Art charity facing closure after centre is sold

Little Gem Arts & Crafts Gallery in Newbiggin
Little Gem Arts & Crafts Gallery in Newbiggin

A charity could be forced to close after its base was sold from under it.

The Little Gem Arts & Crafts Gallery says it is being evicted from Woodhorn Villa in Newbiggin.

The not-for-profit charity, which aims to engage more people with the arts, has been based at the centre for eight years.

But now it is facing an uncertain future after Northumberland County Council sold the building to a private developer.

Talks between the authority and group have failed to find a new home, with potential plans to move to Newbiggin Leisure Centre falling through.

Gallery volunteer Brian Strachan said: “Northumberland County Council claimed they were selling the building to remove their costs in maintaining it, but as we have paid the bulk of all the repairs these past eight years and they have not spent a penny, we asked what costs these could possibly be – a question that council staff never convincingly answered.

“Their supposed cost-cutting is especially galling when you see headlines announcing that they have just bought Manor Walks for £78million, and that 11 members of their staff earn over £100,000 a year. Obviously, they have money for some things, just not non-existent building maintenance costs.

“We also have documentary proof of various staff promising to relocate us in Newbiggin Leisure Centre but these promises have come to nothing.

“We read in the News Post Leader that they are finding space in the Leisure Centre for a Men in Sheds project but not our own art groups.

“By spuriously selling our base and not fulfilling their promises to relocate us, the Council has left this grassroots charity and Newbiggin tourist attraction homeless and on the brink of closure.

“And if they’ll do that to a charity run by volunteers for the good of the community, whose art club members include disabled people and children in care, what won’t they do?”

A spokesman for Northumberland County Council said: “We have been liaising with the group for some time about the sale of the building – and they have been fully aware that this was to take place.

“Some time ago there was the possibility that the group might have moved into the Newbiggin Sports & Community Centre.

“This option changed and the group was also made fully aware of this.

“We have continued to liaise with them, and understood that they were seeking, and had secured, suitable premises themselves.”

Anyone that knows of any premises the Gallery could occupy, or has any large space for the temporary storage of art gear are being urged to please contact Brian on 07740 322931 or 01670 590503.