Sunday, September 09, 2012

Public Statement by Residents of The Storey

The future of The Storey is due to be discussed by Lancaster City Councillors on Wednesday 12th September. The Council report into its possible future uses can be found at agenda item 13 here

Below is a joint public statement issued on behalf of every resident business and creative enterprise currently based at The Storey.

The business tenants and creative enterprises based at The Storey commend the Councillors for their decision to create a viable creative industries centre for Lancaster. It was the right decision five years ago, and it is the right decision now.

For that reason, we urge Councillors to recommend Option 1 in the Council's report on future uses of the Storey Institute; namely, for it to continue operating as a creative industries centre.

The creative industries constitute one of the fastest-growing sectors in the UK economy, and those based at the Storey constitute a high-growth, high-value economic driver that brings money into Lancaster from across the UK and overseas.

The Council report rightfully recognises that the failure of SCIC Ltd does not undermine the viability of a creative industries centre moving forward. In fact, the only failing business here is the leaseholder - and that obstacle to progress is now being removed by the appointment of the liquidator.

According to the CBI, "The creative industries - ranging from advertising to architecture and fashion to film - contribute 6% of GDP, employ over 2 million people and export over £16bn annually. If the UK is to achieve a balanced, high-growth economy, it is vital that the key strengths of businesses in the creative sector are nurtured and championed by government."
The Storey creative hub has established productive links between Lancaster University, with its wealth of academic, research and business knowledge, and the City itself. Such relationships are proven to generate employment and increase graduate retention.

It is important to note that the Storey hub is perfectly financially viable if properly managed. Similar creative hubs, such as the Watermark in Preston, Woodend Creative in Scarborough and the Sharp Project in Manchester, are positively thriving. The Storey had almost full occupancy before the leaseholder's mismanagement drove businesses away.

Having reviewed SCIC Ltd's accounts and practices, the Storey tenants have identified numerous cost savings, procedural efficiencies and income-generating opportunities which would enable the creative industries centre to prosper. We have a wealth of relevant business experience and a commitment to making the Storey project succeed.

To that end we have already taken the steps necessary to keep the building open during the transition period, assuming responsibility for vital utilities, health and safety and insurance - in some cases, at significant cost and inconvenience to ourselves. While this should be viewed purely as a temporary stopgap measure, it underlines our commitment to the Storey and has illuminated the issues involved in making it a viable, financially self-sustaining enterprise.

All it requires is vision, will and competence.

Conversely, allowing the Storey's future to be determined solely by the Duchy's eventual plans for the Castle, as suggested by Option 3 in the Council's report, could have severe negative consequences for resident businesses, and could incur long-term financial and reputational fallout for Lancaster City Council.

The Council would risk clawback of over £3 million in funding from such cash-strapped bodies as the EU and Arts Council England if the Storey does not remain dedicated to its stated purpose as a creative hub.

Similarly, over €200,000 of European PROUD funding depends upon the Storey remaining a creative industries centre. Losing this would set back Lancaster's regeneration and economic development, and could well damage relations with Lancaster University.

Successful companies being thrown out of a Council-owned building would be a chilling indictment of Lancaster's viability - or lack thereof - as a place to do business.

It should also be noted that the Storey remaining a creative hub would not in any way jeopardise future plans for the Lancaster Castle development. With the gallery, bar, restaurant - and, ideally, the Visitor Information Centre - so close to the railway station and Castle, the Storey would only add to Lancaster's visitor offer.

Thomas Storey bequeathed the building to the people of Lancaster in 1891. If the protective Covenant is revoked, the building would be exposed to the risk of redevelopment by private buyers, and Lancaster could lose a major landmark and valuable resource - including the City's only dedicated gallery. Nobody wants to see this beautiful Grade II listed building lost to the public.

We therefore urge Councillors to stand by their original commitment to a vibrant creative industries hub for Lancaster by supporting Option 1. We would welcome a positive, productive, forward-thinking exploration of the many viable options for the future of the Storey that will generate numerous economic benefits for Lancaster’s wider economy.

The UK boasts the biggest creative industries sector in Europe...

Is Lancaster open for business?

For and on behalf of the Storey business tenants and their staff: 

Developing high-return software for the learning and development industry

Andy Diggle
New York Times bestselling comic-book writer

Agile digital advertising software developer

Fat Media
Award-wining internet marketing, branding and e-commerce solutions

Hotfoot Design
Award-wining branding, design for print and web development

International music production and education company

We make and share stories

Morph Films
Video, web design, motion graphics and animation

NICE Bar & Restaurant
Modern, relaxed, renowned dining in the heart of Lancaster

Storey Gallery
Independent, artist-centred gallery