Relief as Arts Council releases funding for troubled Old Courts projects after review

Arts Council England has finally given the trouble-hit Old Courts in Wigan its latest payment after a review of finances.
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

As Wigan Today reported last month, the organisation which has been behind so many town arts projects in recent years has been forced to make redundancies and shelve projects after structural damage was caused to two of its venues by restoration work, resulting in their temporary closure and a subsequent big loss of revenue.

In circumstances like this, the Arts Council (ACE) is obliged to step in and examine an organisation’s accounts to ensure everything is still being handled properly and, if necessary, point out any errors or offer ideas of how things could be handled differently.

Read More
Plans submitted for a £12.5m 45-unit business park close to Wigan
The Old Courts on Crawford StreetThe Old Courts on Crawford Street
The Old Courts on Crawford Street
Hide Ad
Hide Ad

As a result, it had paused further instalments of the £1.05m in grant funding that were announced last year until a review of the Old Courts accounts had taken place.

That is now done and, happily, ACE has agreed to release its latest cash, although it will continue to assess the situation because the Old Courts remain high risk because of their current circumstances.

The Old Courts are in the process of making an insurance claim against the construction company, wanting £300,000 for the estimated cost of repairs and £1.2m for income lost by the enforced closure of its Grand Vault and Theatre due to the botched removal of an old safe.

Bosses were told it could take “anywhere between four weeks and four years” to get the money and so they decided to find the cash up front so they could get the money-making venues up and running as soon as possible. The hoped for deadline for this is the end of the current financial year in March but the work has yet to be put out to tender.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In the meantime, because of their straitened circumstances, bosses decided to close the cafe temporarily, let three staff members go and didn’t replace those who had recently left.

Work on restoring the Royal Court theatre on King Street has been shelved and the Old Courts won’t be throwing its hat in the ring to run events at Wigan Pier when it finally re-opens either.

But with the latest ACE instalment finally in the bank, there have been big sighs of relief this week.

Sales and marketing director Rebecca Davenport said: “The last six months have been horrendous but we have a plan to bounce back stronger than ever.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"We are focusing on repairing the venues, completing our five-year business plan and continuing with the support and talent development programmes that we have running for artists and social enterprises.

"We are still open and have weekly events on in the unaffected venues such as the Bailiff Bar, Community Room and Court Room.

"We are also working on celebrations for our 10th anniversary next year.

"We have a tough road ahead but we have an incredible team who are dedicated to The Old Courts and Wigan, they got us to where we are today and they will get us to where we need to be in six months’ time.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"The attitude of the team is very much a can do attitude and that is what we need right now.”

Ms Davenport said that now the structural engineer has completed the design work for the repair, the Old Courts are putting together a package of works and obtaining prices.

She added: “We now have the drawings from the structural engineers who have designed the process for the repair.

"Initially there are specific sections of damaged concrete to be removed within the slab.

"A new section of steel is to be added to support the new section of concrete replacing the old.

"Once all the structural works have been completed, we can concentrate on reinstating the floors along with raised section to the rear of the theatre before painting, tech, and seat reinstatement.

"Within the vault this will be at the stage of pre-moulded coving to be installed followed by the flooring and on to paint before the tech reinstated with both venues tested ready for the public to come and enjoy the Old Courts again.”

The Arts Council said a review of documentation provided by the Old Courts, run by community interest company Arts at the Mill, revealed the venue was "solvent and should continue in its current form".

Noting that the Old Courts’ ability to pay its current debts was dependent on "funding being made available", ACE confirmed the suspended October payment would be released and said it was in the process of reviewing further documentation to allow the release of subsequent national portfolio organisation instalments.