Rich Mix arts centre wins reprieve with £2.5m cash boost from Tower Hamlets

Rich Mix. Photo: Anna Haswell

Hopes were raised today for the future of East London arts centre Rich Mix, which is to get a £2.5m boost from Tower Hamlets Council in an effort to solve its troubled financial situation.

Councillors at the authority’s Strategic Development Committee on Monday  approved a proposal to give the struggling centre an immediate £500,000 to help pay off its deficit.

A further pot of funding totalling more than £2 million was also pledged to the centre over the next year. The money will be paid in installments, conditional on it meeting targets set by the council.

Michael Keith, interim chair of the Rich Mix management board,  welcomed the funding pledge and defended the centre against criticism from some local councillors that it had already received enough public money. The centre operates as a venue for films, music and other arts events and provides office space for a number of related businesses and enterprises.

Mr Keith stressed the contribution the building made to the local economy: “The building now hosts between 17 and 20 businesses in the cultural industries sector. This represents between 200-300 jobs and a collective turnover of £20 million p.a.,” he said.

“All the people there do work in the borough, spend money on Brick Lane and the local area – bringing opportunities for Tower Hamlets people.”

He added: “Rich Mix is an initiative that has at its heart the sense of building bridges and links across community divisions. From slow starts big things can emerge.”

The funding was voted through despite objections from  councillors who wrote to the authority saying the centre has already received too much money.

Councillors will find the £2.5m  through ‘Section 106’ requirements on a new housing development currently being built on the opposite side of Bethnal Green Road. This  provision entitles local authorities to channel funding for social projects from planning negotiations with property developers.

The objections were based on the fact that the venue has received £3.9 million from the council since opening in 2006, including an £850,000 loan which has yet to be repaid.

Throughout its conception, development and subsequent operation it has also been met with criticism from locals and political representatives who feel it has proved wasteful and failed to provide a focal point for people in the area.

Former Liberal Democrat councillor John Griffiths condemned the centre in 2008, saying:“The only people who go there are white Shoreditch artist types. It does not appeal to other communities in any way.”

Reacting to yesterday’s decision, local blogger and journalist Ted Jeory attacked the history of Rich Mix as ‘a scandal,’ describing the centre as having ‘been run disastrously’ by a ‘less than fully competent’ team.

Rich Mix is currently providing a home and support to the EastLondonLines Summer scheme which aims to give young people an introduction to online journalism through the charity Headliners, which is basedin the building.

Angela Phillips, EastLondonLines managing editor said: “It would be sad if Rich Mix were to disappear. They do a lot of work with young people from the area. It might not be the most visible part of their activities but it is certainly valuable.”

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