Future of Banbury's Mill Arts Centre secured

The future of a key arts centre venue in the north of Oxfordshire has been secured for the long term thanks to a transfer of ownership between local councils.

The Mill Arts Centre in Banbury was owned by the county council and leased to the Mill Arts Centre Trust for a peppercorn rent. It was the only arts centre owned by the county council – all other such venues are owned by district councils.

The centre provides a varied programme of plays, concerts and workshops and works with children and young people, older people and people with special needs through a visual arts programme and a work placement scheme.

A transfer of ownership to Cherwell District Council was approved by the county council’s Cabinet on Tuesday and Cherwell’s Full Council on Monday.

Much-valued facility

Cllr Eddie Reeves, Cabinet Member for Property, said: “The Mill Arts Centre is a much-valued facility for Banbury and neighbouring areas of north Oxfordshire. The transfer will take place as soon as possible and enable Cherwell District Council to grant a long lease to the Trust, which will mean it is able to obtain the grant funding that is so important to its future viability and make arrangements to take over full management of the centre.

“We knew that the Trust was keen for this transfer to take place. As the only dedicated multi-arts space in Banbury and the surrounding area it was vital that we act to come up with arrangements that preserve its future as a high-quality artistic and learning venue that elevates the profile of the town of Banbury.

“Discussions about the future of the Mill Arts Centre have been taking place for a considerable period of time – pre-dating the new partnership that exists between the county council and Cherwell. Everybody is therefore delighted to have reached a stage at which a viable proposal has been approved.”

Valuable asset for town and surrounding areas

Sir Tony Baldry has been a patron of the Mill Arts Centre since standing down from Parliament in 2015. He served as MP for Banbury for 32 years.

He said: “The arts centre is an important asset for Banbury and the surrounding areas and it’s very good news that Oxfordshire County Council and Cherwell District Council have worked together to consider a long-term, viable future for the Mill.”

Sir Tony, who recently enjoyed a performance of A Christmas Carol: As Told by Jacob Marley (Deceased) at the centre, added: “It’s Banbury’s only creative performing arts base and for a town which is fast growing and a surrounding area which is fast growing it’s great that its future looks secure.”

Vibrant and diverse programme

Cllr Andrew McHugh, Cherwell’s lead member for health and wellbeing, said: “The Mill has a vibrant and diverse programme of performing arts, classes and workshops for the community. It’s a vital part of the district’s cultural life, and this transfer to Cherwell will help the Trust continue its great work delivering for local people.

“This is more evidence of Cherwell’s commitment to invest in and regenerate the Banbury Canalside area, and we look forward to seeing the Mill flourish for many, many years to come.”

New chapter

Gwen Van Spijk, Chair of the Mill Arts Centre Trust, said: “The Mill has been through a process of significant change and development over the past five years and both Oxfordshire County Council and Cherwell District Council have been very much a part of this journey; however we are very excited about this new chapter and the prospect of deepening and extending our relationship with CDC to secure and develop The Mill for future generations.

“The long lease that this new arrangement enables is vital for our fundraising, signifying our stability as an organisation and demonstrating the confidence that our key stakeholders have in us to deliver against our plans and ambitions for The Mill.”