Renewed efforts to save Portsmouth Arts Lodge fall on deaf ears

Mark Lewis, current operator of Arts Lodge and Park Cafe in Victoria Park, stages a rally in Guildhall Square Picture: Miles O'Leary

Mark Lewis, current operator of Arts Lodge and Park Cafe in Victoria Park, stages a rally in Guildhall Square Picture: Miles O'Leary

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FRESH attempts to reverse a decision to kick out the tenants of a community arts centre in Portsmouth have today fallen on deaf ears.

Despite a rally in support of the Arts Lodge & Park Cafe, leading councillors declined in a subsequent debate to stop Art and Soul Traders being made to leave before the end of its contract.

The Arts Lodge & Park Cafe in Victoria Park, Portsmouth

The Arts Lodge & Park Cafe in Victoria Park, Portsmouth

Art and Soul Traders director Mark Lewis was served an eight-month notice in June this year by the council as it has decided to turn the Victoria Park premises into a hub helping disabled people back into work.

The decision came despite Lib Dem leader Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson pointing out 1,500 people in a consultation his group carried out wanted The Lodge to stay – yet the Tories want to sign up to a Solent Combined Authority on the back of just 734 views submitted by city residents. Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: ‘It appears the council’s mind is made up.

‘It appears the council leader is determined not to listen to the views of local people – 95 per cent of people want the Art and Soul Traders to remain.’

Wearing Victorian costume, Mr Lewis and supporters marched through Victoria Park and around Guildhall Square waving placards.

It appears the council’s mind is made up; it appears the council leader is determined not to listen to the views of local people – 95 per cent of people want the Art and Soul Traders to remain.

Portsmouth Lib Dem leader, Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson

He then presented a petition at a meeting of the full council at the Guildhall.

Mr Lewis, who has also demanded £90,000 from the council towards the upkeep of the Lodge toilets, said: ‘We deserve to remain until the end of our lease in 2021.

‘We have been blacklisted from contracts and lost out on funding locally and externally for the last 10 to 11 years now – so we think it would be the right thing to do to give us some money for the toilets, to keep us going so we don’t go bankrupt in the next few months fighting this crazy termination notice we have been given.’

Outlining the Tory response, council leader Donna Jones said Mr Lewis has the opportunity to be a part of the Lodge’s new proposed use. She said: ‘It was explained to Mr Lewis why the council was changing the way the premises were run, and how this could be an opportunity for him.

‘We explained that we have some 2,800 young people in the city who have learning difficulties. Many of them access day care facilities which the council provides through various contracts.’

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