Five people were arrested after city council staff called police to the Arts Lodge in Portsmouth’s Victoria Park to carry out an eviction shortly before 10:00am on Tuesday 7th February 2017.
Officers repossessed the Arts Lodge site after the Art & Soul Traders’ lease expired on Sunday 5th February. Mark Lewis, Director of Art & Soul Traders, signed a 10-year-lease in December 2012, but the agreement included a five-year break clause, allowing either party to bring the contract to an end, as long as six months of notice was given.
It’s been eight months since Art & Soul Traders were contacted to be notified of the forthcoming lease expiration, Portsmouth City Council said.
A police spokesperson said that two police officers were assaulted, with one sustaining a knee injury, and that one 48-year-old man had been arrested on suspicion of assaulting a police officer, using threatening behaviour, and being in possession of a controlled Class B drug.
A 51-year-old woman was arrested on suspicion of assaulting an officer. Other arrests were of a 23-year-old woman, a 28-year-old man, and a 52-year-old man, detained on suspicion of aggravated trespass.
Outcry has been loud across social media, with many highlighting the importance of an arts centre at the centre of Portsmouth, and others saying that they are disabled and already frequent the on-site café or know people with learning disabilities who visit.
Liberal Democrat councillor Dave Ashmore tweeted that the repossession went “against popular wishes” — attested by the campaigners who turned out to support Art & Soul Traders, and the 4,800+ signatures petitioning that the Arts Lodge be saved.
Liberal Democrat councillor Steve Pitt said: “I’m shaking with a mixture of anger and genuine shock. Portsmouth City Council have gone to the Lodge in Victoria Park, either overnight or early this morning and repossessed the building.
“Yesterday, the Licensing Committee approved an event there on Saturday, and Mark tells me he had a meeting with the Council this Thursday to discuss a one-month rolling tenancy, and possible alternative premises.
“He was also looking to tender for the new contract proposed by the Council, which involved supporting people with learning difficulties. He received the paperwork yesterday. All along, they knew they were planning to do this.”
Portsmouth City Council have plans to turn the property into a day centre for elderly people — a café to be run by adults with disabilities under the specialist guidance of adult day services.
Portsmouth City Council Leader Donna Jones said: “Throughout the last nine months, we have been considering sites in the city and options to increase opportunities for young people and adults with learning disabilities.
“The Lodge was identified as an ideal site because of its position in a park. This means that, as well as learning to work and run a café, the clients would also have the opportunity to learn gardening and horticultural skills as well as animal husbandry.
“At the moment, we have contracts with charities such as Lily and Lime and The Beneficial Foundation, who teach people to cook and sell what they make through community cafés.
“The Beneficial used to run gardening courses too. At the moment, a charity takes young people all the way to the New Forest once a week to have time to learn to work with animals.
“This is such a shame, that we can’t offer something like this in our own city. We have over 2,800 young people and adults who have a learning disability living in Portsmouth. So, after considering all the sites, the uniqueness and environment of the park is perfect to create a community café run by adults with learning disabilities.
“So, we served notice to Mr Lewis eight months ago in June 2016, giving him a long notice period that we required our building back.
“In July 2016, I met with him and offered him other council owned premises that he could relocate his business to. I offered to help with costs incurred and explained the reasons why. I made clear that the rumours he had reported of The Lodge closing, being demolished, or being turned into a Costa Coffee were not true.
“With over 2,700 students occupying the new accommodation near [Portsmouth and Southsea Railway Station] in September 2017, we also need to give consideration to how the park will be used in the future.
“There will be a huge number of people accessing the park on a daily basis. This has led us to consult on how we could improve the park and get the most from it.
“We have allocated £100k to improving the Lodge and building new public toilets in the park to improve facilities. The contractors are in the process of being appointed, and the budget will be agreed on the 14th of February at the Full Council meeting.
“All decisions and consultations have been carried out in accordance with the law, and the budget and plan for the Lodge is subject to minutes of formal legal council meetings.
“As I’ve said before, a lot of information is put on social media. Some of it is very useful, but it is not all true. I have read many things today about what is supposed to be happening to The Lodge and why, and a lot of it is incorrect.
“I hope this helps to clarify what and why we are using this amazing park for some of the most vulnerable in society.”