Battle goes on to save Portsmouth Lodge Arts Centre despite fresh rally and tensions over council move

Save The Lodge supporters on the steps of Portsmouth Guildhall. Front bottom right, Alison Brett with owner Mark Lewis 								                                       Picture by: Malcolm Wells (160712-5982)
Save The Lodge supporters on the steps of Portsmouth Guildhall. Front bottom right, Alison Brett with owner Mark Lewis Picture by: Malcolm Wells (160712-5982)

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CAMPAIGNERS say the battle to save a much-loved community arts centre goes on after they failed to get a commitment it would not be axed.

City councillors voted at a key meeting yesterday that Portsmouth Tory leader, Cllr Donna Jones, must reconsider plans to kick out the tenants of the Lodge Arts Centre in Victoria Park.

There are many other empty properties in Portsmouth which would be suitable for these plans. I ask those who would affect the lives of so many people, to think again.

Lodge user Patricia Arnold

Cllr Jones said she will revisit the council’s decision to give Art & Soul Traders, which uses the centre as a cafe and arts hub for the cultural community, eight months to leave and find a new home.

But she warned the plan to kick the tenants out and redevelop the site into a new cafe to get vulnerable adults back into work may still happen as part of the long-term strategy to revitalise the park.

It comes despite a fresh protest being staged on the steps of the Guildhall, with supporters demanding the council ‘listen to the people of the city’ and ‘leave the Lodge alone’.

They say a decision must be made as soon as possible – and the centre must stay as it is in the best interests of the city and the council.

Lib Dem councillor Steve Pitt said he hopes to get a commitment from Cllr Jones at a meeting she is chairing today over a masterplan for Victoria Park, which could result in its aviary for exotic birds being axed.

He said: ‘The battle is not over. We need absolute clarity from Cllr Jones that she will reverse the termination of the contract. This is in the best interests of the city and the council.’

Supporters came waving ‘Community not Corporation’ and ‘Our cities need Art’ placards and took to the Guildhall steps to chant ‘Save our Lodge’.

Kelly Tomlinson, Unite south-east community co-ordinator, said: ‘It seems the council wants a high-quality venue.

‘Yet the Lodge does so much for the community, helping vulnerable groups.

‘I can’t imagine what plans the council has got, which would live up to what is happening there now.’

Lodge Arts Centre owner Mark Lewis said: ‘Our message to the councillors is, the people have spoken, please listen.

‘Otherwise the wrath of the people could lose them their jobs.’

Addressing councillors, wheelchair-user David Wade said the centre had given him a fresh lease of life.

He said: ‘It would be a travesty if the Lodge shuts. It’s a great meeting place. I have made new friends in the same situation as myself.’

Lodge user Patricia Arnold said: ‘There are many other empty properties in Portsmouth which would be suitable for these plans.

‘I ask those who would affect the lives of so many people, to think again.’

Cllr Jones sparked outcry at the meeting after suggesting Cllr Pitt should pay the council £45,000 which it loaned to event company Southsea Show Ltd – of which Cllr Pitt was a director – so it can be given to Art & Soul Traders towards its work.

A furious Cllr Pitt responded: ‘The leader of the council has disparaged me in this room and it’s not the first time she has done this. It’s totally unacceptable behaviour.’ At the time, SSL offered to repay the full amount but the council accepted £5,000.

Afterwards, Cllr Jones said: ‘It’s about considering all options, I’m happy to reconsider.’

She said she had discussed with Mr Lewis about the possibility of him running the new cafe for vulnerable adults.