Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Deputation to Bournemouth Full Council

On July 30th 2013 I was invited to make a presentation to Bournemouth Council on behalf of Bournemouth creatives in the rather forlorn hope that we might still salvage something from the demise of the Boscombe Community Arts Centre a vital piece of cultural infrastructure for the whole conurbation.

I am Peter John Cooper theatre professional and writer.  I have run companies in Oxford and North Wales and other part of the UK.  Born in Hampshire when Bournemouth and Boscombe were part of that County.  Spent twenty years in Dorset where I have been chair of a number of County wide arts organisations.  Resident of the Borough for three years. Speaking on behalf of Bournemouth Creatives and other arts organisations.
A building is only a roof with some walls to hold it up.  What is significant is what goes on inside that building.  But once the roof is smashed in and the walls bulldozed nothing can be done and its heritage is lost.  I am speaking of the Boscombe Centre for Community Arts.  You will have seen the superb business plan for the building and one, you will agree, where the numbers are real and certainly stack up and which answers every probing question that you and others have asked of it.  The research it contains is much more persuasive than that presented by the officers here which states that Boscombe has adequate community provision because of its wealth of nightclubs.  Would you take your child to a painting session in a pole dance club? You know the historical significance of this building as one of the very first Drama Centres in the UK and its groundbreaking work in education and disability. You have seen the deputations from the hundreds of residents and dozens of businesses and enterprises that desperately need the work of the centre to carry on. It’s all in here. You know how persuasive all the evidence is and you know how important the work that could be achieved under this roof within these walls again because you have already had the foresight to realise how the arts can begin the regeneration of a run down area.
Over the weekend I was delighted to be invited to a number of events in North and East London.  Here there are acres of derelict warehouses and factories among run down estates.  I saw was an extraordinary transformation in the lives of many of the residents through innovative uses of buildings and spaces as live in workshops, arts centres, galleries, start up business units.  All making a huge difference in the general air of optimism.  I saw children and young people using spaces in a myriad of inventive ways some of them not entirely expected and intended. 
We have two Universities with the name Bournemouth in them.  Too many of their Alumni, flee our conurbation to places like these in Hackney taking their skills away with them. What is missing is that vital community hub where we can exploit their knowledge and energy, where children can go and get messy with paint and clay and where pensioners can dance or excerise.  Where people can come together and explore their differences and give them back some pride in their lives.  That child experimenting with that pile of clay may be on a path that leads to experiments that give us new hope in health care.  Those people learning dance steps may be helping to get over stroke or other disability.  That kid painting on the wall might one day be the graphic designer that delivers the new branding to the Borough.
We don’t have the run down warehouses of Tower Hamlets, so where do we place that centre of ideas, creativity, research and development, enterprise, wealth? Certainly two small historical school rooms are not in any way sufficient.  Neither do all the pubs and nightclubs and church halls mentioned in the council’s research. Should we ask you to raise the millions necessary to build a new new palace of glass and stainless steel? A new Imax for the Arts?  Of course not.  That vital piece of infrastructure  is already in place. There is some minimal remediation work necessary, mostly the restoration of what was removed in the process of closing it down.  This Business Plan demonstrates real community engagment and knowledge and genuinely demonstrates that the place can be viable.
So to that real poser.  How do we choose between housing and a community centre?  The answer is that we mustn’t.   You know there are other, better housing options.  But this is the only Community Arts centre we have in the whole conurbation. At this last hour please don’t let the bulldozers roll. Don’t knock the heart out of the community. Please reconsider the importance of this project. And don’t rubberstamp the end of hope for so many people.

Culture in Bournemouth (2)

I know Bournemouth Councillors have a bit of a problem with the idea of Culture. But for a town of its size and importance it's probably something you're going to have to get to grips with. Let me help: Culture is the exchange of ideas and stories about ourselves and the world around. Cultural spaces are places where that exchange can take place. They include galleries, theatres, museums, concert halls and so on. They don't need to be that big or that complex. Lap dance clubs, bars and pubs are not cultural spaces in that they have other primary functions although cultural events may take place within them. I know Bournemouth Councillors would not want to experience the embarrassment and humiliation that occurred for the town with the destruction of the Winter Gardens, The Pier Theatre and the Boscombe Community Arts Centre so if you need help and guidance why not just ask? There are heaps of artists and cultural entrepreneurs in the town.

Culture in Bournemouth (1)

Bournemouth Councillors are considering a new planning application for the Winter gardens site in the town.  This was an important Concert Hall which not only saw the birth of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra but also visits by some  great bands and choirs Apparently the plans for the site include "cultural" spaces. I expect that these will include replacements for the Concert hall itself, the Pier Theatre and a cultural hub to replace the lost BCCA. Hurrah for Bournemouth Borough Council in whose plans culture is a leading part of the regeneration process. 
Here is a report in the Echo