David Campbell’s telling of the story of how the community charity, Strathearn Artspace in Crieff came about is so full of rollercoaster moments, you can’t help feeling it would make a brilliant film. Which is quite appropriate, as it happens. Because he and co-founder, Tom Barron decided to muster the support of such locally-connected big screen stars as Denis Lawson, Lawson’s nephew Ewan McGregor and Gerard Butler (“My mum knows Gerard’s mum” David reveals) to help persuade Perth & Kinross Council to let the former library building be used as a community arts venue.
Beginning at the beginning, David explains that, having lost the space he used for the life drawing classes he held in Crieff and, unable to find a suitable alternative, fellow artist Tom Barron suggested that the town’s old library building which had been lying empty for four years, could offer a solution.
Says David: “We wrote to Perth & Kinross Council expressing an interest in renting the property and got back a letter explaining that they had no plans at present to market the building.
“I was a bit persistent so we got back to them and asked if we could at least have a look inside which, to give them their due, they agreed to.” (Just as well, for it was discovered on that first visit that water had been pouring into the empty building from a blocked gutter.)
“It was immediately obvious that the space was too big for just a drawing class but we could see that it had great potential as a multi-arts venue for the community which was a facility we didn’t have at that time. Most cultural events happened in Perth and as Crieff isn’t terribly well served by public transport, you had to have a car to get there, or go by taxi.
“We fired off another letter to the council, outlining our new, more ambitious plans but they still weren’t interested – which was a red rag to a bull for me!”
“I contacted all our MPs, MSPs and councillors and floated the idea, explaining why the community needed an arts centre and they all agreed to sign a joint letter to the council in support, so it was a cross-party effort. The letter even had the logos of both the Westminster and the Holyrood parliaments on it!
Even this failed to sway the council although David, diplomatically, points out that their caution was understandable. But he continues:
“In a situation like this, you call on everyone you can; all your contacts; and we ended up with so many signatures on a new letter to the council that we had to spread them over two pages: Denis Lawson, Ewan McGregor, Gerard Butler, Brian Cox (the actor), artist Lys Hansen, singer-songwriter Dougie MacLean, folklorist Margaret Bennett, comedian Fred McAulay . . . We also sent a copy to the papers and got some great coverage.
“We reckoned the council were probably looking for a rent of £10,000 a year for the property, so we suggested £1 a month. And this time – they agreed!”
Having first written to the (now very supportive) council in November 2012, they got the keys to the building in September 2013 and, only a month later, Strathearn Artspace were able to put on their inaugural event: a film-making workshop for local youngsters, led by Denis Lawson.
- Applied for Lottery funding and didn’t get it.
- Applied for a Town Centre Regeneration grant and got £146,000 which allowed them to buy the building and transform it.
- Put out an appeal for cash to buy a new boiler when the old one packed in and raised the money in less than three weeks.
- And much, much more . . .
A truly inspirational story.