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Lady Studholme: Chair of Exeter Northcott 2014-2021

Image of Lady Lucy Studholme
Lucy Studholme has been Chair of Exeter Northcott Theatre since 2014. Stepping into the role at one of the most challenging points in the theatre’s history, she steered the organisation through huge changes, working indefatigably to ensure that Exeter’s flagship theatre could continue to deliver excellent shows to the people of Devon and beyond. She finishes at her term as both trustee and Chair with the charity in a strong and stable position, renewed support from its stakeholders and audiences, and bold plans for the future.

Lady Studholme’s Story

An early connection to the theatre

Lucy’s connection to the Northcott began in 1982 when she chose to study at the University of Exeter because of its on-campus professional theatre. She soon got involved with the Student Theatre Society – at first sourcing props, (an early task was to persuade an undertaker to lend a coffin, and the hospital, a skeleton) and then raising the profile and developing ambitious plans for their productions. Lucy negotiated with the Northcott’s then Artistic Director, Stewart Trotter, to have the first student drama production (Macbeth) staged for a week at the Northcott, a tradition which has been an annual event since. She also persuaded the University to let students convert the Roborough building into rehearsal studios, and initiated the inaugural Exeter student production at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Throughout her career, Lucy has continued to find ways for young people and students to access professional opportunities. As Chair of Exeter Northcott Theatre she introduced two student trustees on to the board, giving them professional executive experience and power to help shape the direction of the company.

I learnt so much as a student trustee of Exeter Northcott Theatre and it’s given me valuable hands on experience. I’m incredibly grateful to Lucy Studholme for enabling this opportunity which I know will have a positive impact on student trustees for years to come.

Olivia Harvey, Trustee of Exeter Northcott

Working with the University of Exeter

After graduating from the University of Exeter, Lucy spent some years working in London before returning to Devon and joined the University Foundation as a trustee and volunteer. She set up a number of fundraising initiatives, building connections with alumni and was a trustee for the Bill Douglas Centre. Identifying the need for women graduates of whatever age or career to connect, support and mentor each other, she set up the Exe-X Alumnae Group to exchange and share knowledge and life experience.

As a lay member of the University of Exeter Council, Lucy became involved in strategic discussions about the future of the Exeter Northcott Theatre. At that time, operating under different management, the theatre was facing significant challenges, following recent funding turbulence. Its future hung in the balance. Recognising the huge asset the theatre was to the city, its hinterland and the student body, the University of Exeter lent their support to the organisation and backed a transitional period until 2013 when a new Exeter Northcott Charity was set up, led by a new board and senior management team.

Joining Exeter Northcott’s Board

Lucy joined the Exeter Northcott Company board as a trustee in 2012 and became Chair in 2014. During the time when theatres have changed from the repertory tradition, the Northcott has evolved to curate some of the best of touring work. The theatre has also supported and mentored small, local theatre companies, and grown a thriving Youth and Young Theatre Company who work closely with schools and the disadvantaged. Funding sources have been increased, including £143,500 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to research the theatre’s archive.

The charity has gone from strength to strength. The Northcott became an Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation in 2014. It has returned to making some of its own work, is producing shows in collaboration with other theatres, working with academics, and brought the immensely popular Christmas pantomime back on stage. Lucy spearheaded two fundraising galas, including one marking the theatre’s 50th anniversary, which saw hundreds of supporters rub shoulders with luminaries including Mark Rylance, Imogen Stubbs, Bertie Carvel and Dame Hilary Mantel, and reunited Northcott alumni Robert Lindsay, Imelda Staunton and Celia Imrie with their theatrical roots.

Under her leadership, audience occupancy rose from 45-50% to 70%, and turn over from £1.5m to high of £2.8m prior to the Covid restrictions. Most recently the theatre broke box office records welcoming more than 100,000 people in one year and winning the Exeter Living award for Best Arts Organisation.

Lucy Studholme has worked tirelessly to ensure the Northcott is the successful organisation it is today. It is now a theatre that is resilient, dynamic and well placed to forge an ex-citing new future. This is no doubt thanks to Lucy’s determined spirit and wise council.

Mike Shore-Nye, Registrar and Secretary, University of Exeter and Trustee of Exeter Northcott

In her role on the Liveable Exeter Place Board and as the recently appointed High Sheriff of Devon, Lucy will continue to play an active role in the development of our city and region. In recognition of her extraordinary contribution to the Northcott and her ongoing relationship with the charity, she is named as Patron of the Exeter Northcott Theatre.

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