The crisis at the Old Courts deepens
‘If the organisation can continue to trade we will aim to make payments as soon as possible’
Dear Millers — the week is ending, the dusk is drawing in and we have an edition that will lift your spirits (great new exhibitions! a new library!), help you plan your weekend (club nights, comedy clubs, wine) and also give you the latest news about the Old Courts in Wigan, where we can reveal that staff weren’t paid on Tuesday as a report from the Arts Council concluded the organisation was “Very Likely Insolvent”.
Not true, says managing director David Jenkins, who has been speaking to Mollie for the past couple of days as she tries to work out what exactly is going on. Jenkins says he has put his own money into the Old Courts while it waits for major funding bodies to resume their payments, which were suspended — as we reported recently — over concerns about financial mismanagement.
We’re following this story closely because the Old Courts has been held up as a prime example of how national arts funding was going to inspire a cultural renaissance in places that haven’t traditionally received taxpayer cash for things like theatre, dance and music. Its backing from sources like the Arts Council and Greater Manchester Combined Authority was a massively exciting development for Wigan, funding dozens of artists and groups to make original work across the borough. If it goes under — as Jenkins himself admitted was a distinct possibility when he emailed staff on Tuesday night — it would be a massive blow.
As ever with this end-of-week edition of The Mill, this story is for members only, and readers who haven’t taken out a paid subscription yet will only be able to see the top half of this story and won’t get our weekend recommendations either. While we love doing this kind of journalism, it takes a lot of work and the way we fund that work is through the subscriptions of our community of 2,580 paying members. If you’re not a member yet and you believe that robust, challenging, deeply-reported journalism is what Greater Manchester needs, please consider taking out a membership today.
Your Mill briefing
Cycling in Manchester is booming, with the highest levels of cycling journeys recorded along the Oxford Road cycle route ever between 26 September and 26 October, surpassing the previous record set in 2019.
There’s a new exhibition celebrating the former University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) at The Modernist on Port Street. In Case You Missed It involves artists working in various artforms to pay homage to the “modernist landmarks” that comprise the campus, which are expected to be demolished to make way for redevelopment.
Speaking of university buildings, Manchester Metropolitan University might be getting a new library. Pending planning permission, it would replace the current library by All Saints and open in 2028. It will contain the Manchester Poetry Library, plus a new gallery and event space.
The heritage group SAVE have highlighted an additional 18 historic buildings in Manchester, Oldham and Rochdale at risk of dereliction or demolition, including an old weavers workshop and a Grade II listed former theatre. There were already 16 buildings in Manchester, Oldham and Rochdale on the register. Henrietta Billings, director of SAVE Britain's Heritage, said: “The bricks and mortar of these buildings hold precious stories about the people of Manchester and this region’s world-famous industrial and social history.”
We love this old pictorial map published by The Manchester Guardian in the 1920s showing the major transport routes in the city. Look at how many trams we had! We checked and in 1930, Manchester had 163 miles of tram lines (Metrolink now has just 64 miles) and the original tram system was only shelved in 1949. One of our longtime members is selling the map via her online shop: you can buy a copy for £12 or a framed one for £28 by clicking here.
The crisis at the Old Courts deepens
By Mollie Simpson
On Tuesday, staff at the Old Courts in Wigan were supposed to be paid their wages, but they were not. Just after 11pm that evening, they got an email from the organisation’s managing director David Jenkins.
The directors had just received a report from Arts Council England that deemed Arts at the Mill — the group that runs the Old Courts — “Very Likely Insolvent”. As a result, taxpayer funding via the Arts Council had been withheld, Jenkins explained, adding that an insolvency practitioner had been appointed to confirm “if the organisation is truly solvent or not.”
If the organisation can continue to trade we will aim to make payments as soon as possible and this will be discussed at that point, if the organisation needs to be wound up then a payment from the insolvency service will be claimable which will cover unpaid wages, notice pay and redundancy pay if applicable and more information will be provided by the insolvency practitioner on how to claim this if that is the outcome.
We are incredibly sorry that this situation has arisen, and we understand that not receiving your full wages is an incredible hardship especially given all of the cost-of-living challenges and please understand that this not something taken lightly by the leadership team, and we will keep everyone informed as to the outcome of the process.
Just over a month ago, we revealed that the Old Courts was facing serious financial difficulties and that funding from the Arts Council and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority had been suspended. It was an astonishing revelation, given the massive public funding that has flowed into the organisation in the past couple of years in order to seed a cultural flourishing in Wigan.
This time last year, the Old Courts was being showered with praise by the Arts Council’s chief executive Darren Henley, who said that “Arts at the Mill has been revolutionising Wigan’s cultural landscape” and it was awarded £1.05 million in funding over the next three years. The GMCA has given £200,000 a year to the Old Courts for the past three years, plus an additional £100,000 for a specific project, and Wigan Council has also invested hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Now it finds itself on the brink of insolvency. This week, we heard that GMCA officials had still not been provided with the information they had requested from the Old Courts and that the venue’s funding account had therefore been suspended. We also heard from sources at the Old Courts that wages had not been paid, a fact confirmed by the email sent by Jenkins on Tuesday.
“I have every faith that our funding will be restored,” Jenkins told me when I spoke to him on the phone yesterday. He says he and the other directors have put their own personal money into the organisation and that the insolvency practitioner has concluded that the company is still solvent. “We've had an email from Arts Council this morning, saying that on receipt of these two final documents, which they've had now that they're happy, and they will release our funds, and that will then release all of our other funds,” Jenkins says.
It’s a confusing situation and a deeply worrying one for workers at the Old Courts and the many artists and freelancers whose work is funded by the Arts Council money. “I'm imagining that within the next hour or so, I’ll have an email from the Arts Council saying that it's been released,” Jenkins said a phone call yesterday evening. Today, the Arts Council came back with a statement that confirmed they have received additional information from the Old Courts but suggested they are still far from able to release payments to the organisation, citing issues with governance and scrutiny.
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