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Prema is a family friendly Arts Centre, promoting performance, live music and art exhibitions as well as accessible workshops, classes and creative experiences for kids and adults.
Prema, near Dursley in the Stroud valleys, offers an affordable day out for all folk in the South West.
Bethesda Chapel was constructed in 1821. Prema Arts Centre is extremely fortunate to live within this amazing, energising and clumpily elegant building. There's something palpably inspiring about the place that holds enchantment for every artist, visiting company and each audience member alike!
At one time the village of Uley had three places of worship - the magnificent St Giles (which still towers over the village as the one remaining church) and two chapels - Union Chapel (Whitecourt) and Bethesda Chapel (now Prema). Union Chapel was used by the Methodists and Bethesda Chapel by the Baptists. This chapel ceased to be a functioning place of worship by 1971 and was mothballed until 1973 when it was sold to Andrew Wood, a sculptor and ceramic artist, for £5,103 as one of the items in an auction held at The Old Bell, Dursley.
Between 1973 and 1980, Andrew with a troupe of dedicated, knowledgable and well-connected individuals had established a charitable trust "Prema". Together, they raised significant funds to transform the derelict chapel into the present two-storey building. Funds came from a variety of sources; individual gifts, investment from the Manpower Services Commission, the Shave Foundation and as a result of their passion and hard work, Prema Project opened its doors to the public in 1980 as a fully-functioning arts centre.
People often ask about the gravestones in our garden. The chapel and land surrounding our building were deconsecrated in the 1970s and it was with the full permission of all the families of the people interred in the graveyard that the headstones were moved, although the interred bodies remain buried in our (now) garden.
Following its conversion from a place of worship into a fully-functioning arts centre, Bethesda Chapel has undergone several bouts of repair, restoration and rejuvenation. Our first refurbishment was back in 1997 when we were lucky enough to secure grants from Arts Council England's capital programme, Barnwood Trust and Stroud District Council. These monies allowed us to make alterations to the building so that our main auditorium was accessible for those with restricted mobility, meaning that hundreds of people have attended concerts, performances and workshops here who otherwise might not have been able to access the space.
Our lovely old building experienced a significant make-over in the summer months of 2015. During this project we tackled many elements of the fabric of our building and also the configuration of spaces and services therein.
The leaky and somewhat precarious roof was completely refitted along with new insulation and more effective water-proofing! The ground floor was also reconfigured, with the addition of two new studio spaces that are now given free-of-charge to emerging makers in the early stages of their creative careers. The art spaces were refurbished to make them warm, welcoming and ideal for a range of courses across a spectrum of art-forms. This meant that Prema is now able to extend its class and workshop programme so that our courses can run concurrently throughout the building.
The building work in 2015 was a huge fundraising project. We received £216,146 from the Arts Council England’s Small Scale Capital programme, £33,250 from Gloucestershire Environmental Trust (via entrust and the Landfill Communties Fund), £30,000 from Summerfield Charitable Trust and £10,000 from Garfield Western Foundation. The final funds were raised by the public - a staggering £49,000! The project ensured the future of Prema and its commitment to providing affordable, imaginative and creative experiences for people, young and old, in which to participate.
Throughout our 2015 building project we were careful to take steps to diminish Prema’s carbon footprint. We’ve migrated all of our lighting systems over to LED, our heating is updated and there’s copious amounts of insulation in all the roof spaces and wall cavities, meaning that Prema stays toasty in the colder months and pleasantly cool in the sweltering summer months (well, relatively speaking …). We’re delighted to report that Prema is powered using green energy.