Open Letter to Council
DfC, which is a Community Benefit Society, a type of co-operative, was set up to campaign to save the centre and the letter says: “We the undersigned call on Darlington Borough Council to reconsider its plans to close Darlington Arts Centre. Darlington for Culture and its supporters would question the sense in current council proposals for a new Arts ‘Hub’, as the only option. The proposals seem sketchy and hurriedly conceived. In addition, there are no guarantees that funding will be obtained to allow the project to go forward. Our view is that it makes more sense to consider more imaginative ways of keeping the current Arts Centre open and to allow DfC more time to investigate and develop ways of making it more financially viable.”
Signatories, representing organisations with many hundreds of supporters between them, include:
“We thank our supporters for their continuing support during the past sixteen months during which time much has been achieved, not least a ‘stay of execution’ for the Arts Centre. However, it seems clear that the Council is determined to close the Arts Centre in the summer, despite the loud public protest, thus denying all of us access to a much-loved and well-used community asset. We still hope we can change hearts and minds, and perhaps win more time to find ways to keep the Arts Centre open so that it can continue to be enjoyed by the people of Darlington. Their support is needed now more than ever before.” Nick Brewster, Chair DfC
“Closing the Arts Centre will rob the town of its only building offering a number of venues of varying sizes, plus a pleasant bar and bistro where users can meet informally. This flexibility within the building is particularly appreciated by Darlington Folk Club, based at the Arts Centre for more than 25 years, which needs differently-sized rooms for small singarounds, guest nights and major concerts. The Arts Centre also gives the club’s annual Spring Thing festival its ‘unique selling point’ among festivals as it can claim that every event is under the one roof.”
George Armstrong, Paul Davison, Jenny Hughes, Bob Tuddenham and Bobb (correct) Wootten, Darlington Folk Club steering group
“Darlington Film Club was established through Darlington For Culture and started showing films in September 2011. The Club has gone from strength to strength on a weekly basis. From regular members who turn up to see every film and from using social media, the Club has become a talking point at the Arts Centre. More than 380 people turned up in December to see the Christmas season of films. The Club has offered local film makers a chance to showcase their short films before the main feature. There are not many places in the North East who offer this opportunity so if the Arts Centre closes, where are all these film makers going to go? The Club has also created a strong relationship with the National Council of Women, by showing a film especially chosen by them. To run the Film Club as well as work a normal job has been very hard but extremely rewarding. If the Arts Centre closes, where are Darlington’s residents going to see Classic & Cult films on the big screen, which has obviously been a niche in the market which the Film Club are filling?” James J Watson, Darlington Film Club
“The Darlington and District Branch of the National Council of Women of Great Britain supports the Darlington for Culture campaign to keep the Darlington Art Centre open. Arts Activities in all their forms have social benefits. Darlington Arts Centre draws people from all walks of life from the town and the region to engage and importantly to participate in a huge variety of arts activities which promote social cohesion and well-being. There is now much evidence in the North East Region of a growing enthusiasm for the Arts. The closure of the Arts Centre would indicate–not an enthusiasm for–but indifference to the value of Arts in Darlington. “ Joyce Brown Committee Member Darlington NCW and Darlington NCW Rep on the NCW National Arts Committee in London
“The Darlington Media Group has been a big supporter of the Darlington for Culture movement from Day 1. We believe that the Arts Centre could thrive under their management and that they have a unique and sustainable plan for the future.” Jason Berge, Darlington Media Group
“Local calligraphy group North East Scribes has held its monthly workshop-style meetings in the Art Studio at Darlington Arts Centre since the early 1990s. It was the first calligraphy group to form in North East England. We are comfortable with our letting arrangement with the Council and have no wish to be forced to move elsewhere as this threatens our longstanding association with the Arts Centre and may lead to a loss of members. Also, if we were based elsewhere the opportunities for prospective members to see what we do would be compromised. Many other groups are threatened and are facing an uncertain future where they might be scattered around and at risk of losing their identities without the opportunity to be part of a buoyant cultural community as is currently the case.” The Committee of North East Scribes, Chair: Alison Gilbert, Vice-chairman: Jeremy Kendall, .Programme Organiser: Megan Patterson, Treasurer: Jill Williams, Secretary: Anthony Millett
“Darlington Green Theatre was established five years ago to present at least one open air Shakespeare play in Darlington each year. The Arts Centre has provided a much valued rehearsal facility for us, and an alternative production venue at short notice in times of bad weather. Last year’s promenade production of Merry Wives of Windsor was successfully presented using both the Studio Theatre and the garden of the Arts Centre. The loss of the Arts Centre would require us to find alternative rehearsal facilities and deprive us of a suitable wet weather alternative. Future performances at times of bad weather would have to be cancelled.” Jo Potter
Principal, Darlington Green Theatre
“I would like to register my concern at the closure of the Arts Centre. I run a dancing school in Darlington. The Arts Centre provides us with fantastic facilities in which to produce our annual show. We have in excess of 150 pupils who take part and we normally hire the venue for seven nights – selling out 1,400 seats. There is no other venue in the area which we could use; this is a fabulous facility for local families to use. I am dismayed at the fact that the council is relying on a funding bid to rebuild. What if the bid is unsuccessful? I am also dismayed as a tax-payer that the council has spent such a vast amount of money already on the Arts Centre, particularly the forecourt and bar area. Surely this is not all going to go to waste? Who will be accountable for making such bad financial decisions?” Carol Storey, Pierremont School of Dance
“Blimey!, the Darlington-based visual arts collective set up in April 2007, wholly supports the retention of Darlington Arts Centre in its current form. blimey! is an artist-led initiative and a vital hub. Lack of studio space for artists in Darlington gives practicing artists little sense of artistic community or affords any of the benefits of communal working space. The Arts Centre, however, does provide blimey! with a venue to meet – the only arts venue in the town; the majority of our meetings have been held there. Our events have included participation from Darlington artists, art students and graduates. The closure of the Centre will be devastating for the artistic community, the profile of Darlington artists and current local practice.” Carol Sommer, Chairperson blimey!
“This group has existed for ten years and is based in the Art Studio in the Blanche Pease Building, where a heavy etching press is located. This press, which had been out of use for many years, was refurbished by us. This is the only printing facility between York and Newcastle. We have had two successful print exhibitions in the Arts Centre and in Richmond. If the Arts Centre closed, the Art Studio, which is used by other art groups, would be difficult to replace. Also the future of the etching press would be uncertain. Provision for the visual arts in Darlington would disappear; no exhibition space and no studio facilities.” Geoff Proudlock, the Etching Group, known as The Press Gang
“The Darlington Branch for The Campaign For Real Ale has, since 1980, held or assisted at 31 Beer & Music Festivals at the Arts Centre and, ironically, the first one was to raise money to create a foyer, theatre, ballroom and galleries. Since that date the Spring Thing and Rhythm & Blues festivals have increased to two a year, many which now sell 50 + beers plus cider. Bottled beers have sold out and have made a profit at the Arts Centre. The number of people who visit the festivals, who come from all over the country and include regulars from abroad, has also increased and the revenue which they bring to Darlington, visiting pubs, shops and restaurants, will be lost if the Arts Centre closes. People will say that CAMRA could find another venue for our festivals but the character and quirkiness of the Arts Centre will be lost and Darlington needs a centralised meeting place for Arts and Recreation.” John Magson, Secretary, Darlington branch of the Campaign for Real Ale
“The Darlington & Teesdale Naturalists’ Field Club have been holding their meetings at the Arts Centre since the centre opened. The location is central enough to be accessible to all and our members feel comfortable and safe there. Additionally, the building is home to our collection of records and specimens which have been acquired over 120 years. We have for some weeks now been investigating the availability of other possible venues for our activities and have so far been unsuccessful in finding anywhere which fulfils all of our needs. We are also concerned that closure of the centre will lead to a dissipation of the activities and co-operation between groups which have been built up over the years.” Carole Sobkowiak, President, Darlington & Teesdale Naturalists’ Field Club
“What we love about the Arts Centre
and why we should not be forced to give it up
A beautiful setting, Spring Thing and all, spilling into the park
one front door for all sorts of arts, and ages and class, and
an atmosphere that cannot be replicated, an ambience
that takes years to achieve, that can’t be bottled and shifted
and the glorious space – vital for creative energy buzz,
the bar – full of community groups enjoying, relaxing,
and the gallery, the stunning tiled glass corridor, the history,
theatre space, drama studio, meeting rooms, Garden Bar,
and the building itself – beyond exciting, can be lost in moments
for the promise of glamour and jam tomorrow.” Vane Women
“Closing the centre is the easy option whereas exploring ways to increase its revenue takes a little more effort but does not appear to have been fully considered. We are disappointed that the decision to close the Arts Centre comes just a few months after an extensive enquiry into the role that arts and culture play in the town. The enquiry’s findings stressed the economic importance of the arts and the need for a cultural ‘hub’ for Darlington. The town has a cultural hub. It’s called Darlington Arts Centre. The council is under difficult financial restraints but there is still time for them to choose to be innovative, retain the Arts Centre and work to increase revenue. We also urge the council to ensure the future of Cockerton Library, where we have performed many times.“ John Dean, Inkerman Writers
“This organisation exists to promote and encourage ceramic work in the region. The Arts Centre is now the only provider of ceramics courses for adults and children in Darlington. The Myles Meehan gallery has shown exhibitions by well-known potters and sculptors as well as smaller exhibitions by members of the Northern Potters Association. The closure of these facilities would be a great loss to the town. People come from a wide area to visit Darlington Arts Centre. Its closure would mean a loss of business for the town‘s shops, cafes, and restaurants. The proposed new ‘performance hub‘ would not replace what is now provided at the Arts Centre.” Geoff and June Proudlock, regional co-ordinators for North East region of the Northern Potters Association
“As a professional arts practitioner working in both theatre and community settings, I wanted to express how important I feel it is to keep the Darlington Arts Centre open. I have worked in many communities that have had their creative hubs removed and it has devastating results. The young people in the area tend to be the most effected and lose the most when this happens. You reduce the potential for the area to grow, people go elsewhere and the effects of this are obvious. I have worked in a number of towns that have either previously had the ‘art’ removed from them or towns that have never had a strong creative presence. This work has been part of town ‘regeneration’ projects; one of the first areas to be invested in when a town is being improved is the arts. I think the Arts Centre should be invested in now, or at least supported. It could grow and be an example to failing towns rather than be taken away only to have to potentially reinvest in this area a few years down the line.” Natalie Bellingham, Uncanny Theatre
“The proposal to provide an “Arts Hub” somewhere in the centre of town, sometime in the future to replace the current Victorian building is so lacking in content and detail that the possibility of it being built in the near future is non-existent. The existing building could be refurbished, both cosmetically and functionally, at a far lesser cost than building the proposed Hub so that the running cost and income could both be improved. The following are three proposals which would improve both the income of and running costs of the Arts Centre.
1.Utilisation of more of the space available in the existing Arts Centre would produce more income. Smaller rooms could be hired out for small businesses, storage of equipment and archives of various groups who use the Arts Centre and others.
2.Updating of the heating system would also improve the energy efficiency of the Art Centre and, therefore, reduce its running costs. The existing system is totally inefficient, in fact the system could heat the building from the circulating pipe alone without radiators. A new system, including new boilers, pipe work and radiators, would be fitted with up-to-date boiler control systems and controls on all radiators in all rooms. The reduction in running cost would repay the installation cost in a minimum number of years.
3. Fitting Photovoltaic panels on the roof would supply electric power to provide part of the electricity for the running of the Arts Centre and could result in surplus production being bought by the National Grid.
It is possible that grants may be available for the installation of the two above energy saving systems.” Brian Denham, Darlington
“I am attempting to step away from a feeling of being broken-hearted that the Art Centre might REALLY shut, but that is probably the best expression. It has long provided a hub for Darlington people, further welcoming other groups with enthusiasm, warmth and knowledgeable assistance. Competitively-priced courses for all ages are run with such dedication and fun. Vital therapy art classes, partly funded by the PCT, are SO successful they have been copied elsewhere. This beautiful, easily accessed building could be adapted, funded by supporters, possibly attracting small company interest and increased arts usage. Closing it will be devastating for arts in Darlington, for the people who use it now, and for the generations who could hope to be as lucky as we have been to have enjoyed its facilities.” Sadie Longstaff
“I would like to support the campaign to keep Darlington Art Centre. I have been involved with the Arts Centre both as a child in the capacity of theatre and various clubs and as an adult. The Arts Centre is … a huge credit in the fund of Darlington’s culture and gives the town a real difference. I understand that in uncertain financial times we as a council must trim down but I, and I believe, the community feel this would, in fact, cause more damage than good. Solutions, I feel, fall into diversification not demolition. Invite all local business to tender their services and offer residential and commercial options to be put to the panel and let’s keep this town cultured and keep this building’s purpose for the current generation and the future generations.” Alisdair Beveridge, Middleton One Row
“I have spent many hours considering this incomprehensible, scandalous decision to close this venue. After such great efforts of the working committee coming up with what seems to be a viable working plan, where ‘the big society’ could flourish, the decimation of this facility, without any prospect for the many groups who rely on a meeting area to maintain their activities in the near or foreseeable future, we could be facing at least ten years of living in a cultural wilderness.” Barbara Evans
“I write to protest against the insanity of closing the Arts Centre. I have enjoyed playing and listening to jazz there and attended a jazz course and art classes. My wife has done pottery, photography and weaving classes. We have enjoyed films and art exhibitions. Now in retirement, the Arts Centre is one of the features which makes Darlington an enjoyable place in which to live. I haven’t had sight of any accounts, but surely with a concerted round of economies (perhaps partial closure?), the Arts Centre can survive the recession. Quality of life is what draws and retains businesses into the area. It won’t be possible to replicate the diversity the atmosphere and the range of attractions in a purpose-built shed. DBC please reconsider.” Bill Goyder
“‘The Arts Centre is really friendly and the only good value place for drama for young people like me. I’ve made lots of friends from across Darlington. Please don’t shut it down.“ – Joshua Ashton, Age 10, The Deans.
* More details of DfC’s campaign and its range of events can be found at www.darlingtonforculture.org