Anger as city council kicks out tenants from Portsmouth arts facility

Supporters of The Arts Lodge and Park Cafe in Victoria Park, Portsmouth  with, at the front, Pat Arnold and manager Mark Lewis 
Picture: Ian Hargreaves (160836-2)
Supporters of The Arts Lodge and Park Cafe in Victoria Park, Portsmouth with, at the front, Pat Arnold and manager Mark Lewis Picture: Ian Hargreaves (160836-2)

Portsmouth MP flies out to storm-hit islands on first trip as development secretary

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LEAVE our community hub celebrating Portsmouth’s arts scene alone.

That’s the message from campaigners to Portsmouth City Council after it unveiled plans to kick out tenants of The Lodge Arts Centre from its home in Victoria Park.

We’re the only service stopping anti-social behaviour in the park, all of the time.

Mark Lewis, Lodge Arts Centre tenant

Art and Soul Traders, which runs a community café and arts centre for aspiring artists at the venue to showcase their work, has been given eight months’ notice to leave and find a new home.

The council wants to instead use the building as a new café that will help to get vulnerable adults back into work – a move which critics say will spell the end of the work done to celebrate the city’s arts and cultural scene.

But Lodge Arts Centre owner Mark Lewis says his business has huge community value and has transformed many people’s lives in the 16 years it’s been there – and should therefore stay.

And Mr Lewis, who spoke of his frustrations in 2012 after the council decided to put up his rent at the site from £4,500 to £10,000 a year, said he’s appalled by the way the community have been treated.

He said: ‘We do a lot for the community. It’s Portsmouth’s only arts centre, saving the council £50,000 a year.

‘We’re the only service stopping anti-social behaviour in the park, all of the time.

‘We have been served this notice, yet this is the first we have heard about any of the plans. The council can’t even tell us what is going on.

‘It feels like it needed to make up something. There’s probably a bigger plan for the site, what with all the redevelopment going on around us.

‘There is no other premises like this, which is why we are successful. It’s the perfect venue. We’re trying to reach the city community, and what better place than in the park?

‘That’s why I spent the first two years here, raising £70,000 restoring it all. Yet now when there’s a chance we might make some money, because of the development around us, the council is sweeping the rug from under our feet.’

World of Music Education Limited is a music tuition company which uses the Arts Lodge facility to showcase the musical talents of people aged eight and over.

Natalie Earwaker, of World of Music Education Ltd, is shocked by the plans and said the lodge helped the community ‘build a sense of pride in the city’.

Alison Brett, who has just taken over the managing of the park café, added the site had created ‘over £2m for the city from less than £200,000 public funding’.

Speaking of the lodge, she said: ‘This is incredible stuff and should be applauded by the local authority, not destroyed.’

Jo Bennett is Portsmouth City Council’s commercial property and leasehold services manager.

She said: ‘We’re looking at providing employment opportunities for adults with learning disabilities and as The Lodge approaches a contract break, where either party could serve notice, we’re proposing that the venue could be a café run by our specialist adult day care services.

‘We understand this is disappointing news, so we have given Art and Soul Traders eight months’ notice to allow plenty of time to find alternative premises.

‘We have look at innovative ways to help adults who need extra support, while also providing opportunities so they can thrive and grow.’

A report to consider an action plan for Victoria Park is going before Tory planning, regeneration and economic development boss, and council leader, Councillor Donna Jones, in July.

Cllr Jones added the city council was ‘committed to keeping’ the lodge as a centre for arts and crafts.

But she explained the authority, as the landlord of the site, was entitled to a break clause in the lease.

Cllr Jones added: ‘The people of Portsmouth should be reassured that this is not about removing an arts facility in the centre of the city. It’s about enhancing and redeveloping what is on offer.’