Local groups invited to bid for £15k film funding

‘Ammonite’ stars Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan on set in Lyme Regis (photo by Richard Austin)

LOCAL organisations will be invited to bid for the £15,000 donated to Lyme Regis from the production company of Mary Anning film ‘Ammonite’.

Fossil Films Ltd spent several weeks in Lyme Regis – the hometown of famed palaeontologist Mary Anning – earlier this year filming scenes for the movie, which will star award-winning actresses Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan.

The town council negotiated the compensation fee for allowing them to transform areas for the town into an 1840s set, including Bell Cliff, Coombe Street, the Cobb and Monmouth Beach.

In formally announcing the figure, the Mayor of Lyme Regis, Councillor Brian Larcombe MBE, said the money will be used to create a “beneficial legacy” for Lyme Regis.

There has been much discussion locally on how the money should be spent, with suggestions including donating it to a local youth charity; to help Lyme’s most vulnerable by making a contribution to a cause such as the food bank; or towards the Mary Anning Rocks campaign, which aims to erect a statue of the fossil hunter in Lyme Regis.

Speaking at yesterday’s Strategy & Finance Committee meeting, former councillor Cheryl Reynolds, who is playing a lead role in the Mary Anning Rocks campaign, made a plea for the council to spend the money on a statue.

She said: “I cannot think of a more lasting legacy than a statue for Mary, one of Lyme’s greatest women and ambassadors for the town. The last council agreed this was a worthwhile project and gave us their full support to continue.

“The beautiful cleaning of Mary’s grave has been admired by many and even Mary’s relatives, who I have had the pleasure of corresponding with, have been impressed.

“To launch the crowdfunding for the statue we need £19,000 in our account and we already have £4,000. A donation from this council would enable us to pursue the crowdfunding to build the statue.

“We also have full approval from the ‘Ammonite’ film company, who I have been in contact with and who assure me this is more than acceptable to them.

“I am asking this council on behalf of the Mary Anning statue committee but, most importantly, on behalf of Lyme Regis and the people of this town. Please consider this request for the town, which will provide lasting legacy.”

‘Remarkable woman’

Mrs Reynolds also read a statement from fellow Mary Anning Rocks committee member Lizzie Wiscombe, which said: “The money should go towards the statue because it’s high time Lyme had a fitting tribute to a remarkable woman.

“If we want to do her justice we need to hire a highly-skilled sculptor and this will cost a considerable amount. After all, we don’t want to hire a sub-standard sculptor that produces a statue that is not worthy of our incredible Mary. If we want quality I’m afraid that costs. This money will go towards engaging the best we can afford.

“I volunteer at the museum; last year we had just under 33,000 come to the museum, both national and international visitors, all with a reason for being in Lyme because of Mary’s story. Many ask why we don’t have statue.

“Mary is part of our economy and the town should recognise this with a fitting tribute of a beautiful bronze statue for today and for future generations. The reason the film crew was here was to tell Mary’s story and any money donated should go in memory of Mary. Her statue is the best thing we can do in her memory and when the film is released it will cause even more interest.

“From observing local social media pages, there seems to be overwhelming support for the money to be donated towards the establishment of a statue for Mary.”

However, when councillors came to discuss the matter they decided it would be fair to allow all local organisations the opportunity to bid for the money.

Councillor Jeff Scowen said: “I believe that we should offer any interested parties the opportunity to present their case. I don’t think now is the time to choose the statue or a specific charity.”

Money ‘will not go far’

Councillor Michaela Ellis warned members to think “long and hard” about how they wanted to spend the money.

She said that when the production company of ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’, filmed in Lyme in the 1980s, gave the town a compensation fee of £8,000 – the equivalent of about £34,000 today – it was given to Lyme Regis Junior Band to buy instruments.

The band folded several years later and Councillor Ellis commented: “To this day, no one knows what happened to those instruments.”

She added: “I would like to see the money go towards something thats going to be around forever.”

Councillor John Broom said he hoped the £15,000 would not get “diluted down” by inviting all organisations to apply for it.

The Mayor of Lyme Regis, Councillor Brian Larcombe, said the council could decide to split it between several organisations or give it all to one, based on the merits of their applications.

However, he warned: “£15,000 can be spent very quickly, it won’t go far.”

It was agreed to invite local organisations to apply for the funding, in a similar way to the council’s existing grants scheme, and details of this are expected to be advertised soon.

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