Behind the scenes of the “Save The Byre Theatre” Facebook campaign – An Interview With Gillian Gamble
Hello again. As the majority of you will know, at the end of my last post I promised you the interview in full with the founder of the “Save The Byre” Theatre campaign and so here it is. If you have absolutely no idea what I’m banging on about, please click here to see my last post. Enjoy!
1) Firstly, who are you Gillian? What’s your story and why did you decided to start this campaign?
I’m a recent graduate of St Andrews (2011) now working as a photographer/illustrator in the town and I grew up in Dundee. I’ve known about and attended the Byre productions for many years since childhood. It’s a really unique place because of its amazing grassroots history. I’ve never been a formal part of anything at the Byre but have simply enjoyed it as an amazing community asset. I’ve attended theatre performances, music shows in the bar, poetry events in the many rooms of the Byre and, having lived immediately next door to the theatre, have seen what a hub it can be for all kinds of community activity.
I heard about the closure of the theatre via Facebook on 25th January and immediately wanted to do something to support it. I could see that there were lots of little conversations happening all over facebook but thought it might be constructive to have a central forum for discussion. In the past, if there was something important and urgent, someone might call a town hall meeting to talk about- nowadays, we can go straight online and start exchanging opinions and forming plans immediately.
My main feeling was that I was devastated to see the Byre added to the collection of St Andrews businesses that had recently gone out of business and I felt really bad for the staff losing their jobs. In a small community, it felt important to make the point that this place is important to quite a lot of people.
2) Do you consider the campaign to be a success and why? How do you think Facebook helped promote the campaign?
The campaign was something that happening very organically. The most important thing in the early hours since the news broke was to facilitate communication. All the different groups and individuals who had an interest in the Byre needed a place to ‘gather’ and talk to one another and Facebook was the easiest vehicle for this to happen because anyone could search “Byre” and immediately find the page and join the conversation and find details on the e-petition. I was very careful to try and encourage these exchanges to be positive and constructive- very much geared towards finding solutions.
Ultimately, the debt the Byre was in was too great for the campaign to be able to ‘Save’ the Byre in the sense of keeping it running in its current format. However, I still felt it exceptionally important that the community had a voice in these matters. I also felt it very important that the staff and volunteers running the Byre knew how cherished they are and that people really do care that they are losing their jobs.
I consider the campaign a success in a few ways. Firstly, we did manage to give the community a voice. We organised a peaceful demonstration outside the theatre within 48 hours of the news breaking. We also communicated with every major and local newspaper, radio and TV channel in Scotland, and arranged a ‘Scotland Tonight’ appearance all in the same day to make sure that everyone had a chance to get behind the campaign. The effect of that was that our campaign started to reach people all around the world who had been part of the Byre at some point but had not yet heard about the closure- even Sir Sean Connery signed the petition and other well-known faces who had previously played the Byre started to show their support.
Finally, we used the page to organise a candle-lit vigil at the last hour of the Byre trading. We did this to build community spirit- the staff of the Byre were expected to close up the building and then go home unemployed. I just felt that we could not let that happen without some public display of thanks for all the hard work that they have been putting in over the years. It is not well-known but these staff were prepared to work on without salaries for a period to try and save the theatre. The results were great. A lot of people turned up with candles in hand, the piper sounded one final ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and people from all over the St Andrews community gathered around to sing together. It was very poignant and important to do. People from all over the world also got involved by taking photos and posting them to the FB and twitter pages.
3) If you look at your Facebook page insights, where was the first big spike in the number of likes?
The FB likes increased very rapidly. I set up the page on a Friday night around 11 p.m. and invited friends and there were around 12 or 13 people. By the Monday, it was up to 5000 people. I think the page simply had a snowball effect because so many people care about the cause. However, I did notice quite a spike after I created some graphics and images for people to use on their profiles. The ‘Save The Byre’ photo was shared over 1200 times and I have seen it and still see it on many profile images. I also created 3 printable posters for people to use and I know that some school pupils printed and distributed them for shops to display. We had people tweet their photos of the signs up around town.
4) What’s next for the Byre? I see you’ve started a social enterprise coffee shop. How does this tie in with the campaign?
The Byre, for now, remains closed but there are rumours about the council or Fife Cultural Trust taking over and reopening the theatre. I’ve contacted all the major organisations that might be involved and offered to help facilitate with community consultation. After all, the facebook group is a ready-made group of over 5000 people who care about the theatre. There has been no news about it so far.
Our cafe, Our Story, was in the pipeline for a while before the Byre campaign happened (we were just getting our shop keys when it all kicked off). However, the time is rather serendipitous as it’s very much in a similar spirit to the original vision of the Byre. We aim to create a grassroots space and a welcoming environment for the arts, as well as a generally warm and hospitable environment. Our profits are being split 50/50 between giving directly to charities who address serious local needs and supporting our in-house programmes to develop creative outreach work.
It’s called ‘Our Story’ because we have a storytelling theme and we combine regular free tea-tasting events with stories from real local people. I’ve always been inspired by the history of the Byre, as a wee cowshed where people would adopt characters up a tiny wee stage- so tiny that the audience would rest their feet on it. On that stage, stories were acted out, people of St Andrews gathered together and creativity was alive and well. I hope that both the Byre and Our Story will be part of a bigger narrative of creative growth in our local area.
5) Any tips for people trying to promote something using a Facebook page?
I’m not a very technological person but I would just say keep posts nice and short and to the point. I’ve noticed that photos make things more prominent too, especially if the little thumbnail of your profile picture is easy to spot in a newsfeed.
I’m sure you will all agree that it really was a fascinating interview with Gillian and she deserves great credit for creating a campaign which has in most senses been successful. I wish her all the best for Our Story and I encourage all those in St Andrews to go and visit it!
I’m going to ask you a couple of favours now. Firstly, please share this article on facebook to keep spreading the word not only of this blog but the campaign itself and secondly, if you haven’t signed up to the campaign, please do so. You can find more details on the “Save The Byre Theatre” Facebook page and the link is below:
Thank you to everyone that reads the blog and if you’re new, do come back! It’s almost The Apprentice season and this year, I’ve decided to do a little commentary after each episode so stayed tuned!