Proposed Carriageworks Changes Under Scrutiny

Leeds Community Arts Network have called on the City Council to scrap proposed changes to The Carriageworks Theatre, with their chairman suggesting that such changes could “kill off” Community Arts in Leeds.

Built in 2005 as a home for community arts after the closure of the Leeds Civic Theatre, Carriageworks is the last purpose built community theatre in Leeds, and is home to 14 nationally recognised voluntary arts organisations supported by Leeds CAN.

Amongst other changes, The City Council plan to halve the number of rooms available for community groups to meet in, close the theatre at the earlier time of 8:30pm, and increase room hire to professional arts rates by 2022 – a staggering increase of 500%.

Chairman of Leeds CAN Board of Trustees, Matthew Stirk, expressed concern that these changes “could kill off the community spirit once and for all”, speculating that early closure times will exclude members with families due to childcare commitments, and describing the decision to charge community groups as much a professional shows as “naive at best”.

The council’s decision seems to be directly at odds with the aims of the Leeds Culture Strategy 2017-2030, in which they stated 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”.

Anita Adams, trustee of Leeds CAN and Artistic Director of Leeds Youth Opera, described access to the arts as “absolutely essential to the wellbeing of young people”, suggesting that “The council should be hailing this theatre as a shining light for community accessibility and doing everything possible to champion the work”.

With the Government increasingly side lining creativity in education, community arts groups are becoming more vital than ever, with a spokesperson for The Carriageworks theatre, Janet Johnston, claiming that these groups 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”.

She went on to condemn the council’s treatment of Leeds CAN’s older participants, saying that “Considering the number of members we have over retirement age and the current problems with loneliness in the UK, these moves are absolutely callous”.

Defending their decision, a spokesperson for the council said that they believe it is “reasonable to increase Leeds Community Arts Network’s charge slowly to mean that access to the building becomes fair for everyone”, adding that “Current budget pressures mean we do have to make difficult decisions and the proposed changes are about providing a fair and sustainable service which balances the varied needs of all the diverse groups which use the theatre.”

In an effort to save community arts at the Carriageworks Theatre, a group of people involved with the original campaign to save the Civic Theatre have started a petition of social media. While the petition has gathered nearly 10,000 signatures so far, the Council still insists that the proposed changes to the theatre are ‘non-negotiable’.

Connie Lawfull

[Image: Small Venues Network]