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Thursday, 28 August 2014

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Carlisle council unveils £1m arts centre vision for fire station

Plans have been lodged for the £1 million transformation of Carlisle’s old fire station into an arts centre.

Carlisle arts centre graphic
An artist’s impression of the planned arts centre

And if they are approved work is set to start in June with the centre opening next spring. The temporary exhibition space will close at the end of May.

Carlisle City Council is behind the scheme, which its leaders say is a symbol of the city’s “growing potential and ambition”.

Proposals lodged this week show that the building, on Warwick Street in Rickergate, will retain much of its fire station character, including the shutter doors for fire engines.

The garage where those engines were based before the station’s closure in 2012 is to become the main auditorium with a performance space that supporters say will be ideal for music, comedy, theatre performances and exhibitions with a 250-seat capacity or 350 standing.

A foyer will be created at the Peter Street side in an area which will include a box office and cafe-bar.

Two studios – each 120-seat capacity – are planned for the first floor, one of which will be suitable for the likes of dance training and performances, along with other fitness classes. The other would be available for workshops and conferences.

Other rooms on that floor could be used as offices, rehearsal space, changing rooms or for rehearsals.

A small two-storey extension into the building’s courtyard would have uses including dressing rooms and access for backstage areas. A lift will also be installed.

The planning application has been lodged as a pilot programme of activities in the old fire station – hailed a major success – continues.

Anne Quilter, the councillor who holds the city’s culture brief, is certain the centre will bring more attractions.

“I’m really excited to get to this stage. Residents are very positive about this,” she said.

Opposition Conservative councillors have criticised the Labour-led authority for pursuing the arts centre plan instead of investing cash in Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery to stem reductions in cash support for that attraction.

But Mrs Quilter said: “Labour was elected on the promise that it would deliver an arts centre.”

And the councillor is confident the development will boost the city’s creative credentials and artistic offering. “We have already got some excellent venues in the city – including the Sands Centre, Green Room and Tullie House – but this centre will give us an extra dimension,” she added.

The pilot project running at the old fire station has included opera singing workshops, arts, crafts and creative writing workshops, dancing and juggling.

Art students from the University of Cumbria have also been exhibiting work there.

One of them, 20-year-old third-year fine arts student Katy Bailey, said: “It’s brilliant. There’s a lot of potential here.”

Stephen Dunn, the council’s arts officer, says he’s “over the moon” at the success of the pilot project.

“It’s given us a real good insight. There’s no other space like it in the city,” he said.

Meanwhile, a comedy night will be held at the old fire station on April 26.

It has been organised by the council with the support of local comedy promoter Anna Lyttle of CN Events and Carlisle Living, The Cumberland News’ sister magazine. It will be one of two comedy nights, the second on May 31.

The line-up for April’s event includes three top British comedians – Justin Moorhouse; Rob Rouse and compere Alun Cochrane. Admission is for over-18s. Tickets are on sale now.

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