Thousands of people including high profile celebrities have signed a petition to save Lancaster Music Co-Op after the city council issued it with an eviction notice.
The notice served on the co-op, which has been providing rehearsal and recording space for musicians in Lodge Street for the last 33 years, gives them just six months to leave the building.
The eviction notice was issued on October 12 during the Lancaster Live music festival, but there is now some confusion after Lancaster City Council leader Eileen Blamire suggested the eviction notice was in fact a “holding period” to develop solutions for the building’s future.
Thousands of people have signed a petition to save the co-op, and high profile supporters such as wildlife TV presenter Chris Packham, comedian Phil Jupitus, BBC radio DJ Marc Riley, and punk band Sleaford Mods have thrown their weight behind the campaign.
The decision, understood to have been made by a temporary senior officer at Lancaster City Council, which owns the building, has been described as a “disaster” by ward councillor Caroline Jackson.
Lancaster MP Cat Smith has also raised concern that the eviction could “seriously harm a major part of Lancaster’s cultural offering”, and has written to city council chief executive Susan Parsonage asking her to secure the future of the music co-op.
David Blackwell, who runs the co-op alongside Ian Dicken, said that they had been in limbo for years because of the now failed Canal Corridor redevelopment.
Due to the uncertainty over the future of the area and the absence of a long-term lease, the co-op has not been able to apply for funding to make much needed repairs to the building.
Despite this, it has continued to provide non-profit making rehearsal and recording space for thousands of local musicians, helping to create a music scene in the city that is now nationally renowned.
David said: “A demolition order was served on our premises around 12 years ago as part of the development plans.
“During this time, we have been unable to move forward as the city council quashed negotiations for a long-term lease and stalled any attempts by us to renovate and improve the building.
“At the time, we had a successful planning application approved to totally revamp the interior of the building to create a new purpose-built recording studio, rehearsal rooms and venue.
“But without a long-term lease we could not move forward with any of our plans.
“A long-term lease would have given us security and more importantly access to much needed funding to improve the building, enhance our facilities and realise our ambitions. It has been a very frustrating 16-year waiting game.”
Couns Jackson and Tim Hamilton-Cox, who represent Bulk Ward, said the council’s decision was a “disaster”, and would seriously affect Lancaster’s night time economy, but expressed some hope following the council leader’s statement. They said: “We are happy to see that the council leaders are now positive about the future of the Musicians’ Co-op in their Lodge Street building.
“However Lancaster City Council must recognise its responsibility for the major repairs needed to its own property.
“It also needs to give a proper sustainably priced lease so that the co-op can go out and gain funding for the internal works and for creating a fantastic new music venue which the town needs.”
In April 2018, Lancaster City Council severed ties with developer British Land and in July issued Lancaster Music Co-op with a “huge list of impossible demands and repairs on the building”.
David added: “Although we have been working our way through their list of repairs, we have now been issued with an eviction notice, ironically on the weekend of Lancaster Live music festival.
“This is a vital resource to Lancaster’s musicians and has an impact far beyond the city it serves.
“We must fight to save its future!”
Coun Eileen Blamire, leader of Lancaster City Council, claimed the council is supportive of the Co-op and wants to see it thrive.
She said: “They currently occupy the building at 1 Lodge Street at the low rent of £200 per year under a tenancy at will. Unfortunately a recent condition survey of the building raised a number of significant issues, particularly in relation to the roof and electrics, which need to be urgently addressed if they are to safely continue their occupation of the building.
“As a precautionary measure a six month notice has had to be formally issued.
“This will provide a ‘holding period’, during which the council will work constructively with the Co-op to gather more information on the issues affecting the building and develop a range of solutions. Our aim is that the Co-op continues to provide a home for musicians for many years to come and develops a real partnership with the council to promote music in Lancaster, which is one of our many strengths.”
A petition launched at Change.org had garnered 3,300 signatures as the Lancaster Guardian went to press.
Coun Charlie Edwards said: “I think everyone should support this petition. The only reason the Council are evicting the Co-op is to go ahead with the Canal Quarter development. Who else will Lancaster City Council try and evict off the Canal Quarter land? My bet is the Lancaster District Homeless Action Service, who along with the Musicians Co-op need our support, as they both sit on valuable land the Council wants to get their hands on.”
“I hope the public pressure put on the Council will say a strong message: you cannot bully charities out of their homes. The Musicians Co-op has been going for over 30 years and the Council seems happy to complete destroy it. We cannot allow a similar thing happen to the District Homeless Action Service.”
While Coun Kevin Frea said: “My suggestion, using experience from my Co-operative and Community background, is that a Community Asset Transfer of the building be considered. This would be for the benefit of the Musicians Coop, but probably best made to a Community Land Trust (CLT) who specialise in owning assets (we have two already set up in Lancaster District).
2. The CLT then have the necessary title to raise funds through grants, community shares, crowdfunding and mortgages to carry out the necessary building improvements.
The result would be a building gifted by the Council for the cultural and social benefit of the community, and the Music Coop having a building that they can find the resources to do what they need to with. Located next to the Grand Theatre, we have the makings of a ‘cultural centre’ in the Canal Quarter.
What is most important, however, is that the Eviction Notice is withdrawn and an urgent conversation started to explore all of the possible options that will lead to the Music Coop enjoying a permanent, secure, inspiring home in the heart of Lancaster.”
Andrew Kay, ward councillor and current Mayor of Lancaster, said he wasn’t consulted by the city council before it sent out the eviction notice.
He said: “The contribution made by the Co-op and local musicians is invaluable. It’s one of the things that makes Lancaster such a great place to live. It has played a crucial role in the culture of the city and the city council should make a commitment to the Co-op so that it can continue its great work.”