Mark Lewis, founder and director of the Arts Lodge in Victoria Park, has launched an online petition to save the community space after threat of closure by Portsmouth City Council.
The petition states that the council have refused to renew the lease of the building to Art & Soul Traders, the cooperative Mark runs the Arts Lodge under, as they have plans to turn it into a day centre for elderly people. A spokesperson from Portsmouth City Council has since confirmed that the proposal is for a café to be run by adults with disabilities under the specialist guidance of adult day services.
12 hours after launching on the evening of Wednesday 15th June 2016, the petition had already accumulated 500 digital signatures.
The aims of the petition are to convince Portsmouth City Council to allow the Arts Lodge to stay, continuing the community work they’ve been carrying out for the past 16 years.
Alongside the petition, a dedicated website has been launched for the campaign against the closure of the Arts Lodge, featuring details of a crowdfunding effort to raise money for solicitor fees and future plans which may be cut short if the closure goes ahead.
The termination of the building’s lease leaves six months for Arts Lodge to vacate the site, Mark wrote in a post on the community space’s Facebook page. Since writing Portsmouth City Council have confirmed that the notice period granted to the tenant is eight months.
Over 200 people have clocked up over 110,000 voluntary hours to run Arts Lodge over the past one-and-a-half decades. Mark’s Facebook post says the project has created over £2million for Portsmouth from less than £200,000 in public funding.
“What we have created here is something very special,” the post reads. “It can’t be bought and people want it even more so now we are sitting on one of the most prime locations in the city centre what with all the development going on around us.
“We have been the only public toilet in the park after the swimming pool ones were demolished eight years ago, saving the council £15,000 per annum. Even the security, tackling anti-social behaviour, and cleaning up around the park must save the council £5,000 [each year].
“It is rare that any of our main staff even manage to receive a regular wage from here due to the amount rent and bills we pay, work it takes, and the lack of support and funding, but just when it looks like we will become more sustainable and self-funded as thousands of students move in on our doorstep, they try and sweep the rug from beneath our feet.”
Following the announcement of the threat of closure, there has been an outpouring of support on social media, with countless comments on the Facebook post suggesting ways the matter could be absolved and the Arts Lodge saved.
Team Locals Portsmouth reached out to Portsmouth City Council on the matter, and they responded saying that a proposal for an action plan for the whole of Victoria Park is due to be considered by Councillor Donna Jones as Cabinet Member for Planning, Regeneration, and Economic Development at a PRED meeting in July.
Jo Bennett, Portsmouth City Council’s commercial property and leasehold services manager, told us: “We’re looking at providing employment opportunities for adults with learning disabilities and as [the Arts] 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 & Soul Traders eight months’ notice to allow plenty of time to find alternative premises.
“We have to look at innovative ways to help adults who need extra support, while also providing opportunities so they can thrive and grow.”