For several months the Bridgwater Arts Centre had been facing a perilous future as repair works to the Georgian roof of this the countries first arts centre and a long time home to innovative community arts projects alongside exciting national and international acts were threatening to see the venue closed down. Bridgwater Town Council had been in negotiations with the Board of Directors and with owners Sedgemoor District Council throughout this period and at last night’s Town Council meeting voted through a package of measures to rescue the place.
Town Council Leader Cllr Brian Smedley (Westover) presented a paper outlining the history and the rescue plan.
Arts Centre Rescue Plan
BTC has an annual budget allocation to the Bridgwater Arts Centre of £20,000. This takes the form of £15,000 core funding and £5,000 project grant. In December 2018 the Arts Centre requested £5,000 ‘project’ grant from BTC Finance ctte but, as a result of a report by Town Clerk David Mears, this was deferred pending a ‘conditions survey’ and a new ‘business plan’.
That same month the Art Centre announced it would close for 6 months in 2019 due to works needing doing to the roof. This coincided with a press release covered on the front page of the Mercury which gave the impression of permanent closure. The art centre also cancelled several productions during this period and a cash flow issue developed.
The art centre board discussed possible rescue packages with Bridgwater Town Council. BTC agreed in January that CIL money ‘could’ be made available for infrastructure projects such as the art centre and ‘would consider’ the option of taking ownership and management of the building.
In January 2019 the art centre was compelled to make redundant the 2 paid members of staff. At the AGM the BTC offer was supported by a vast majority at an indicative vote.
A new volunteer led board was set up as an interim measure and a new programme was embarked upon in the bar/gallery with minimal expenditure and a modest surplus project
On March 7th the Conditions survey was finally released and indicated that a spend over 3 years of some £35,200 would be required. The urgent spend element of this would be £13,200 which would bring the theatre back into use.
On March 8th a scoping meeting was held between Town Council Leader, Chair of Staff committee, Town Clerk and Art Centre Chair which proposed the following rescue package
- £1,000 grant from Westover ward to assist with interim arrangements to be immediately approved by Town Clerk with delegated powers upon receipt of BAC application
- £5,000 grant requested at Finance committee be released having met the terms of the conditions survey & business plan and declared unrestricted to assist with cashflow.
- £13,200 be approved from 2019 BTC CIL funds to allow BAC to immediately tender for investigating the flat roof and possible Patching (£4,000) redecoration (£1,200) Fire protection (£4,000) decontamination (£1,000) and woodworm (£3,000)
- £5,500 to be considered in 2020 CIL budget for Front wall/ceiling (£4,500) pigeon ingress (£1,000)
- £16,500 to be considered in 2021 CIL budget for completion of roof restoration
- BAC to investigate alternative quotes for insurance and request phased payments to manage cash flow and allow continued use of building and earliest re-opening of theatre.
- £20,000 BTC core funding for 2019-20 to be available from May 2019
- BAC board to approve Business Plan (attached) at Board meeting of 12.3.2019
- BTC to receive Business plan and agreed spend herein at Meeting of 14.3.2019
- BAC and BTC to meet to map out way forward
- BTC to liaise with SDC regarding future ownership
- Projected earliest start of new arrangements September 2019
Town Council Leader’s Statement
Cllr Smedley concluded “Bridgwater Town Council has received the conditions survey and the new business plan agreed by the Art Centre board and is prepared to step in to preserve the countries first arts centre. The vote last night means that the art centre can now put out to tender for the emergency works that can bring the theatre back into use. We have allocated CIL money to this. That’s the money that we get from developers in the form of Community Infrastructure Levy and which we agreed to target at our key heritage projects. We also agreed to free up money that we had earmarked to the centre but which was awaiting the conditions survey and the business plan to justify the spend.
However, the next steps are crucial. To secure the arts centre long term we want to take it into town council ownership to give the hardworking volunteers, loyal members and old and new users the security that this important and iconic centre will need to continue for future generations. People have rallied round to save the place they love and we appreciate that devotion and hard work. The next step is to go forward together and get behind the project with the renewed confidence that I hope this decision will provide.”