Surrey arts venues’ vital contribution to town centre income and well-being

University of Surrey study shows how the county’s venues make wider impact.

We were pleased to be the lead partner for a University of Surrey research study in 2020, in association with Watts Gallery - Artists’ Village, Compton, and The Lightbox gallery and museum, Woking. Thank you, if you completed the survey.

The study, recently released, clearly demonstrates the importance of these three arts organisations to the local economies and to the well-being of our visitors.

These are the headline findings for the theatre. You can read the entire report by clicking on the link at the bottom of this page.


In the theatre

  • On average, each respondent spent £35.12 per person on-site in the venue, per visit, which includes tickets and food and drink.

In the local area*

  • Visitors tended to spend £23.79 per person on food and drink, and £23.61 per person on shopping per visit to the theatre.
  • 39.5% of visitors spent £28.45 per person on average in the local area during the trip to the theatre.
  • 87% of responders would not have come to Guildford if they had not been coming to the theatre.
  • 80.4% travel to the theatre by car and, therefore, pay for car parking.
  • In the wider area*
  • 4.3% of responders spent in the non-local area. The average spending of those visitors who consumed in the non-local area was the highest in the study at £57.71 per person.

How this could add up over a year

39.5% of our audience members spend an average of £28 additionally outside of the theatre. If we multiply this by 39.5% of our annual attendance the sum is in the region of £1.5m additional spend brought to the town and local area, because of theatre attendance.


The Yvonne Arnaud Theatre was built by the local community to fulfil the desire to have a theatre within the community. As one interviewee reflected, such commitment does not stop at simply bringing performances to the local community, but also to ‘broaden people’s insights in their lives, connect with the wider world, we have stories not just about surrey but about the wider world.’

Another participant commented, activities at the theatre ‘engage drama skills to boost their confidence and communication skills as well as self-expression’ and another felt ‘fulfilled through their engagement’.

The study finds that opportunities for interaction and meeting at the theatre become vital for many, ‘we are part of what gets them out of the house,  even if they just pop in for a coffee… it’s just a welcoming space where they can come and do what they want to do and engage with others around them.’

The research was carried out between March and July 2020, by Professor Gang Li, Professor Caroline Scarles, Dr Jason Chen and Dr Anyu Liu from the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at the University of Surrey, and reflects levels of pre-Covid spending and attendance.  It comprises two parts, social and economic, bringing together survey data collected directly from attendees to each organisation, in combination with interviews conducted with groups using the venues for additional community-related activities.  

Working with our partners during such challenging times provides the opportunity, not only to reflect upon the existing role that the arts play in the economic and social health of our region, but also to provide insight into the ways in which the arts can continue to provide support to communities during this time of crisis. We look forward to continuing to work with our partners to progress this work.

Caroline Scarles - Professor of Technology in Society at the University of Surrey

As artists and creative people, we see the power of the arts in transforming our communities every day, bringing together the lonely, the vulnerable and voiceless, giving well-being and confidence to many. We are grateful to our partners in this study which now empirically demonstrates this impact and enables us to shine a light on the wider value of our work.

Joanna Read - Director and Chief Executive, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

This collaborative report expresses the vital contributions the arts make to communities within Surrey. With the health and wellbeing of those in our region more important now than ever, we must continue to support the whole community in accessing great art – a commitment that has proven to be so beneficial, including to those who face the greatest life challenges.

Alistair Burtenshaw - Director, Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village

I would like to thank our partners at the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management for conducting this invaluable research to demonstrate the benefits of the arts to Surrey's local economy and communities. The Lightbox believes 'Art has the power to make you feel good' and we are proud to partner with Watts Gallery - Artists' Village and the Yvonne Arnaud, who also champion education, well-being, and social inclusion through community engagement and participation programmes.

Marilyn Scott - Director, The Lightbox gallery and museum

The report also reflects on some of the ways in which the partner organisations were able to respond to the first COVID-19 lockdown, and the vital need to revise the offer of programmes and initiatives and consider the need for hybrid solutions to community engagement that extend across both physical and digital engagement platforms.

*The local area and wider area are defined as the area within and beyond a radius of 30-minute drive from the theatre, respectively.