LIFTING THE LID ON THE LOWRY
The Lowry eats up millions of pounds of public money every year but we’re constantly told it’s great for Salford…
So we thought we’d take a closer look…
We follow half a dozen local kids as they attempt to see LS Lowry’s paintings – and get kicked out within two minutes of entering the building…
Then we look at The Lowry’s finances to see who is watching over how the cash is spent…And find all sorts of interesting stuff…
SUNDAY AFTERNOON AT THE LOWRY...
We really, really didn’t set out to trash The Lowry. We were just chatting to a group of lads about Salford and stuff, and we asked if they’d ever been there. `Nah’ they said `They won’t let us in’…
`Don’t be soft’ we said `They’ve got to let you in – it’s a public building, paid for by your parents…of course they’ll let you in…They’re talking all the time about how they want to reach out to `young people in the community’…’
`We won’t last two minutes’ they laughed…
…And so, on a wet Sunday afternoon, six lads from the Whit Lane Estate in Charlestown, with their hoods up - like you do when it’s pouring down - trooped off to The Lowry to see the old man’s pictures…world famous paintings of working class people off similar estates from a bygone era…
We wanted to know how the lads would react to the paintings and to the place itself. Instead we discovered how The Lowry reacted to the lads...
We stuck a hidden microphone on one of them and went in separately with a camera just in case they did get kicked out. The lads walked into the building quietly, looked for signs to the Lowry paintings, got the escalator up to the first floor and started to walk past an information desk into the gallery. They were stopped…They’d been in the building for less than two minutes.
Here’s what the tape picked up, unedited…
Man on desk: You can’t go in
Lad 1: Why? I want to see the pictures
Man on desk: You can’t go in
Lad 2: Why…why can’t we just see the pictures ?
Man on desk: Because I’m not letting you in, that’s why
Lad 2: Why…what have we done ?
Man on desk: I can get security if you want
Lad 3: We’ve not done nothing
Member of the public with his kids: Is this the Lowry show here – can I go in ?
Man on desk: Yes you can go in – just turn in there.
Lad 1: What have we done – we haven’t done nowt
Man on desk: Come on lads
Lad 2: How come we can’t go and see the pictures – what’s so wrong about us ?
Man on desk calls security: I’ve got a group up here
Lad 3: Why can’t we see the pictures ?
Man on desk: Because you can’t – I don’t have to have an argument with you…you just can’t
Lad 1: Give us a reason
Man on desk: I don’t need a reason
Lad 1: All we want to do is see the pictures – give us a reason
Man on desk: I don’t have to give you a reason
Lad 5: Why ? Everyone else is going in…why can’t we ?
Security man comes…: Leave the building
Lad 6: Why ?
Security man 1: Just leave the building will you
Lad 1: Why ?
Security man 1: You’ve been asked nicely
Lad 1: Why have we got to leave ? We haven’t done nowt – we’ve come to watch…
Security man 1: Watch what ?
Lad 1: Whatever’s going on…
Security man 1: There’s nothing going on – it’s all organised activities, not for the public…
Security man 1: ushers them down the escalator
Lad 3: What are you pushing me for ?
Security man 1: I was telling you not to run – just get out the building
Lad 6: Did he grab you ?
Security man 1: I did not grip him I just said do not run
Lad 6: You just grabbed him
Outside, in the entrance to The Lowry two security guards make sure the lads don’t try to get back in. We start asking questions with another hidden microphone…
Why can’t these lads go in ?
Security man 2: Once we have a word with the management I can explain why
Lad 1: I want a complaint form
Lad 2: We just got kicked out for no reason at all…I want a complaint form
Security man 2 : We have to work on orders.
Security man 2: notices we’re taking photos…
Security man 2: Can I point something out – for a start you don’t know what goes on – people like this come in and trash the place, they run around screaming their heads off, annoying the public…
Lad 1: We didn’t do anything
Security man 2: I wasn’t talking to you
Security man 2: We act on orders, that’s all I can tell you. That’s all I’m doing.
A bloke who had seen what went on had been to see the manager to complain that the lads had been kicked out for doing nothing…He comes out of the building…
Bloke: I was taking my sons to see the paintings and as we walked in I was behind this group of lads. As they approached reception they were stopped from going in and there was a little bit of an argument and I heard the management say they couldn’t come in. He said I could go in and then security came along and ejected them which I thought was totally inappropriate.
I went and asked the manager what was going on – he said there was a group of guys with hoods on – I said I was there when they said they’d take their hoods off and he said it doesn’t matter they’re still not coming in… I told him it was a council funded organisation and he explained to me that it was a charity and not a council funded project. He didn’t have any answers…
Basically they were local lads coming in to look at the pictures on Sunday afternoon because they were bored stiff and they were denied access to a facility in Salford which we’ve been told is open to everyone. It’s an absolute disgrace…
Afterwards we chat to the six lads again about their experience at The Lowry…
Josh: I knew they were going to kick us out straight away, because we are a local group.
Would you ever go back ? Carl: No, because it’s rubbish
What did you think about The Lowry’s attitude towards you ?
Kane: It was really bad, just because we had our hoods on.
Rees: They said it wasn’t open to the public and it was.
Do you get treated like that all the time? Rees: It happens everywhere
Do your parents pay council tax that funds The Lowry ? Carl: Yes – they shouldn’t have to pay towards it if we’re not allowed in.
Do you feel like you’re discriminated against ?
Anthony: Yes – just because we wear black…
The six lads head off to find somewhere else to go. The sad thing is that they expected this reaction from The Lowry. And The Lowry - despite all its big statements and statistics about reaching the community - lived down to those expectations. Its image problem amongst ordinary Salfordians continues…
We ask The Lowry to comment about kicking innocent local kids out of the building, plus things like how the company perceives its image in Salford and some details of how it tries to make itself sexy to the local community… The Lowry didn’t seem to be impressed with what they called our `stunt’…
We have talked to the member of the galleries reception staff concerned who told us that he saw an unusually large group of 8 or 9 young people [err, it was actually six] approaching the galleries all wearing clothing which obscured their faces [yep, they’re called hoods – it was pouring down]…He made a judgement call, which was possibly an error, that this situation could be disruptive to other people’s enjoyment of the exhibitions, so asked them to leave the galleries.
“Although it is our policy to welcome everyone into the building, he believed he was acting in the best interests of other visitors to The Lowry gallery. This is an unusual situation as we welcome thousands of visitors every week to our theatres, galleries and to our wide-ranging programme of participatory activities without incident [...there wouldn’t have been an `incident’ if they’d let them in…the `incident’ was created by The Lowry’s staff, we think].”
We were also sent a whole barrage of statistics showing the great work The Lowry does with schools and the community…`70% of participants in The Lowry’s community projects are from Salford’…`4 of the top 10 postcodes of people taking part in community projects are from Salford’…We’re sure this is all fab and true but independent researchers tell a slightly different story…
The General Public Agency (GPA) is a top nob creative consultancy whose clients include the Arts Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund. Just over a year ago they were asked to comment on a major government report called Culture at the Heart of Regeneration - and used The Lowry as an example of how it shouldn’t be done…
The GPA’s response to the government stated `…Statistics (internal Lowry Community and Education Team figures) show that the participants in the Lowry’s subsidised children’s creative workshops are mostly driven in from beyond Salford (from Manchester and the Cheshire market towns)…There are no direct public transport links between the Lowry and Salford centre. This is a powerful indication of the absence of a true commitment to engaging with the local community.’
The local watchdogs in all this, you might expect, would be Salford Council which last year gave the Lowry just over £2.5 million (£677,000 for `outreach services to schools and residents’; £250,000 `annual contribution’ and a one-off grant of £1,576,000 which nobody understands apart from the Council’s accountants who say it didn’t really happen…).
The Council, which gives The Lowry vast amounts of our money, is supposed to check how that money’s being spent though the Lowry Committee. But the public will never know how this is being done because we’re excluded from attending under `section 100A(4) of the Local Government Act 1972…as specified in Paragraph 7 of Part 1 of Schedule 12A to the Act.’ Yeah, whatever…
All we get to know about the incredibly in-depth grilling, lasting a whole 40 minutes (one committee meeting lasted just five minutes), is that the Financial Update and report on community activities are `noted’. And that’s it. That’s your public accountability. So we’ve had to do it ourselves.
Now, we’re not accountants, and forgive us if we’re thick and get everything wrong but we waded through nearly 60 pages of The Lowry’s accounts and found some stuff which we think people might like to know...
First of all, The Lowry has three companies – The Lowry Centre Trust, which is a charity; and two subsidiary companies, The Lowry Centre Limited, which runs its commercial activities, and The Lowry Centre Development Company which sorts out The Lowry’s building. Not one single person who is a director of any of these companies (apart from a couple of councillors who sit on the board of the Trust but more about them later…) actually lives in Salford – they all live in places like Hampshire, London, Bowdon and Plymouth. The Chief Executive and Director of two Lowry companies, Julia Fawcett, lives in Gatley, Cheshire.
In the year ended 31st March 2005, the directors took £380,810 in fees and what are called `emoluments’ (benefits, expenses, pension etc) and the highest paid director at the Lowry Centre Ltd got £127,596. The Lowry companies’ last total recorded retained losses stood at £7,677,594.
Salford Council gives its money (£2.5 million last year) to the Lowry Centre Trust but doesn’t formally tell the Lowry how to spend it. It hands the grant over as an `unrestricted fund’, whereas, say, the North West Development Agency gives its grant as a `restricted fund’ which states exactly what the money’s to be spent on. The Council states that £677,000 is specifically for community and education work but the Lowry Trust’s accounts only show £269,000 being spent on the operation of its `community and education’ services. Are we missing something here ?
…Meanwhile, the finances flowing between the three different Lowry companies start to get really complicated (skip this bit if you’re bored), and even the Trust’s trustees seem to be questioning what is going on. It appears that the Trust has given an interest free loan of nearly £77 million to its commercial Development Company and the trustees “are considering the extent to which this loan relates to non-charitable expenditure” (Notes to the Accounts Year ended 31 March 2005). The objects of the charity include promoting the advancement of education and fostering appreciation and knowledge of the arts. And the subsidiaries are expected to fulfil these objectives…
…But The Lowry Development Company has been involved in property speculation, taking a 50% investment in the loss making (as at 31st March 2005) Digital World Centre across the plaza from The Lowry itself. The Development Company has given the Digital World Centre a huge unsecured loan (the balance of which stood at £1,800,000 on March 31st 2005) `which is waived if it is not recovered within two years of full occupancy of the World Digital Centre’.
Unsecured loans ? Interest free loans ? Possibly` waived’ loans ? The Lowry relies on millions and millions of pounds of public money to keep it afloat. We believe it’s right to question The Lowry’s activities. In fact we’d expect the council as our elected representatives to be doing this for us - it’s called democracy, accountability, value for money and stuff like that.
So we asked leader of Salford City Council, John Merry, to explain …
“We nominate three trustees who sit on the board of the Lowry Centre Trust” he beams “But they do have a duty to act in the best interests of The Lowry as a trustee rather than as a normal member of the council.”
In other words, the Council has watchdogs on The Lowry’s board but they act in the best interests of The Lowry rather than Salford people.
The reason the public are excluded from the Lowry Committee meetings, Merry says, is that the information is commercially sensitive and has to be kept from rival theatres but acknowledges that “it is a difficulty”. Instead we have to rely on what he calls “informal briefings…which don’t appear in the minutes”…
”We don’t tell them what to do with the money but they have to account to us how they’ve spent it in terms of community activity so they can’t spend it on, say, cups of tea for themselves…and I’m happy with that” he adds “There is no direct control.”
What about 54% of the total arts budget going to The Lowry while public entertainment gets a mere 0.8% ?
“Yes it is a hell of a lot” he decides “But we do make a substantial contribution to other events – the Triathalon, for example, and November 5th…”
He struggles to think of any more…
“…We actually feel that we get good value for money from The Lowry” he insists “It’s a different sort of money we’re putting in, in the sense that we’re trying to create a prestige venue that is going to reflect back on Salford – and that’s a judgement we’ve had to make in terms of priorities…”
And does he think that Salfordians would agree with those priorities ?
“I think we can possibly talk about how we can improve our community profile, I accept that” he says.
What about the ticket prices ? The Lowry does give discounts for Salford residents for its fringe stuff – but not for the popular shows and concerts, the prices of which are beyond many average household incomes in the City…
“If you subsidise those ticket prices still further then The Lowry would make an even bigger loss…the whole place would go bust” he argues “I think The Lowry would point to a whole host of things they do in terms of community involvement…and one of the other things we’ve done is to actually subsidise things like the Bolshoi Ballet for people from Salford to attend…I understand there were tickets for the Saturday afternoon…that’s been an additional sponsorship, I think £50,000…but the point we’re making is that it promotes the name of Salford as well…what we’re trying to do is promote the idea of culture in the city and it’s not for posh people.”
What about restricting community entrance – like chucking out local kids who have come to see LS Lowry’s paintings ?
“I would say `What’s your evidence ? If you pass on to me your evidence I will take it up with the Chief Executive of The Lowry. That should not happen…But what people should realise is the tremendous positive value of The Lowry for Salford. Are you trying to say that our money is not well spent ?”
FAMELESS AT THE LOWRY
The Lowry’s Quays Theatre was chosen as the venue for the world premiere of a major comedy film, Fameless, funded by Charlestown and Kersal NDC and made right in the centre of Salford’s regeneration area, starring many members of the local community. The cast arrived for their big night in a series of limos, dressed in formal evening wear, only to be ushered in via a side door. They were denied access to the main entrance.
“When I arrived at the venue I was really disappointed at the fact that we couldn’t use the front door” recalls Chris Lysaght, star of the film and a pupil at Albion High School “In the limos we all felt like stars, but then when we arrived at The Lowry we were shuffled to the side, which made me feel as though we weren’t as important as we felt.”
THE CASE OF THE GRUFFALO
Jo, a local mum and her friend, Margaret, wanted to take their sons and a few friends to see The Gruffalo over Easter. They booked two adult tickets and five kids’ tickets.
“The online booking system wasn’t working at all so I had to pay £1.50 per ticket to book over the phone, and even had to pay the fee four times for one family of four ticket, adding £13.50 booking fee to the total bill which was expensive enough to start with” she recalls “It is such a rip off. I asked if I could have a discount as a Salford resident and they said it was only for ‘certain shows’. When I asked what shows, it seemed to boil down to ‘educational activities’ which probably means 10p off a £1 colouring session…
“They even tried to flog me theatre parking at a mere £3.50 per car when everyone knows you can park for free if you buy something from the Shopping Mall. The show only lasted about an hour and cost a fortune. I hate going there…”
Check out the audio slideshow