It’s pleasing to be able to report today that a plan to revitalise the city’s Victoria Park has been kicked off by confirmation of what is happening to the former Arts Lodge.
Of course, there will be those who still disagree strongly with the cultural hub’s closure and the way it was handled by the council.
As Lib Dem opposition spokesperson for culture Steve Pitt says: ‘The Arts Lodge was the city’s premier arts facility and it is a shame that it has now gone.’
But we must look ahead now and welcome homelessness charity The Society of St James as the new operator for the vacant site, to be called Cafe in the Park.
The charity – which provides support to families struggling with homelessness across Hampshire – will run the cafe during the day and provide training programmes for vulnerable people to enhance their skill sets in the evenings.
It’s the charity’s first commercial cafe and will deliver revenue as well as providing employment opportunities for vulnerable people.
We agree with Mike Taylor, the charity’s operations director, when he says that it is ‘very excited’ about the project’s possibilities.
When the new cafe opens its doors in August, it will provide facilities and a focal point in a park which Councillor Donna Jones, Tory leader of the council, believes has been under-used for too long.
It is certainly a valuable green lung surrounded by the urban landscape and can provide residents, workers and visitors alike with a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle.
We look forward to seeing how else the council is going to revitalise the park and it becoming a real draw for people of all ages.