Save the home of community arts in Leeds

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As of April 2018, changes brought in by Leeds City Council Officers will mean that 14 community arts groups will effectively be evicted from the Carriageworks Theatre.

This has been our home since it was built, using public money in 2005, and was made for the community after the closure of the Leeds Civic Theatre where we were based before. Now Council Officers are moving to commercialise the venue and drive us out again - the very people who hold it so dear, who have made it the success it is, and who account for tens of thousands of feet through the door each year.

We urge Leeds City Council to intervene and make good on their promises in the Leeds Culture Strategy 2017 to "utilise [cultural activity] as a means of improving the quality of life experienced by every person and every community in Leeds" and to keep the Carriageworks Theatre the home of community arts in Leeds. 

The four main requests we have are:

To allow the theatre to remain open past 8.30pm so that our members can rehearse at a sensible time 
To give back access to the rehearsal and meeting rooms so that groups aren't left with nowhere to rehearse while rooms lay empty
To give us back access to the workshop facilities so that we can continue creating amazing sets for theatre and musical productions
For a sensible community pricing structure, which is affordable and acknowledges the fact that we are community arts groups not professional touring companies
More information can be found at the Leeds Community Arts Network website:

LEEDS COMMUNITY ARTS NETWORK WEBSITE

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We will not let go without a fight, because this is our home. We are Leeds taxpayers, and this is a taxpayer funded theatre. The Carriageworks was built for the Community, and the Community refuse to be pushed out.

A copy of our press release is below with additional information and background.

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Leeds City Council Officers will force 14 nationally recognized, voluntary arts organisations out of their long-established home in Leeds.

The Carriageworks Theatre, situated on Millennium Square in the Civic Cultural Quarter of Leeds, was purpose-built in 2005 as a home for community arts after the closure of the Leeds Civic Theatre. It came about after a lengthy campaign supported by the Yorkshire Evening Post and is currently home to groups such as Leeds Youth Opera, Leeds Children’s Theatre, Leeds Arts Centre, Our Community Dances, Leeds Writers Circle and Shatterproof. These groups are represented by an umbrella organization called Leeds Community Arts Network (Leeds CAN).

The changes made by Council Offers are directly at odds with the Leeds Cultural Strategy 2017, which states that the city will “value and prioritise cultural activity, utilizing it as a means of improving the quality of life experienced by every person and every community in Leeds”. The changes being brought in are:

Eviction from the scenic workshop facilities and storage area - space that was put into the new building specifically for the use of Leeds Community Arts Network member groups - will mean costs more than quadrupling for the volunteer-run community groups.
A halving of the number of rooms available for rehearsals and meetings - meaning that groups will no longer be able to meet at the theatre.
Early closure at 8.30pm - meaning that members who have family or work commitments would not be able to make earlier starting times of 6.30pm.
New room-hire rates to come into effect as of the 1st April 2018, rising to the same level as professional arts rates by 2021/22 – an increase of 500%.
Said Matthew Stirk, Chairman of Leeds CAN Board of Trustees - “Obviously we understand that savings need to be made, but the commercial activity of the Carriageworks was always intended to support community arts, not
replace it. To ask a community group, especially one performing youth theatre, to pay as much as a professional touring show is naive at best. The early closure times will affect most of our groups, considering that many of
our members have families and are often dictated by childcare and tea times. This could kill off the community spirit once and for all and, considering the West Yorkshire Playhouse redevelopment is funding an additional
performance space for emerging artists, it could even kill off the Carriageworks Theatre itself.”

Anita Adams, trustee of Leeds CAN and Artistic Director of Leeds Youth Opera – which was described by the Yorkshire Post as ‘a national cultural treasure’ - said “How can the council not be proud of all the incredible
things being created at the Carriageworks? The theatre was built to have Community and specifically our groups at its very core. Access to the arts is absolutely essential to the well being of young people. Our groups empower
confidence, inspire imaginations and above all provide amazing opportunities for many children and young people. This is at the heart of the Child Friendly Leeds agenda. The Carriageworks wouldn’t exist without the work we put in when the Civic was closed. The council should be hailing this theatre as a shining light for community accessibility and doing everything possible to champion the work. Instead we find ourselves outpriced, with restricted access and no support at all. This is our home, it’s the last in a long line of evictions and I fear this one we won’t survive.”

The terms were described as ‘non-negotiable’ by one Council Officer. He also described the Carriageworks as ‘not a community theatre’, conflicting with a statement from Andrew MacGill (Head of Arts & Events, Leeds City
Council 2005) which said “I think we now have the final piece in the jigsaw. The Carriageworks will complement Leeds' other theatres promoting a range of events and it will also become a vital resource for arts and community groups in the city.”

A petition to save community arts at the Carriageworks Theatre has been started on Social Media by a group of people involved with the original campaign to save the Civic Theatre (Facebook.com/CWXisCommunity –
Twitter.com/CWXisCommunity).

“Community arts groups like the ones supported by Leeds CAN at the Carriageworks Theatre are often the only way some young people can experience arts, as education cuts and negative attitudes from the Department for Education towards arts have resulted in fewer schools offering extensive extra-curricular arts programmes. No-one can deny the positive effects that involvement in the arts can have on all aspects of life, yet the Council seem intent on reserving this to only those who can afford it, and we believe it should be enjoyed by all. Considering the number of members we have over retirement age and the current problems with loneliness in the UK, these moves are absolutely callous.” – Janet Johnston, spokesperson for the Carriageworks is Community campaign.



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