Architect action plan to rescue Jacksons Lane

THE director of Jacksons Lane arts centre met with architects this week to discuss how the building can be transformed into a state-of-the-art venue

Charlotte Newton

THE director of Jacksons Lane arts centre met with architects this week to discuss how the building can be transformed into a state-of-the-art venue.

Melanie Sharpe and Tim Ronald's architects are looking at how the Gothic former church can be made "fit for purpose" thus safeguarding its future as an arts venue.

Ms Sharpe, 47, said: "If we can make the building more efficient it will increase our chances of surviving future cuts. It's very expensive to run. We generate 50 per cent of our own income but this only covers our overheads."

Jackson's Lane has just been granted a last minute reprieve after the Arts Council backtracked over plans to axe the centre's grant for 2008.

It now has a year to convince arts bosses that urgent improvements are being made and that it deserves to continue receiving the £128,000 funding which is vital for its future.

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Solar panels and insulation are included in the plans to make the building more ecologically sustai-nable and Ms Jackson also wants to improve access for the disabled with a lift to the first floor studio.

The Archway Road venue began in the 1970s as an activity group for mums and children and has grown into a varied and thriving community arts centre. It now boasts a 160-seater theatre, dance studio, rooms for a toddler and parents' group and pensioners' luncheon club.

Ms Sharpe, the daughter of a miner from Mansfield, said: "Jacksons Lane is unlike any other arts centre in London because we provide an excellent venue for up and coming actors and dancers to perform in. We endeavour to attract and cultivate new talent. It's no coincidence that Matt Lucas and David Walliams performed here before they were famous because our aim is to expose new talent.

"My father would have loved to have been an actor but it just wasn't an option for a working class man in those days. Everyone should be able to enjoy and participate in the arts at a reasonable price. I am determined to make this centre accessible to people, regardless of their age, ethnicity or income."

The Grade II-listed building re-opened as an arts centre on January 8 after storms damaged the 117-year-old roof. Haringey Council, which has been criticised for allowing the centre to deteriorate, provided £500,000 for re-tiling and decorating the interior.

Ms Sharpe said: "Haringey Council was fantastic in a crisis, but I suppose the work should have been done earlier.

"When the roof was damaged we almost went bankrupt because we had to pay theatre companies we'd already booked but we weren't generating any income. The council saved us."

Cllr Lorna Reith said: "We're very excited by the ideas that Jacksons Lane has, but what we need to do is sit down with them and see how we might be able to support the arts centre. This may include helping to find to other organisations which can fund the Jacksons Lane."