hedgehog slippers and rabbit hats for us (from patterns we found in a book in the Maltings shop one lunchtime). Our producer, Fiona, is also a master knitter – she’s on the squirrel hats.

Little Bulb theatre company

Everyone respects everyone else’s craft … Little Bulb

We rehearse nearly all of our shows here at some point, so it’s only natural that the environment infiltrates the process. A couple of years ago, Gavin Stride, the director, lent us his old double bass to test out, and now years later, having never played one before then, I play one in Orpheus. There’s also a costume store above the offices, which despite being a bit of a feat to get to, is a treasure trove of items once you’re in there. Most recently we’ve been reaping the benefits of the damsel dresses and villainous capes for a Victorian-style melodrama we’re making to open next year’s courtyard theatre at Battersea Arts Centre. And our go-to prop maker and good friend Max Humphries has his workshop right next door, so if we need an emergency set of antlers, then we couldn’t be any closer to the best person for the job.

Of course, living so close to the building also has its benefits on a practical level, too. I’d be ashamed to tell you the amount of times that the duty managers (who have a spare key) have let us into our own house. And the fact that our rehearsal rooms are on our doorstep hasn’t necessarily meant that we’re any more on time. But still, working here has such a charm to it, and the other residents are all so supportive of what we do and vice versa. Everyone respects everyone else’s craft, and, dare I say it, it’s a rich tapestry and one we’re very fortunate to be a part of.