Fate dictated that Whitby’s Flowergate Hall Community Arts Centre would come to life in circumstances some would have regarded as almost impossible.
The lease for the building was signed in the summer of 2020, when the world was sinking into an era of pandemic lockdowns and restrictions, with no certainty of how the future would unfold.
Yet Flash Company Arts, a community interest company that had been providing services in the district for some time, decided to press ahead with what for them had been the dream of providing a community venue in the town.
While Whitby is well served with facilities for visitors, Flash Company Arts took the view that the town’s residents had less on offer than comparable communities elsewhere.
They had been providing services like early years music sessions for some time, but wanted a venue for more ambitious creative work, both by Flash Company Arts and others within the community, so it is now home to organisations like youth groups and a community choir.
The pandemic inevitably meant Flowergate Hall’s early life was different to that Flash Company Arts had envisaged, immediately becoming involved in distributing food to those isolating at home.
But while that might not have been an artistic venture, it did fulfil their core desire – to provide benefits for those living in Whitby.
Almost two years on, society is again living a more open existence and Flowergate Hall is emerging as the venue originally intended.
Rebecca Denniff, artistic director at Flash Company Arts, said there had been a gap for a venue to fulfil a ‘village hall’ function.
As well as providing a base for their work, the hall has space for hire where artists can test and develop their ideas, adding to the cultural opportunities available.
“We work in collaboration with other organisations, it is a space other people can hire and we have people just wanting to try something,” she said. “Everyone needs to be able to pilot their ideas; in Whitby there has not previously been that kind of offer.”
Flash Company Arts operates Flowergate Hall alongside partners, with North Yorkshire’s Stronger Communities among those supporting the venture.
It houses a ‘community fridge’, an outlet for food that would otherwise be wasted. With no referrals needed, there is no stigma for those who need to use it through hardship, but in reality it is just as likely to be visited by those with an eco-conscience, who do not want to see edible food go to landfill.
A ‘pay what you feel’ café was also part of the original plan and an outlet, The People’s Kitchen, has now opened, providing a venue for eating out that local families can afford to use in a town where much of the market is aimed at visitors.
“We thought it would attract people who traditionally cannot afford to eat out in a café, or maybe unable to afford to take their kids to a café,” said Rebecca.
“We were also asked if we needed a community fridge and we have a ‘can do’ attitude; the fridge is thriving and we have hundreds of people coming here every week.
“There is a cohort who come every day because it is their only source of food. Some come because they are passionate about saving the planet,” she said.
Life at Flowergate Hall is inevitably set to develop in the months and years ahead, meaning staff may never quite know what will be facing them: “You can never guarantee the job you think you will be doing will be the job you actually get done,” said Rebecca.