Empty shop perfect place for Eden arts hub

Date: Tuesday 7th May 2019

A LARGE empty shop in the centre of Penrith has been described as the perfect location for a new performing arts centre.

The store in Middlegate has been empty since Argos moved to New Squares in April last year, and Dr Chris Ford, of Lancaster University, believes it could be used to revitalise and improve the local music, theatrical, dance and literature scenes.

Speaking after his presentation on the “decline and challenge of Penrith” in the first of three spring business forums arranged by the town’s chamber of trade and commerce, he said: “If you want to attract people into the area and get young people to stay rather than move elsewhere then we need this type of place to keep them here.

“It is not just a business issue, it’s a community issue. We need a centre for arts and performance and dance. We have the space just waiting there and this idea could make life in the area really different for local young people.” His idea is that Eden District Council buys the 7,932sq ft site, which is on the market for an annual rent of £45,000, with three possible anchor providers in Eden Dance, Lakeland Music and EVAN.

Dr Ford has been working with the chamber of trade on a number of other ideas to support and improve the local economy, including creating green routes through and out of town for cyclists and for the council to run an e-bike service similar to London’s “Boris’s Bikes”, with routes running to Pooley Bridge and around Ullswater.

Other challenges highlighted in the meeting included not enough going on in the centre of town and a lack of a large public green space in the middle of Penrith where summer events could take place.

Chamber president Stephen Macauley said: “The presentation was a positive start to the process we are kicking off. It highlighted the sort of things we are looking at within the chamber to improve the town. We need to get the engagement with the community right so as many people as possible can be involved.

“The idea for the ex-Argos site is a really good one and when we took a look around I couldn’t believe how well it could lend itself to being a creative community space. Being ex-retail it has the open space to accommodate various things and be flexible for live performance and music.

“Being near the Lake District we need to look at ways to get some of its tourism boost to rub off here. One thing we have discussed is having an improved multi-storey car park by the railway station by a pickup point for e-bikes and being able to then turn a car park elsewhere into green space.”