Culture call for Helston's old community centre
A “cultural quarter” attracting national or even international attention is the ambition for a group behind the development of Helston’s community centre.
The building at 3 Penrose Road, also known as the Passmore Edwards Institute in recognition of its benefactor, was bought jointly by London’s Tate art gallery director Sir Nicholas Serota and his wife Teresa Gleadowe of Porthallow, together with Karen Townshend, director of Kestle Barton near Manaccan and former wife of The Who’s Pete Townshend, for £165,000.
Now more details have been revealed about their plans for the institute, which they hope will link up with Helston Folk Museum as the start of an arts area Helston can be proud of.
Explaining the reason why they stepped in to buy the institute, Ms Gleadowe said: “We were all aware that this prominent building was given to the people of Helston and we were dismayed when we saw that it was going to be sold into private hands, probably to be developed as private residential accommodation.”
Initially they lost out, after being outbid at an auction last November.
Concerned to see the building subsequently being “mothballed”, when this sale eventually fell through the trio offered the same purchase price in cash to the town council and the exchange was completed on August 20.
Now the new owners, the trio quickly set about setting up a trust to run the building.
The Cornubian Arts and Science Trust (CAST), which is in the final stages of being set up as a charity, is led by a group of six trustees.
These include Ms Gleadowe and Ms Townshend, as well as Cornwall Arts Centre Trust (ACT) |director Ross Williams of Krowji in Redruth, Chris Hibbert of Trebah – manager of the Borlase Smart John Wells Trust responsible for artists’ studios in Newlyn and St Ives – National Trust property manager for the Lizard and Penrose Alastair Cameron and John Wilkin of Borlase & Company, who is company secretary.
The trust hopes to be able to offer parts of the building to artists as studios and workspaces, potentially within three months time.
Subsequently the plan is for the institute to become a home for classes, meetings and other events.
The trustees would like to have a cafe at the west end of the building, which could also serve visitors to the museum, and also receive funding in the future to hold their own arts projects.
Ms Gleadowe said she hoped the building would eventually attract national and international attention.
She said: “If we can pull this off Helston will have an asset that could be of huge importance to the regeneration of the town. Combined with the folk museum the institute can create a cultural quarter that will help to bring people into the centre of Helston again and that will be of great educational value for people of all ages.
“Helston is a beautiful and historic town, whose charm is often overlooked and underestimated.
“We believe the institute can play a very important part in revitalising the central area of Wendron Street, Church Street, Coinagehall Street and Meneage Street that is the heart of the town.”
She added that Helston was “well located” between Falmouth, The Lizard and Penwith peninsula and demand from artists for places to work was well known.
This was confirmed by Jean Whitehead, head of art at University College Falmouth, and Helston Farmers’ Market Joanne Schofield, who said craftspeople were “very excited” by the idea.
The first task has been to deal with the building itself, which has been falling into increasing disrepair for many years.
Describing it as a “fine building” with “a lot of potential” – particularly the high ceilings and “wonderful” daylight, perfect for artists – Ms Gleadowe said it had been neglected and had “deteriorated markedly” since being boarded up in April 2011.
For the last two weeks Phil Laity of David Winn Builders had been working to seal in leaks and replace some 200 cracked slates, as well as make sure water ran off the building and not into it.
Now “substantial funds” will be needed to fully renovate the institute.
The aim is to create something “modestly following” the lead of the £4million rejuvenation of Porthmeor Studios in St Ives, which has been |overseen by Cornubian trustee Chris Hibbert.