WATCH: Huge relief as Lancaster Music Co-op is given unanimous support by city councillors
Lancaster Music Co-op say they have been given "a new lease of life" after councillors voted to ditch an eviction notice issued last month.
Lancaster City Council voted unanimously to rescind the eviction notice issued to Lancaster Music Co-op on October 12 once the most urgent safety concerns are completed, at least on a temporary basis, and that valid insurance is in place.
It also voted to give it a long term lease on the building in Lodge Street, and contribute funding to structural repairs.
Music Co-op director David Blackwell said he was overwhelmed by the support shown at the meeting at Morecambe Town Hall on November 14, both from members of the public and councillors.
He said: "It was unbelievable. I just couldn't believe it was unanimous. We're overwhelmed with the support.
"We didn't expect it, we didn't know what to expect, as we haven't seen any support for so long.
"It feels like a new lease of life after all this time. It's a fantastic building and it's so nice to be able to save it for the city.
"I know there's been a lot of talk about us moving out, but this has become our home.
"We're so happy that it's gone the way it has, and that it was unanimous.
"We'll now be going through the finer details and timescales, but obviously the key to this at the moment is getting the roof sorted."
Several people spoke in support of the Music Co-op, which has been operating from a run down council owned building in Lodge Street for 33 years.
Lancaster City Council had issued it with an eviction notice due to public safety concerns, which the Co-op says it has since mostly addressed.
The decision now means the council has to offer the Co-op a long term lease on the building by July 2019.
The meeting heard from Chris Barlow, a senior lecturer at the University of Cumbria, and a singer and guitarist in local bands, who said: "The council needs to appreciate how important this is. It contributes amazingly to the health and wellbeing of many. You never feel alone in Lancaster, which is a unique feature of this city."
Questions were raised at the meeting about the Co-op's place within plans for a new "Canal Quarter" in the city, previous proposals for which have hindered any development of the music co-op for decades.
Sally Bloomer, a Lancaster musician and independent business consultant said: "Let's build our own cultural quarter. It might take a bit longer, but won't it be great?!"
Ben Ruth, founder of Lancaster Music Festival and himself a musician, said: "In each of the last two music festivals there were 300 acts, 180 of which were from the Lancaster area.
"The median attendance over five days was 85,000, generating Â£4m within 10 days - all thanks to our local music scene.
"The music co-op isn't just a building, it's a 30-year-old cultural institution."
Kat Taylor, a clinical psychologist and lead clinician for Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMS) services in Lancaster and Morecambe, said: "The arts can help keep people well, aid people in recovery and help people live longer lives, as well as saving money on social services."
She said children who play music were more likely to achieve more than five GCSEs.
Anthony Robinson, who has been involved with the Co-op since the early days, said the decision was "wholly wrong and indefensible", and that the Co-op supported people in Lancaster and Morecambe when the area "was on its knees".
"It's simply vital," he said, "please do the right thing."
Many questions were then asked about the Co-op's tenancy agreement with the city council, with references made to "dodgy 80s tenancy agreements".
Questions were also raised about why any major work hadn't been carried out on the building for the past three decades.
Coun Nigel Goodrich said: "It's been ignored up until the time we've had to throw them out, which seems madness to me."
Coun Rob Devey, who proposed amendments to Coun Kevin Frea's original motion to rescind the eviction notice, said: "The council should accept responsibility for the most urgent structural repairs.
"This isn't the fault of anyone here now, it was a bad agreement in the first place.
The council has taken its eye off the ball over 33 years, and to expect the Co-op to take responsibility for these repairs now, that's not reasonable at all.
"But that's not to say discussions can't take place over contributions. This is a bad situation that we're in, but it gives us the opportunity to take the bull by the horns and offer a long term lease on the building.
"We've seen tonight that there's huge community support for the Co-op, and I don't think anyone is going to object to that. It will allow the Co-Op and the council to increase income, at a rent that's affordable to the Co-op going forward."
Coun Darren Clifford said: "I'd like to have a word with anyone who was around in 1985. I'll resign if we don't get this sorted. Let's be accountable."
Coun Ann Whitehead, who is responsible for finance on Lancaster City Council, warned about future financial constraints on the council.
She said: "As you must be aware council finances are strained, and the future is not good. If we put money into one thing, we'd have to take it away from another".
Coun Kevin Frea said estimates for the repair of the roof and other structural repairs had come back in the region of Â£50,000.
Coun Charlie Edwards suggested that a "slush fund" pot of money, otherwise known as the council's Budget Support Reserve, could be used to help fund the work.
Ward Councillor and current Mayor of Lancaster, Andrew Kay, said there was no reason why Lancaster City Council's Masterplan for the Canal Corridor could not include the Lodge Street building.
Bulk Ward councillors Tim Hamilton Cox and Caroline Jackson said they were happy and hugely relieved with the decision.
Coun Hamilton-Cox said after the meeting: “I have been amazed at the amount of dedicated work the Co-op directors and their community of supporters have put into ensuring the Co-op met all the requirements of the council officers regarding safety and insurance. As councillors we just want to thank everyone involved for the effort they have put into saving the Co-op for the future of Lancaster musicians.”
Coun Caroline Jackson said: “We saw from the speeches last night, Lancaster is a community that knows its own mind and is hugely and powerfully supportive of the things it values. That’s why people love living here. Tim and I were privileged to play a strong part in the Co-op’s fight to convince officers and members that the Co-op deserves our support to continue its work and create an even better future. The community sent a message to the council last night and councillors from all political parties recognised that message – listen to us before you act, work with us over changes to our city and together we can achieve great things.”
Coun Eileen Blamire, leader of Lancaster City Council, said after the meeting: “This has been an emotionally charged situation, but I feel that something truly positive has come out of this – both for the Co-op and the future of music in Lancaster. I want to thank all those who spoke so eloquently on behalf of the Co-op and engaged with the council throughout this process.“I am optimistic about the future and look forward to working with the Co-op to develop Lancaster’s cultural offering for generations to come.”