This community arts centre has plans for workspaces, exhibition space and housing in neglected local buildings.
The Exchange has been welcoming residents and tourists to take part in creative projects in Morecambe since 2015. But art is only the start of the conversation with Beki Melrose and Jo Bambrough, the project’s co-founders, who have led the Exchange in several bids to take over disused buildings in the town.
It started with an art shop and a cafe, opened in the West End, a lower-income area of the town. Opposite that shop, a massive stone church was reimagined as a “Steeple for the People”, a £3 million project to create modern studios and art spaces, a place to hold events and a gallery to showcase the town’s local artists.
While plans for that project are ongoing, the Exchange has opened up a formerly empty unit in the Arndale Shopping centre and turned it into a community studio, with shared workspaces, equipment and private studios. Workers have access to shared resources, such as easels, a screen printing press, printers and photography lamps. Behind it all is the desire to promote the “good things” the West End has to offer, to develop the existing skills in the neighbourhood and to connect people with each other.
Eventually, the Exchange wants to move towards taking on housing to make sure that the existing population of the West End can stay in the area.
“We set this up with a creative head thinking let’s do something that will give people more experiences, it will increase pride in the area, because it’s not an area that’s had the best of reputations,” Bambrough says. “That affects people in their core, when they know it is a deprived and run down area. We wanted to address that and shout about some of the positive things going on.”
New rules needed
Policies that can help unleash the potential of this or similar initiatives across the UK.
Create devolved ‘just transition’ funds
Government should devolve a proportion of its Green New Deal budget to support local just transition plans.
Turn RBS into a network of local banks
New banks would be owned in trust for the public benefit and mandated to lend only within their local area.
Promote community wealth building
Support co-ops to thrive in their localities by anchoring them within place-based industrial and community wealth building strategies.
Create affordable workspaces
Affordable workspaces are essential to the survival of independent businesses.
Implement a Blue New Deal for coastal communities
Put coastal communities in control so they can shape local priorities, value their greatest asset and revitalise the UK coast.
Austerity has pummelled living standards and public services. Now is the time to end it.
Expand the community and co-operative banking sector
Stakeholder banks can be mandated to serve the public interest or local communities rather than simply to maximise returns.