Relief as Arts Council releases funding for troubled Old Courts projects after review
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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.
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.
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.
"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.
"The attitude of the team is very much a can do attitude and that is what we need right now.”