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Opinion: Lack of arts venues is leaving the people of Preston without cultural engagement

Posted on - 1st July, 2021 - 7:00am | Author - | Posted in - Arts, Opinion, Preston Council, Preston News, What's On in Preston
Garry Cook Pic: Ian Clegg
Garry Cook is speaking out about the lack of a mid-size arts venue in Preston Pic: Ian Clegg

This is a guest post by Garry Cook, events organiser and member of the Brewtime Collective.

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Preston is losing out culturally because it has no mid-size theatre space.

The most frustrating problem is that I have a load of performers wanting to perform in the city but I can’t find a venue big enough to put them on. There are no 80-200 seat venues, so some of the best shows in the UK are going to Lancaster or Chorley and not coming to Preston.

This has really cost the city in terms of cultural development and cultural events.

I’ve been so lucky to use a number of versatile venues like The Stanley Arms, Continental, The Ferret and Vinyl Tap, even Preston Methodist Church, but some shows have technical demands these venues just can’t support, or else it is simply that the maximum capacities aren’t enough for the performer.

The new Mobile Event Tent tent has a capacity of 100 and is an innovative option that’s exciting for Preston, but it’s not a permanent structure and is not available in the winter, so we still need a long-term solution.

Read more: New mobile venue tent to host events across Preston city centre

I’ve been in talks with several performers over the past two months who regularly bring in audiences of 400+ – some of them are performers who I have watched on television – but I can’t bring them here because of the venue problem.

The closure of The Harris in October will only make the problem worse for all genres of arts. As a performance venue you can get 80 people in there and the atmosphere is wonderful, although the space is very limiting with regards the type of show you can bring in.

Garry Cook
Garry wants to make Preston the ultimate cult destination in the North of England for theatre and performance

Preston Playhouse would be a brilliant venue to use. They are incredibly busy with their wonderful shows by so many local theatre and musical groups. I’m really hopeful that I can work with them for a series of one-off shows, and to bring new audiences to their fantastic theatre.

I’ve started booking shows in Preston after 12 months off due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The highly-rated comedy The Indecent Musings of Miss Doncaster 2007 is coming to The Ferret on Thursday 29 July. The show is exactly the kind of risk-taking, brilliant fringe theatre that gives audiences an absolutely unforgettable experience, full of humour, heart and Northern grit.

Read more: Outrageously funny five-star hit one-woman show comes to Preston

It puts a marker down for the kind of high-quality performance I’ll be bringing to Preston in the next 12 months. It’s exactly the kind of show that sells out at Edinburgh Fringe. It is also a perfect example of the kind of show I’ve been bringing to this city for the past few years, which the audiences in Preston have absolutely loved.

There has been no Lancashire Fringe Festival for two years but I hope these shows will lead to a return of the festival in 2022. The mixture of world-class performances and emerging local talent across 10 days of sell-out shows was a huge success in 2019.

While the economic development plans for Preston are ambitious, research has proven time and time again that economic regeneration is led by cultural innovation.

There is great work being done in this city, not least through our proud Preston Model. And there are exciting plans for a Preston Co-operative Education Centre. But this city desperately needs an accessible mid-size theatre space. I know local performers, poets and artists I work with would kill for a venue for them to use.

Read more: City Council leader responds to criticism of his new book and The Preston Model 

It’s happening in other towns and cities.

In Wigan, an independent group developed the town’s old courts into an arts venue. In Sheffield, they made a theatre out of an empty retail until. Both venues are different but brilliant – and they work. Blackpool now has the Old Electric – an amazing building for arts and creativity which has been created by the vision of one woman, Melanie Whitehead.

I want to make Preston the ultimate cult destination in the North of England for theatre and performance. I know performers love coming to Preston because they keep asking me if they can come back – they say the audiences they perform to are so different to what they get in London, Brighton or Edinburgh.

Is there anyone who can help to do this in Preston? I’d love to speak to anyone who thinks they can help make this a reality – a theatre space or multi-purpose arts venue in Preston.

The creative community has been begging for an arts venue for years, and the people of Preston deserve an arts venue – without one there is no cultural connection between the city and its people.

Read moreSee the latest Preston news and headlines


Do you agree that Preston needs a mid-size theatre space? Could the city become a cult destination? Let us know in the comments.

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