Nuneaton Needs A New Arts Complex.
For more than five years the Nuneaton Arts Council (NAC) has been trying to work with Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council (NBBC) to make a dream proposal a reality – that of the design and build of a brand-new arts complex inside the town’s ring road.
After NBBC told the NAC in 2011 that the current Abbey Theatre building was approaching the end of its sustainable life, they invited us to start talks to look at the project, something we embraced wholeheartedly as we have felt for some time now that we are fast outgrowing the current facilities. Considering the ever-increasing success of the Abbey Theatre in the past few years, despite the out-of-the-way location, the only way we can significantly improve on what we have will be to take on a new build.
However, in the past five years we have so far not progressed very far in achieving even the start of the project – the first four years were wasted following the wrong course set by NBBC which led them to conclude that the project would be uneconomic to realise – although that conclusion was based on an entirely flawed estimate of a projected cost. Furthermore, as NBBC were never going to be in a position to provide direct funding for the end project, this does seem to have been a further flaw in their conclusions.
November 2015 saw them effectively handing us, the NAC, the reins, saying that whilst they would support us in some ways, they couldn’t see their direct involvement continuing. This was in fact something that the NAC embraced, as we should really have been given the opportunity at the outset.
NBBC have various sites identified around the town centre, several of which could be ideal candidates for the new build, but there was no funding available for the overall project, we were told.
Our next step was to research suitable consultants for our project, their first job being the commissioning of a full feasibility study based on the detailed proposals that we had outlined. After meeting with three arts industry heavyweights, we selected our preferred company – DCA (David Clark Associates) – who agreed that our plans were bold and exciting, but certainly achievable.
However, one thing that was identified early in the process was that looking ahead to the major funding bid part of the overall project, we really needed to have some definitive financial support from the local authorities – both borough and county – which would demonstrate clearly to grant bodies that they were behind us. But whilst the feedback was encouraging from Warwickshire County, we hit a roadblock with NBBC, who have stated categorically that they cannot (or will not) commit any funds.
As a result, despite several pleas to the NBBC hierarchy, including a broadcast e-mail to each borough councillor, we are still no closer to even starting the feasibility stage. The total cost of the study is just under £34,000 – we had hoped that ideally the authorities could contribute half each, or at worst, a third, and the NAC would use some of our reserves to cover the remaining third. Without this commitment our consultants have advised that progressing to the finance stages would be made very difficult.
So – faced with this stumbling block, we decided that the only remaining course of action was to go to the court of public opinion, and ask YOU the community to have your say.
What we are proposing is not just a replacement theatre, but a whole new complex which can provide facilities for a wide range of arts based organisations in the town.
We do want to build three separate performance spaces which can cater for the increasing number of events that we are hosting, but that can be multi-purpose enough to cover educational and corporate events as well.
Potential partners include several of the local schools/colleges, the Warks County Music Service, visual arts groups who are desperate for quality affordable accommodation, dance schools who need state of the art studios to practice in, as well as building on business links we are forging even now to provide corporate facilities during the day. And ideally as part of the educational provision we’d like to include recording studios, video and graphics editing facilities. Office space for volunteer groups can also form part of the complex, bringing a ream of different arts and community based organisations under one roof.
We truly want this to be a multi-purpose venue that the town can be proud of.
You can read for yourself what we’ve put in the proposal.
And more than that, we believe that the building of such a high-profile venue INSIDE the ring road will be perhaps the biggest catalyst for rejuvenation of the town centre. Which seems to be something that the NBBC cannot seem to recognise. This singular project could (and indeed should) bring in MANY more people to the town both during the day and night-time which will mean there’s a greater chance of them staying on (or arriving early) to use shops and restaurants/bars in the vicinity, some of which may well spring up as a direct result of the new building.
So, what do we want you, the community, to do?
Well, as we don’t seem to be getting the support we need from NBBC, we need EVERYONE to support us on social media – LIKE our Facebook page, follow us on Twitter, and share information, posts and events to ALL of your friends to spread the word.
But more importantly, we need EVERYONE to write directly to their own local ward councillors. Most of them have an official e-mail address, which can be found on the NBBC Website – but you can write to them via the regular post as well.
If you’re not a Nuneaton resident but are a regular visitor to or user of the Abbey Theatre, you can also send your support either to any of the elected members, or to the Portfolio Holder for Arts and Leisure – Cllr Ian Lloyd – or even the Leader of the Council, Dennis Harvey.
And by all means copy us in on any e-mails sent so we know where the support is coming from – just cc your mails to [email protected]
The more support we can show the council we have, the stronger our case for pushing this through.
What would we like you to say?
Well, how you show your support is entirely up to you, but the key messages are that the town NEEDS a new theatre and arts venue so that we can continue to improve the provisions for you the community, we NEED the NBBC to financially support the feasibility study and we NEED the subject of a new arts venue to be properly discussed and debated in FULL council, because until late last year, despite the five years of discussion, it was clear that very few elected members were even aware of the proposal on the table!
We KNOW that what is in the draft proposal is a huge undertaking, but the whole design was created so that elements COULD be taken out if funding wasn’t wholly available for everything we’d like, or if the practicalities of any part proved troublesome.
We KNOW that managing the new venue – in whatever form it might eventually take – is going to have to be very different from what we do now. Whilst we are wholly volunteer run presently, there would have to be a combination of salaried staff and volunteers.
We KNOW it’s going to be a long arduous struggle to get this from draft to completion.
Amongst other things, the feasibility study will be vital in proving that
a) we’ve got the right ideas to start with,
b) what elements are viable within the limitations of practicality and potential funding and
c) how best the management of the new venue will need to be structured to give it a sustainable future.
Thanks in advance for your help.
The Management team of Nuneaton Arts Council