Farnham Maltings’ inspirational director Gavin Stride has bade an emotional farewell to the organisation he has transformed into a major regional, national and international creative force over the past two decades with a message of hope and shared ambition for the future.
Friends and colleagues of Mr Stride gathered at the Maltings last Thursday to enjoy afternoon tea and hear speeches, both by those paying tribute to his impact on the Maltings and wider arts community, and by Mr Stride himself giving thanks to those who have “made this adventure possible”.
A poem, aptly titled Gavin Stride, was also recited by its author, House collaborator Anthony Roberts (see below).
Mr Stride told his assembled well-wishers that from the beginning of his time at the Maltings, he saw his job “was not to run a building but ensure our community is happier, that people are better connected, that we feel more alive through the work we do”.
“We have done it,” he added, “by identifying shared ambition in the town, across the region and latterly in the world.
“I have always trusted my instincts, and have tried to be bold and ambitious.
“It is easier to make a big idea happen than a small one – to try to make the world a better place than to run a rural arts centre.
“I achieved that by bringing in a team of people cleverer than me, which wasn’t hard, and encouraged them to flourish and be playful, because if they grow we all will.
“Now it’s someone else’s task to talk us into what we can be next. Because nothing stays the same.”
Looking to the difficult times ahead, he continued: “We are at the start of a recession, the world is in disarray, and we lack political leadership with any form of moral compass. We live in a time of increasing inequality, in which it is too simple to misjudge or use fear as a tool of control.
“It is our responsibility to remain confident, to find the counter arguments to the way the world is, to look for alternatives, to encourage co-operation rather than competition, to be generous and not blame others when things go wrong – because if you blame others, you are giving power away, to be honest, even if that makes you vulnerable, and to listen. Indeed, that’s the most important of all. To be aware of the world while opposing despair.”
Recalling the time he told his friend, MP Jeremy Hunt, that he was “far too busy making the world a better place to get involved in politics”, Mr Stride added the world is no longer divided between left and right, but “between those who believe the world can be better and those who believe it used to be better”.
He said in conclusion: “People will retreat from being generous and will appear unreasonable. Be generous anyway. If you try to do good, people will think you’re being self-serving. Do good anyway.
“The best and bravest ideas will be undone by scared and small-minded people. Be brave anyway.
“Remain confident in our shared ability to make the world a better place.”
South West Surrey MP Jeremy Hunt paid a heartfelt tribute to his friend Gavin Stride, after arriving on the Farnham scene together 20 years ago.
Mr Hunt said: “Here’s a sad moment – the wonderful Gavin Stride having his farewell party at the Maltings.
“Since he arrived 20 years ago his leadership has transformed the Maltings, making it a hub of creativity for young people in particular which perfectly complements the historical beauty of the town – and its arts and crafts traditions.
“Gavin and I arrived in Farnham together in 2002 when he took up his post and I became a parliamentary candidate and I will miss him as a friend too – but his legacy is a vibrant, energetic and fun cultural scene in Farnham which has made it the brilliant town it is.
“Thank you Gavin from all of Farnham!”
Gavin Stride, a poem by Anthony Roberts
Has stepped aside
He’s buggered off
Done a bunk, on the run
But has he really vamoosed
Cooked his goose
On the loose
Can it be that he truly has gone?
Has the curtain come down
With a great final bow
With a glorious red setting sun?
Shall his voice bark no more
Will there be no encore
Or might his spirit actually live on?
Will these walls now fall silent
From the sound of this true gent
Or will the essence of his presence remain?
Will that boyish enthusiasm
And laughing most fulsome
Echo still with familiar refrain
When the theatre has emptied
And the curtain descended
At the end of the day after dark
Will the old Malting’s eyes
Twitch with life, come alive
As they follow a shadow at work?
Soft now … Listen …..
Could that be a new House
Built with the singular nous
Of a visionary artist at work
Another foundation stone laid
Another theatrical parade
Into where the overlooked lurk?
Lighting up village halls
Filling up theatre stalls
Performance where once they was dark
From Reading to Kings Lynn
A network so bristling
With colour and vigour and art
Is that the wheels of a Caravan
An international charabang
Rolling into Brighton at dawn
Could this start conversations
Foster international relations
With the brewing of a grand theatrical storm
Poetry, music and new theatre
Mixed by Gav the grand creator
A flash of lightning and a cloudburst of art
And those clouds his light rains through
Like a shower of crimson dew
The genius shaman at work
Friendships and partnerships
Drop like confetti comradeship
A thunderclap of kindness rings aloud
And the caravan trundles on
Singing loud its joyful song
Borders melt, love is felt,
We stand together, standing proud
But soft again…..
Could that be
Gav’s magical alchemy
The aroma of a bakery
The scent of our play maker
In close conversation
With a Syrian baker?
But hush now my fellows ….
We must desist
For this rough magic
We must abjure
He’s taking his leave
And that’s for sure
But we all wait to see
With our baited breath
We wait to see
Whatever comes next
What new magic will he brew
What gems will unfurl
Cause he’ll never stop
Trying to change the world
Not for Gav the quiet life
Of slippers and pipe
He’ll remain the troublemaker
He’s been his whole life
A toast to you Mr Stride
For all that you’ve done
All the meetings and meetings
And meetings and meetings and more meetings
And more bloody meetings
A toast to you Mr Stride
For all you have done
All those tears and three cheers
From the hearts you have won.