The organisation which has secured a £3.6 million Government grant to transform the former Hoylake Town Hall into a cinema and arts hub has revealed the scheme will be completed by the end of 2020.
The recent announcement of funding from the ‘Coastal Communities Fund’ for the Beacon Arts Village is the latest milestone in a journey which began in 2009.
Mark Howard from community interest company Hoylake Village Life – which is driving the project – has told West Kirby Today they are already in talks with a number of screen operators and food and drink concessions.
Explaining the background to their vision, he said: “Ten years ago, Hoylake had a major problem with shop vacancy rates, over 25%, and an independent study by the council found that Hoylake was the lowest performing town centre in Wirral. That was really alarming, so we got together a group of volunteers to try and do something about that.
“We set up a number of projects, one of which was Hoylake Community Cinema, which has now been running for eight years and has been a tremendous success – we sell out every film.
“Another one was the Beacon Steering Group which was to try to convert this wonderful building in Hoylake into a two screen cinema with a restaurant, a bar, an atrium cafe and artists and makers studios and retail units. We wanted to create a real creative hub, an entrepreneurial hub – an enterprise engine if you like.
“So we’ve been working on that really solidly for the last four years, and over the last two years and one year we’ve been working very hard on a bid for a Coastal Communities Fund. We found out three months ago we were through to the second and final round of that, and just last week we found out that we had indeed won the bid.”
Planning permission for the project, which will also see privately funded apartments built above the new build elements of the complex, was granted last summer.
Mark says the next stage will be working with the building’s owner – Hylgar Properties – to make sure they deliver a scheme which has the community at its very heart.
“We’ve now got to go through a process of competitive tendering for all of the build works and so on. We’ve got operators lined up, so we’re having conversations with a number of cinema operators. There is also the possibility of it being an independently run cinema, with some external advice.
“Likewise with the food and drink offerings, we’re having some conversations with a number of potential operators or that could also be run independently. So it depends really on the numbers, what stacks up and what makes the most sense and we really want to be able to reinvest in to the Beacon scheme so that we can create events, and have jobs and skills exchange opportunities at the fore, that’s really important to us.”
The opening of a new cinema will mean Hoylake has its own dedicated picture house again.
Mark Howard believes the reason their grant application was successful is the huge support from the local community for the scheme. They received almost 600 responses to their consultation, along with backing from high-profile names including James Bond actor Daniel Craig and film director Alex Cox.
“The Government very often get these very large applications from local authorities, and this application coming from a community group combined with local private enterprise but with the support of the local authority I think was very strong, and they liked that a lot.
“It does demonstrate sustainability that perhaps, arguably, local authorities on their own can’t necessarily, and it also shows that the local community are supportive of it. And we did a massive amount of public consultation in the run up to the bid going in, so we know from the data that we’ve got that there is huge support for this.”
And despite gloom on the high street due to internet shopping, Mark passionately believes independent shops in places like Hoylake can thrive.
“I call it a re-imagining of the high street. If we look at what’s happening around the country, high streets are really suffering but I don’t think it’s enough to say that it’s because of Amazon and internet shopping and so on because, if you look at some of the big brands as well, out of town [shopping] centres, they’re struggling too. So a focus is inevitably coming back to smaller high streets, and I think it’s really important that we are ready for that and we understand the pressures and the needs of how to re-imagine the high street.”
He points to a study by the New Economics Foundation which showed that for every pound spent with independent shops, 76 pence remains in the local community, compared to just 40 pence with national chains.
“It’s really critical that we understand that local, independent businesses, if they’re well packaged and well marketed and well promoted, is better for the local economy than chain stores. We call it ‘home town not a clone town’ – it’s a bit of a glib kind of phrase, but it’s really important to focus on.”
A photographer and designer by trade, Mark is one of four directors of Hoylake Village Life who give up their spare time for free to volunteer on the project, and he thinks other high streets can learn from the work going on in Hoylake.
“Every town is unique, and every town centre has unique needs and pressures and so on, but there are fundamental principles underlying what we have done here which could be applied to other town centres. All of that will emerge over time as people get to hear about what’s happened here and I hope that they will start to come to us and ask us questions, because we’d be happy to help.”
More information about the work of Hoylake Village Life can be found here.