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Review of Stamford Arts Centre and Bourne Corn Exchange sparks opposition

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Opposition has been raised to a proposal being heard today (Tuesday, August 3) that could see a council handover the running of Stamford Arts Centre and Bourne Corn Exchange to a trust.

Coun Amanda Wheeler (Lib Dem - Stamford St George's) has spoken out following the publication of the findings of an external review that says South Kesteven District Council could save money by ceasing to operate the two venues, plus the Guildhall Arts Centre in Grantham.

The council spent more than £1.7m on arts and cultural services in the 2019/20 financial year, money the report says could be saved if a charitable trust instead ran the venues.

Stamford Arts Centre
Stamford Arts Centre

Coun Wheeler, a member of the culture and visitor economy overview and scrutiny committee, opposes any cuts to Stamford Arts Centre's staffing or services.

She said: "The review – carried out at a time the centre was effectively closed due to covid – has failed to capture the spirit of the centre and its recommendations are short-sighted and will only serve to weaken the cultural offering in our town at the very time when we should be increasing it.”

She is attending a committee meeting today to discuss the findings of the review, commissioned by the council and carried out by Sport, Leisure and Culture Consultancy (SLC).

Bourne Corn Exchange
Bourne Corn Exchange

Coun Wheeler added: “At South Kesteven District Council's last full council meeting in July, we unanimously passed a motion to support the mental health of our residents, by signing up to the Local Authority Mental Health Challenge and pledging to improve services and community projects across the district that support the mental wellbeing of our residents.

"One such project has just been on display at the gallery in Stamford Arts Centre.

"Art Pop-Up and Mindspace have explored Stamford connections – linking up all the groups in Stamford that provide services that support mental wellbeing. And the venue that came up again and again was Stamford Arts Centre.

"This thriving centre is the hub of Stamford and provides a variety of cultural services to residents and the wider community, from the latest films to live theatre, music, poetry and art, together with workshops for the young and old.

District councillor Amanda Wheeler
District councillor Amanda Wheeler

"Almost a quarter of the people that visit the arts centre come from outside the district. So its very existence is encouraging people into Stamford, to visit not just the arts centre, but our shops, our restaurants and our cafés."

Lincolnshire county councillor Richard Cleaver (Ind - Stamford West) has added his concerns about the consultancy's proposal and wants the district council to show long-term commitment to arts provision.

He said: "The review lacks ambition. It is all about management and efficiency and pays lip-service to outcomes.

County councillor Richard Cleaver
County councillor Richard Cleaver

"That said, I have no ideological objection to efficiency savings, but our town needs a larger cultural offering, not a smaller one. This is for two reasons.

"First, as a vital support to our visitor economy, and second because the town has a rapidly growing population.

"In the context of Stamford expanding by 25 per cent in the next 15 years, we should be seeking to overcome the limitations of Stamford Arts Centre’s capacity not just noting them in reports – and maybe we could seek to do this by creating a new shared 1000-plus-seater state-of-the-art theatre/concert hall on the expanding Stamford Welland Academy site to be shared by Stamford Arts Centre, the academy’s two schools (primary and secondary), and possibly others.

"We need to grasp the opportunities which Stamford Welland Academy’s expansion can offer us as a town.

"The report also completely fails to mention the potential for Stamford Town Council to expand its role in supporting the Arts.

"It already does this on a small scale and there is scope for expansion.

"The town council should work more actively with the district council to encourage better use of the recreation ground and Stamford’s large meadows as venues for cultural events. Why are large music events on the meadows now a thing of the past?

"I believe the district council should seek to extend its lease on Stamford Arts Centre sooner rather than later in order to be able to plan for the longer term.

"Notwithstanding this, the district council should also be actively looking for venues in the context of churches possibly becoming redundant, the possibility of the St Mary’s Medical Centre site being vacated when the town acquires a new GP surgery, and a community aspiration to have a museum back in the town.”

  • In an earlier version of this article we said today's meeting was held in private. Only part of the meeting took place behind closed doors and the rest was open to the public and can be watched by clicking the screen below.

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