An update

For those who just want the headlines:

We’ve been through an awful time, the structural damage is still an ongoing issue but we have a plan and we are moving forward and continuing to do what we love – working with our communities and creatives. Although two of our venues are still closed we are very much OPEN and working hard! Our events, Bailiff and wedding team are smashing it and we’re receiving loads of amazing reviews.

We do need your help though – we need kindness, support and if you can, please pop into an event, book a party or simply share a social post to help us.

We are truly grateful for the understanding and support from local and national partners, artists, Wigan Council, Arts Council England and various other funders and our many supporters.

Love Team OC x

For those who want all the detail:

Since we posted our last public update in May a lot has happened. We want to share an update on what has been keeping us busy since then along with how things have developed regarding the structural damage in our building.

In May we provided an update detailing the discovery of structural damage caused during previous contracted building work to remove a Safe. This necessitated the temporary closure of two of our performance spaces at The Old Courts, namely The Grand Vault and the Theatre.

While our insurers began work on the claims process, we started scenario planning and didn’t recruit any planned new roles or re-recruit roles when people left the organisation – we did this to safeguard as many roles as possible should our insurers not deem the claim to be an insured loss.

Since then we have worked round the clock to aid the insurance process in every way possible in order to minimise the timescale of the process and disruption caused by the issue. But despite our best efforts, we are now having to take further action which means there is a significantly longer wait for any claim pay out being made to The Old Courts.

The two venue spaces we have temporarily closed represent a significant part of our ability to generate revenue. As a result, we have experienced a significant reduction of trade in our other licensed spaces on site which usually peak in line with events in The Grand Vault and Theatre. This represents a loss of income valued at £1.2m to August 2023 which has unsurprisingly caused unprecedented cashflow issues as we are also awaiting receipt of significant funding payments.

With these spaces representing such a significant proportion of our income and activity, we need them back in action as soon as possible and so we have deemed it necessary to fund the repairs ourselves in advance of any insurance pay out. This week we have instructed contractors to begin design work to create the package of works for the building repair.

As a result of this we have undertaken a re-budget for the remainder of this financial year taking into consideration both the current reduction in income and the uncertainty regarding the timescales of the claim process with our insurers. This proposal and management accounts for the period were shared with our Oversight Board and key stakeholders prior to implementation.

In order to navigate this upcoming period, regretfully we have had to reduce the size of our team. In accordance with this we have now completed a round of redundancies and also taken the decision not to re-recruit any positions made vacant by any team members leaving in this period. We have unfortunately made 3 colleagues redundant and re-negotiated 2 other roles to part time contracts. This has been without doubt the most difficult process undertaken since the organisation was founded in 2014.

We have also taken the decision to temporarily close our café.

The challenges caused by the structural damage to the building combined with the protracted recovery from Covid has been especially difficult. This has been felt across the cultural sector throughout the UK but we take great encouragement from the fantastic audience numbers we saw just prior to this issue unfolding.

Over the last decade we have worked hard to host a range of different events and ideas to refine our offer and work towards achieving as much as we can for Wigan.

This was never more apparent to us than in April this year when we were delighted to be awarded NPO status by Arts Council England – something we have worked towards for a number of years now.

This recognition and support enables us to take bigger, and more exciting creative direction to continue playing our part in the huge cultural shift that’s happening right across the borough. In addition we have been working on some brand new initiatives and relationships within the music industry to bring significant promoters and events to Wigan every month to boost the enviable scene we have in our town. All of this work continues and is really exciting but we need our building fully open to maximise the plans. Away from the spaces impacted by the structural damage, we are very much open and delivering a pretty packed calendar of activity.

Our Victorian Courtroom is unaffected and since April has hosted various weddings, parties and conferences in addition to playing home to weekly group meetings such as youth choir rehearsals and meetings and writing sessions for Wigan Autistic Theatre Company who are based at The Old Courts.

The Bailiff Bar has also remained open throughout and has welcomed local artists for a variety of events including live sets to the public at weekends in the main bar and our amazing recurring monthly events such as The Something New Show, Pocket Jazz, Original Music Showcase, Open Mic Poetry and also Get Involved Socials which feature a guest speaker form the creative industry and voluntary sector and are designed to support creative individuals, organisations and social enterprises.

Our Community Room is also open as normal and unaffected. This is a focal point of activity from many incredible groups such as Every Day, Curious Minds and a local alcohol abstinence group who will join us shortly.

Despite how difficult things have been we have still been achieving great things:

In quarter 1 April 2023 – June 2023, we:

· Gave 29 days of free hires to develop new work

· Gave 2 days of free hires to show new work

· Hosted 9 free networking sessions to support talent development

· Hosted 56 training sessions for creative individuals

· Gave 9 placements on live projects

· Supported 8 people to feel investment ready

· Supported 108 creative individuals to develop their talent

· Hosted 3 networking events to support creative organisations and community groups

· Gave away 9 days of free space to help organisations to develop

· Supported 45 organisations

· Supported 30 voluntary sector organisations

· Hosted 5147 audiences in The Old Courts

· 28% of audiences 16 – 30 years old

· 12% of audiences were first time audiences

· Gave away 549 free tickets to events for new audiences

In July in collaboration with a consortium we hosted Streets Apart Festival, which achieved:

· 99 cultural professionals involved in the festival

· 12 artists commissioned to create work for Streets Apart, ahead of the festival

· Over 14 community groups & schools engaged in collaborative work; including The Brick, Ekhaya Empowerment, Wigan & Leigh Young Carers Service

· Over 35 free workshops held across the borough and in schools

· 83 local artists paid for their work in the festival

· 84 young people engaged in workshops to create Wigan’s puppet for the parade

· 871 people engaged in pre parade activities

· 250 parade participants

· 10 female, non-binary and LGBTQI+ young people took DJ masterclasses at Wigan Youth Zone with DJ SCAPA. Following this, they performed on stage during the festival and have continued to develop their skills at WYZ.

· 15 young people engaged in a positive message campaign ahead of the festival

· 60 families attended the free mini ravers event

· 13 festival related workshops led by cultural professionals

· 3 murals painted by commissioned artists

We also ran Old Courts Creatives – a talent development programme which saw 10 local people working with various professionals to develop their proactive.

The Collaborative Touring Network which we run, sees nationally significant theatre created and toured around 8 partner locations has just completed its second year of touring work. This year we toured work by disabled led theatre company, Tourette’s Hero as well as working with many local artists in towns across England. We had amazing reviews from this show over summer when it visited Wigan.

Down To Earth project is up and running and has established a fantastic team who have some exciting plans lined up. This is a consortium led project with a strong consortium and we’re delighted to see some of the planned events come to fruition over the last couple of months. Yesterday, we saw Ukrainian theatre company, Hooligan Art Community complete a residency with a sharing of their new project to a small audience in Wigan Pier. In November and December, an immersive northern soul show will tour local social clubs and stars World Champion Northern Soul Dancer, Sally Molloy. There are also projects with care leavers lined up and a project with Every Day. Watch this space for more updates from the Down To Earth Team and their exciting projects.

We’re also continuing with our phone calls to isolated residents, supporting Age UK over 50 jammers as well as many other creative residents and groups that reside in The Old Courts. It’s never dull here!

Additional updates:

Wigan Pier developer Step Places have decided to put the occupation of the site back out to tender in order to achieve better market value rates on the site than originally agreed. We took the decision not to tender for this opportunity in order to focus all of our capacity on the full re-open of The Old Courts spaces.

The Royal Court Theatre

Work on site for this project is now on temporary hold as The Old Courts building is our main focus. However, the ownership of the building is going to sit within our charitable trust so that this historical asset is protected for Wigan and the future. This project represents a huge part of our future plans and so activity will continue here once we have the two Old Courts spaces back in action.

Throughout what has been a devastating period in the life of our organisation, we are truly grateful for the understanding and support from local and national partners, artists, Wigan Council, Arts Council England and various other funders and our many supporters.

So despite a horrendous year, we are moving forward and continuing to do what we love – working with our communities and creatives. The Old Courts might look slightly different for the time being but we will do our best to keep supporting and developing. We do need your help though – we need kindness, support and if you can, please pop into an event, book a party or simply share a social post to help us.

Love Team OC x