Florence developments make it the place to be

Photo and words by Alan Cleaver

IT’S been a while since I’ve been to Florence Arts Centre, but a celebration of 400 years of Shakespeare was an ideal excuse to pop up and see what has changed – and gosh, hasn’t it grown!

Harps Northwest setting the scene for a Shakespeare themed display.

Harps Northwest setting the scene for a Shakespeare themed display.

Better signage is the first thing you notice. That awkward ‘going back on yourself’ road into the arts centre has always been troublesome but the signs now make it clear where you have to go.

And they’ve worked on the entrance too so you know when you get there – there’s even a notice board at the front gate so dog walkers and ramblers can see at a glance what is coming up.

And the building’s frontage has been beautifully softened by flowers, shrubs and flower boxes. It’s industrial past can’t (and shouldn’t) be forgotten but you don’t want to feel you’ve turned up to some business park.

The brightly painted fence in front of the parking area still survives and has been mellowed too by grass and foliage peeking through.

But best of all the ‘dump area’ at the end of the building has been transformed into a garden.

Willow weaver Phil Bradley has created a bird hide and other furniture while students from Thornhill and Stay West (at Lakes College) have created a fantastic garden ,with paths, and even raised beds for the disabled.

There’s a pond and plenty to attract the myriad of birds which visit this part of Egremont, along with a reminiscence garden full of lupins, Sweet Williams and all those wonderful English flowers from your childhood.
Inside, the building has also been transformed by Craig Carruthers and his team.

They even have flowing water. It was a constant frustration that the taps at Florence could only manage a trickle but that problem has now been resolved.

It means there’s a proper cafe serving drinks and cakes.

The reception area remains one of the ‘warmest’ spots and a place where people just love to sit round and chat.

There’s even a lending library there, where you can browse a surprisingly large number of arts and craft books (if you have any languishing on your bookshelves do drop them off at Florence and ensure they get well used).

The gallery and theatre remain of course, as do the Florence Paintmakers but the good news for artists and craftsfolk is that a number of new workshops are being created.

This could be an ideal opportunity for an open-plan style arts centre where people can watch artists at work – and buy their work.

As to the Shakespeare event itself, when I arrived the gorgeous sound of harps could be heard coming from the gallery.

A number of Harps North West members live within a short distance of Florence and one can only hope they make the arts centre its permanent base.

Who wouldn’t enjoy the sound of harps playing while looking at the gallery or enjoying coffee and cake?

The Florence volunteers have moved this arts centre on from its early days and it looks likely to fulfil the promise it always offered.

And there are many more events taking place there. Check out their website (www.florencemine.com) or their Facebook page.

The centre is open Wednesdays to Sundays, 10am to 4pm but also in the evenings when events are taking place.

Whether you’re a writer, artist, photographer, crafts person – or want to be any of those things, Florence is the place where it’s all happening.