Ebenezer Events Move to Aller by Celia Koslowski
It was an inauspicious night for a debut. On February 8, as massive pumps blockaded Seven Bends and rising floodwaters closed roads throughout Somerset, Ebenezer Presents threw open the doors of its new venue in Aller. The eclectic series of talks and events is named for its previous home: the deconsecrated 19th century Ebenezer Chapel on the banks of the swollen River Parrett in Burrowbridge. But it was not flooding that prompted the Ebenezers to move.
Instead, it was the death last April of Ian Constantinides, a building consultant who had bought the chapel in 1997. Mr. Constantinides restored and occupied the chapel and had been holding talks there about historic buildings. When Ian’s wife, Sarah, came on the scene in 2005, she and friends Martin Keeley and Tony Anderson catalysed change in the gatherings: “We did not hijack them,” Sarah Contantinides said in an interview, “But we got involved to broaden out from historic buildings. We started doing films – really quirky, off-the-wall films, and found speakers to talk on a wide range of subjects”. A few years later, Ebenezer Presents had settled on its current format: fortnightly events including a glass of wine, soup, conversation, and, as Constantinides’ Guardian obituary noted, “Speakers from all over the country …invited to lecture on subjects ranging from Russian wooden churches, European opera houses and modernist poetry to the Soviet-Afghan war.” E-mail invitations for the events go out to thousands and attract audiences of 80 to 120 from Devon, Dorset, all over Somerset – and occasionally abroad. “We were determined to keep going with the talks, even when Ian died. It seemed like a very positive affirmation of his legacy.” Sarah Constantinides says. “Besides, we were on such a roll, and having such fun with it.”
But finances and fate decreed the chapel had to be sold. Amidst various options, an offer from the owners of The Seed Factory in Aller seemed the best. “People were very sympathetic,” Mrs. Constantinides says. “At no point did we feel like were doing anything but going along with a whoosh of support from people who came” to the events. So, amidst the January floods, the Constantinides-Keeley-Anderson troika packed up their eccentric collection of artwork and furniture moved it the converted Seed Factory, where manager Marie-Louise Chittenden leases commercial space. Mrs. Chittenden says that the Ebenezers’ hall will be hired out for private functions between their events. The Ebenezers are pleased with the new space. Sarah Constantinides said landlords Marie-Louise and Justin Chittenden have been “fantastic”. Mr. Anderson told The Langport Leveller, “The space is different, but very interesting and nice.” Key-features: non-muddy parking, disabled access, and a new, high-quality sound system, which is encouraging more music, films, and perhaps theatre events.
Looking further ahead, they’ve launched a “Friends of Ebenezer” group to upgrade their projector. The opening act after the relocation was House of Trees, a talented, dark-humoured Swedish blues-folk trio. One band member is Tony Anderson’s daughter—which he said explains how the low-budget Ebenezers could hire such a high-caliber act. A lot was stacked against the Ebenezers’ opening night: A singer with laryngitis, heating problems, landlords away, and 40 people who’d reserved but couldn’t make it through the floods. Nevertheless, feedback was very good. “A roaring success,” the three reckon. Next steps for the Ebenezers will be hashing out fine details to recreate the sociable, cozy chemistry of the Chapel for their “wonderful, appreciative, intelligent” audiences. “We’ll get slicker,” says Sarah Constantinides. “I’m confident that we’ll make it work here beautifully.”
To find out about past and future Ebenezer events, visit The Seed Factory website: www.seedfactory.co.uk.
To join the Ebenezer Presents mailing list for event announcements, send an e-mail request to: Sarah, [email protected]
Reproduced by kind permission of the Langport Leveller and Even Handed Licensing Limited