As a writer I sometimes get asked to become involved in various arts issues. I was asked to make a presentation to a full session of Bournemouth Borough Council about the imminent destruction of the Boscombe Community Arts Centre. It might seem a bit parochial to my readers in other parts of the world but it is a piece of work as carefully crafted and thought out as any other and we must all do what we can to protect the arts in this age of miserable utilitarianism.
July 30th 2013
Deputation to Bournemouth Full Council
On behalf of Bournemouth Creatives.
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.