New report criticises lack of arts facilities

WIGAN is in the slow lane for libraries, the arts and heritage, a new report reveals.

And the closure of Wigan Pier’s visitor attractions and the borough’s on-going embarrassing lack of a concert hall are singled out for blame.

Where the borough fares a lot better is, perhaps unsurprisingly given impressive facilities such as Robin Park and Leigh Sports Village, are sport and physical activity.

Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust’s annual review compares performance indicators and trends covering its various specialisations with national averages.

It reports that as far as libraries are concerned Wigan has “for some time been a low-performing service” and is in the bottom 25 per cent nationally based on the percentage of people who say they have visited a library in the last 12 months.

The better news is that the service is ahead of target for raising that percentage and meanwhile the national average is falling.

Wigan is in the bottom quartile too for museums and heritage and its position is getting worse based on the percentage of people who have visited a museum or gallery in the last year (dropping from 42.2 in 2008 to 38.6 in 2009 - the national average declined from 53.8 to 52.4 at the same down).

The report reads: “Wigan’s position is significantly influenced by the closure of The Way We Were at the end of 2007 and the temporary closure of the History Shop for refurbishment.”

The award-winning Pier facilities were largely closed down because of falling attendances, but little has been introduced since to replace them.

The percentage of people engaged in the arts at least three times in the last 12 months is actually increasing in Wigan and doing so ahead of target. But the borough is still in the country’s bottom quarter.

The report reads: “This performance is in part due to the lack of a significant arts venue in the borough.”

As far as parts and play areas are concerned, Wigan has moved out of the bottom quartile.

Responding to the report Pete Gascoigne, Executive Director for Libraries, Heritage and Arts at Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust said: “Since the Trust was formed in 2003 we have made huge in-roads improving and investing in services to increase the level of participation in Wigan Borough.

“Visitor numbers in our libraries have improved year-on-year bucking the national trend.

“In the six years since 2003/04 visitor numbers have risen by 17 per cent with 1,320,929 visits in 2009/10 – moving Wigan out of the bottom 10.

“Major refurbishments of libraries at Golborne, Ashton, Tyldesley, Aspull and Tyldesley have all helped to increase library usage.

“A new 10-year vision for heritage has been developed and in April 2010 the new £1.9m Museum of Wigan Life opened creating a hub for all heritage activity. There have already been 16,000 visits in the first six months. The service has also focused more attention on outreach work which has increased from 1,286 participants in 2006/07 to more than 12,000 in 2009/10.

“Since the Trust was formed attendance at Arts and Festivals has more than doubled from 27,000 visits to more than 60,000.

“Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust has worked extremely hard putting in place a strategy to ensure a wide range of accessible cultural opportunities for everyone.

“There are now more people engaged and enjoying the arts, libraries and heritage service than ever before and we hope to continue this upward trend despite the financial difficulties that lie ahead in future years.”