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Hall bounces back from universal challenges

By Lewis McBlane

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The Universal Hall is set for another cracking post-covid year.
The Universal Hall is set for another cracking post-covid year.

FINDHORN'S Universal Hall is celebrating a successful first post-covid year.

Despite a tricky start to 2022 with cancellations and Covid cases, the venue has returned to its sold out heyday and its "usual crazy nights".

Universal Hall arts officer Callum Bell said spring 2022 marked a turning point for the venue, which had to battle through a difficult pandemic period.

Since then, shows by top names Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Karine Polwart have brought a shine back to the hall.

Mr Bell said: "Covid was a shaky time for the entire arts industry throughout Scotland.

"But, over this year, things started brightening up again.

"Things have been flowing well recently, which we are quite proud of."

The small team at the Universal Hall plan to build on this year's success and attract more local and international talent going forward.

Already planned for October are rising stars Dallahan and folk titans Mànran.

Mr Bell said: "On October 22, this Saturday, we have a band called Dallahan, a new up and coming band that sings songs in Gaelic and English.

"Then, the week after, Saturday, October 29, we have Mànran who are one of the biggest folk bands in all of Scotland.

"You can see them up close at the Universal Hall in Findhorn, where we can hold 300 people, or you can see them at the Hydro in Glasgow that holds thousands."

At the heart of the hall's work is making top quality arts accessible for the local community.

Due to the cost of living crisis, and despite increasing costs for the hall, ticket prices have stayed much lower than comparable venues.

Mr Bell said: "Even as the cost of things is rising, we have managed to keep our prices the same.

"For something like the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, who were here earlier this year, you would pay around £30 in a big city.

"But we only charge £16 for that, with concession tickets only £6.

"We are doing our best to make it accessible for people to come out and see the arts."

The Universal Hall is set for another cracking post-covid year.
The Universal Hall is set for another cracking post-covid year.

One of the highlights of the Universal Hall's 2022 has been the return of the Findhorn Bay Arts Festival – the first in three years.

The hall was one of the festival's focal points, and six events in total were hosted there.

Mr Bell said: "It was really massive for the hall.

"We sold out lots of shows and the place was really buzzing during that time.

"It has felt really good to bring all that back again."

Despite only having a full time staff of three, social enterprise Universal Hall Promotions has top shows booked into next year.

Mr Bell said: "It takes a lot. We are a really small social enterprise, but we manage to keep things going.

"We are a social enterprise, rather than a for-profit company, because we do have a definite community spirit and a definite goal in mind.

"We want to make this successful for the local community around Findhorn, Forres and the rest of Moray."

With five shows booked before the last show on November 26, talent show In the Spotlight, and more booked for January, there are plenty of opportunities coming up to experience a Universal Hall show.

One key change since the start of the year, Mr Bell said, has been a return of busy dancefloors.

He said: "We have been filling the dancefloor again as well.

"It has been the usual crazy nights that we used to have before Covid.

"Also, a lot of the energy comes from the artists when they are here.

"They were all so happy to be playing venues again, which was really infectious as well.

"But without everybody that has been coming to our shows this year none of this would be possible."

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