Final touches are being made to new Penwortham arts centre

Ella and Barnaby in the library at Penwortham Arts centre
Ella and Barnaby in the library at Penwortham Arts centre
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A new arts centre is to open in Penwortham next month - with its trailblazing town council keen to give an extra boost to the revitalised high street.

Penwortham Town Council took over ownership of the former library in Liverpool Road in after it was closed down as part of a Lancashire County Council cost-cutting programme.

Joan Clayton who used to dance at the community centre over half a century ago with young dancer Lucia, aged three

Joan Clayton who used to dance at the community centre over half a century ago with young dancer Lucia, aged three

Now final touches are being made to turn the mothballed building into Penwortham Arts Centre - The Venue, an 80-seater venue with a newly-created stage and a bar.

Although unused for two years, the building is in a good state of repair, and only minor work is needed to get it ready for opening.

Initial thoughts are to start a Saturday morning film club for children, to house art exhibitions, live music and poetry recitals.

Steve Caswell, Penwortham Town manager, said: “Something like this is needed in this area, and we’re open to inspiration on what kind of things will be put on.

The community centre in the library building

The community centre in the library building

“Hopefully it will work with the new eating and drinking venues opening in Liverpool Road. People can come here for an event, have a glass of wine, then afterwards go over the road to a restaurant or a bar.

“It’s all about building on strong foundations that are already here and making it better.”

Work Penwortham Bypass is set to be completed in the New Year, aimed at taking heavy traffic away from Liverpool Road. Now talks are underway on how to develop the area in a way that will prevent the road becoming rat run, with public consultation set to take place later in the year.

Steve is keen to see road lanes narrowed and footpaths widened, to boost the emerging cafe culture in the town, and make the area more appealing to pedestrians.

Steve Caswell, Penwortham town manager

Steve Caswell, Penwortham town manager

He added: “People say that the bypass will kill the high street, but I think just the opposite.

“It will be quieter, we might get wider pavements - it will benefit the high street, just wait and see.”

As well as the former library, the Town Council took over a 125-year lease on Priory Lane Community Centre in December, with plans already in place for an extension and toilet upgrades.

On May 21, a community library will launch at the centre, which will be open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10am to 4pm.

Run by volunteers completely independently of Lancashire County Council, visitors will be able to take out up to 10 books at a time, and even have LCC books delivered to the venue for collection.

Steve said: “We’re looking at this building as being at the heart of the community. We don’t have anything like this in this part of Penwortham, and we want it open to all.

“We’re hoping that when the community library opens it will increase footfall here, people will see the building, and be inspired to come here and to run events and activities from here.

“Our message is ‘come and talk to us, let’s see what we can do’. You’re only limited by your own imagination - we’ve been saying that a lot lately.”

Ideas have already been floated on inviting children’s authors into the community centre to speak to local school classes. A kitchen will be available for refreshments, and three offices on the upper floor of the building will be knocked together to provide one meeting room available for hire.

Funds to run the buildings and carry out work comes from the Town Council’s precept - £170,000 this year.

Steve said: “Lancashire County Council do the big things like the schools and highways, South Ribble do other things like parks and bin collections, and we get to do the nice things, like save buildings.

“It’s about giving people what they want.

“The precept is £170,000 a year and for a band D property, it works out at approximately £20 a year on your council tax bill.

“The value that you’re getting for that is very good. We have nine members, including part-time cleaners and caretakers and lengthsmen, and we do things like the Gala every year and the free annual firework display.

“Instead of buying fireworks, coming along to that and you get your money back.”

He added: “It’s an exciting time and I’m looking forward to further development of the town.”

The background

The Community Centre closed on March 31, 2017 but the Town Council kept it running by paying for the staff, but did not take over the building’s lease until December 2018.

At the time plans were put in place for the Town Council to take over the lease, the Labour administration at County Hall were in a programme of closing down its community buildings as part of a cost-cutting exercise.

When the Conservatives came to power in May 2017, they vowed to reopen those that had closed.

Steve said: “We had already agreed to take over at that point. LCC had a look at our business plan and decided they couldn’t do any better, so left us to take over. It costs them less and the community don’t lose anything.”

Liverpool Road revival

Penwortham has been hailed as “the new Lytham” as a new wave of investment pours into the area.

Boarded-up shops in Liverpool Road are being snapped up, and plans have been tabled to open a host of new eating and drinking establishments, as well as retail shops.

The reinvention, which was kick-started around two years ago with the opening of several independently-owned bars and cafes, is being amplified by new plans for a high-end restaurant, new shops and high-street coffee chain Costa Coffee having recently opened.

Although the regeneration has largely been hailed as good news for the area, concerns have also been raised that the area doesn’t rely too heavily on a night-time economy.

Speaking earlier this year, Penwortham councillor David Howarth said: “You need shops that people travel to go to visit, a unique element that attracts people.

“We don’t want everything that’s only open at night and we need some more A1 retail units - a mixture of retail and leisure.”

Work has this week started on an “eyesore” former supermarket building on the junction of Priory Lane and Liverpool Road.

Warren Ward has bought the former Booths supermarket, which has been empty for almost a decade.

With the help of fellow Penwortham residents, builder David Dean, and architect Neil Anyon, he is transforming the building into a high-end restaurant and retail unit.

Plans are for the restaurant to be big enough to house 16 or 17 tables or booths, with a contemporary look featuring bi-folding doors, anthracite-coloured windows and outdoor seating.

Local undertaker Neal Buckley has also taken ownership of the former Lloyds Bank in Liverpool Road, and work is underway to transform it into two units, one confirmed as a cafe.