Plans for an Arts and Cultural Hub in Wrexham have been defended after a local councillor branded it unneeded as we are a ‘pie and chips town’.
Yesterday Plaid Cymru Councillor Keith Gregory described Wrexham as a ‘pie and chips town’ , with the frontpage on NWN’s Leader publication indicating he thought the proposed Arts Hub was therefore not needed in Wrexham.
We caught up with Dave Gray (pictured at the top of this page) who had genuinely just purchased a pie and chips from the new Town Fryer chippy for his Friday lunch. Mr Gray is from THIS Project and popup arts space UnDegUn, so we spoke with him to discover his thoughts on the comments about the town and a proposed Arts Hub.
Mr Gray said: “Wrexham is a working class town proud of its heritage, but I think we are in the 21st century and Wrexham has come a long way in the last 15 years and people’s aspirations are a lot lot higher than they were.
“While there will always be a place for pie and chips ultimately we deserve the facilities other towns and cities have.
“Wrexham has a great vein of talent and the Arts Hub is a demonstration of confidence in that by the Arts Council of Wales with a possible significant investment in the arts. This supports the work by people like ourselves, The Oriel, Glyndwr University and other local stakeholders.
The proposed Arts Hub is pictured below, with some of the changes to the People’s Market building noted.
Mr Gray continued: “Concerns are that it is not appropriate for the people of Wrexham and wont reflect them. I don’t think the Arts Hub is trying to be anything its not. It has to be accepted that we need a venue to bring in the best international art from around the world.
“UnDegUn has improved as a gallery space, with artists from Finland, Taiwan and the USA all exhibiting there, however there is a limited amount we can do as the facilities are not upto scratch. With investment the town can bring bigger and high profile names and then tourists and visitors as well who would come to see them. I think it is important that the Hub becomes a base for the local arts scene and allows local artists to share a platform with those high profile names.”
Recently Wrexham.com has documented some of the concerns expressed by current and former market traders over the plans. We asked Mr Gray what his view was on those concerns, and the lack of public information around the development:
“I have been to some of those meetings and fully appreciate as a businessman the concerns of those traders. It is not fair on the traders that are being left hanging, but I also understand that the Council have to follow a process that is out of their hands to some extent. The Council has to fulfil the criteria of the funders including the Arts Council of Wales. It is a very difficult situation.
“If the (People’s) market gets investment, say if just as a market, there would have to be a relocation of some traders to secure the future of that building one way or the other. There should be every effort to speak to those traders. I think the council and other agencies involved should talk to the traders and offer as much support as possible to the traders, who’s businesses are valuable to the town.
“Markets are very wrapped up in the identity of Wrexham and I can understand the public feeling on the issue, as there is a lack of public information on the matter. We should be sensitive to our heritage.
“What I wouldn’t want to happen is that we lose out like we did with the theatre, where we lost out on investment down to negativity. It is this level of view that stops us moving forward.”
“I hope that common ground can be found with both the market traders and those in the town centre.
Speaking to some market traders yesterday they thought the Councillor’s comments on branding the town as pie and chips were ‘unhelpful for the image of the town’ and they ‘clouded a positive message’ on how the markets are a profitable Council asset and how traders are open to investment and improvement.
One told us: “Many of Wrexham’s market traders are highly educated business people and have worked through the recession where some multi nationals have gone bust.
“Of course we would welcome something that would bring people to the town but not at the expense of fellow traders, many of whom are friends of ours who currently have uncertain futures.
Another say: “Any market trader would welcome investment to the town, but not at the expense of a market.”
The apparent struggle to get information was discussed, with Councillor Hugh Jones’ comments on Tuesday being challenged, where he said about the market traders: “There is nothing we have not shared with them, we have been totally open with them.”
Yesterday Wrexham.com was told that copies of the Quarterbridge Report had been requested by the market traders however have not been provided, with some copies being anecdotally available to other town centre (non-market) traders.
We wrote about the findings summary of the Quarterbridge Report, but not with sight of a copy, back last year which gave a summary insight to the possible plans ahead for the town’s markets.
At the time we noted it was an overview of the full report: “It must be noted that for reasons of data protection and copyright, the full report has not been shared” with detail in the report at the time saying (Council) ‘Officers have discussed the contents of the Quarterbridge study, with the Trader representatives of the Market Board at the meeting on 17th February 2014’, but not sharing the full report due to the aforementioned caveats. The concerns noted following the meeting in 2014 appear to be similar to the ones still expressed by traders this week.
The report is seen as important by the market traders we spoke to as it was commissioned by Wrexham Council in 2013 to look at the ‘long term future of the town centre markets’ and has since been used as a source of information for decision making and planning.
The relevancy of the report to the current Arts Hub issue was cited, along with an observation that it may contain general information that could help the markets, further it was pointed out “Wrexham Council paid for this using public money, so it belongs to the people of Wrexham.”
Wrexham.com has today submitted a Freedom of Information Request for a copy of the report, with a note requesting if the report contains protected information it be redacted out prior to a response, or indicated if copyrighted.
Wrexham Council confirmed to Wrexham.com yesterday that the Arts Hub process is ongoing, with the project currently with consultants who are working on the design and business plan.
It is anticipated that the timeline will mean a report will come back to the Council in November.