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The Phoenix Theatre in Whitehill & Bordon is a vibrant theatre originally built in 1907 as a school for the children of those army personnel serving locally and was recently awarded National Portfolio Status by Arts Council England. Incredibly it is one of only 1,000 theatres to have such a status in England.

The Phoenix is renowned for attracting some of the UK's finest comedians. In 2023, a string of notable performers such as Jo Brand, Romesh Ranganathan, Tom Allen, Alan Carr, Omid Djalili and Chris McCausland all graced its stage.

Thanks to recent successful bids for Arts Council England funding and Section 106 funding, this local theatre has a really exciting future ahead. At SiGNAL we are delighted to be partnering with The Phoenix this month for a brand new business entertainment event (more on that later)! so I thought it was time I found out more about the business.

I spoke to Rob Allerston, a well-known figure in Whitehill & Bordon and the creative engine behind the rise and rise of The Phoenix. Initially from Portsmouth, Rob grew up in the Far East, returning home to train as a commercial artist - a career in which he had some notable success - before being awarded one of the last ever Hampshire County Council grants to go to drama school. (I hope the local authority notes that this was money very well spent!)

Rob became aware of The Phoenix when he was managing the White Rock Theatre in Hastings. At that time, The Phoenix was relatively unknown, primarily hosting amateur dramatic productions with a few professional shows.

Under Rob's leadership, The Phoenix has established itself as a renowned arts venue. Last year, it secured the coveted National Portfolio Organisation status, one of only 1,000 such organisations in England. This status initially unlocked 3 year Arts Council England funding and has enabled Rob to begin the process of redevelopment and repositioning of The Phoenix to align with his passionate vision for an inspirational, community-based theatre that will cater for all.

I've always been impressed by the stand-up comedy lineup that The Phoenix is so proud of and I've often wondered how Rob makes this possible in a rural location like Whitehill & Bordon. He explained to me that the venue's small and cosy nature is perfect for comedians who enjoy intimate surroundings. He's discovered that even well known comedians like to perform smaller gigs to perfect and test their new shows, and in turn the team at The Phoenix take great care of them. It's a win win situation for all.

If you're a fan of stand-up comedy, you can check out The Phoenix Theatre's line-up here These gigs sell out quickly, so it's worth keeping an eye on upcoming shows to be ready to book your favourites.

I asked Rob what he hopes to achieve now that this incredible funding opportunity has presented itself?

“My headline would be ‘working to build the best small-scale Centre for the arts anywhere in the country.’ (he says) 'Part of this vision is excellence in delivery and part is the importance of accessibility. Our team are very committed to championing accessibility and our aim is to make The Phoenix Theatre the most accessible Centre in Hampshire. We believe in bringing the arts in all their forms to those who deserve it, who need it, and who are sometimes overlooked.

'As far as I can determine there is no other venue in East Hampshire that offers or plans to offer this level of accessibility. Bringing this to our community is extremely satisfying personally for me”

We went on to discuss the partnership between business and the arts and more specifically the opportunities for collaboration between The Phoenix and the business community in Whitehill & Bordon. I asked Rob what opportunities might arise as a result of the funding and upcoming refurbishment of The Phoenix.

"Regarding business opportunities arising from this project, there will be a refit of the Centre over the next 12 months. We are seeking to work with local companies and are excited to collaborate with SIGNAL to bring these opportunities to small businesses locally. As a community-based theatre it is important to us to keep the opportunities local wherever possible.

If local business owners would like to tender for upcoming works or be involved in a sponsorship capacity, I will be discussing specific opportunities at the SiGNAL BiZHUB soon. In the meantime I am always happy to have a chat, and you can always email me at The Phoenix."

As I mentioned at the top of the piece, SiGNAL is collaborating with The Phoenix this month to deliver SiGNAL Inspire - an engaging evening of inspiring talks from local entrepreneurs. The event is taking place on Thursday 19 October with a really impressive line-up of business speakers keen to inspire and motivate the audience with their personal stories of risk, reward, struggle and success .

I am thinking as I write that we should have made the theme ‘Rising from the Ashes’! We've not collaborated directly before so I asked Rob why he was so interested to partner with SiGNAL - not an obvious partner for theatre style entertainment
‘I’m excited to explore this new area of business focused entertainment. The partnership between the creative industries and business can really be powerful, and there is a really lively and fast growing business community locally. I hope this event will generate opportunities in both directions - by bringing business owners into the theatre and by offering our Centre to inspire some amazing local businesses.

'On a personal note, I’m really looking forward to experiencing local business people sharing inspiration they have taken from their personal fight. For me every day is a creative day and I love to be inspired by others stories! I’m looking forward to the diversity and range of people and topics that the SiGNAL line up will bring to The Phoenix, and hope they will offer the audience and me a fresh perspective and plenty of food for thought. If they inspire me to stand up and applaud that would be amazing!"

Thanks so much Rob , we hope the evening will be a huge success!!