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Wednesday, 17 September 2014

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Rethink request after takings plunge at Carlisle's Old Town Hall

A landmark venue which has undergone a £490,000 makeover has seen a steep drop in bookings, according to new figures.

Marilyn Bowman photo
Marilyn Bowman

Takings at the iconic Old Town Hall in Carlisle have plummeted by 27 per cent – despite its recent major revamp.

And the city centre facility took just 25 bookings for the Assembly Rooms in 2013-14 compared to 188 and 167 in the previous two years, a Carlisle City Council report shows.

The fall in income relates to the upper section of the building, which includes the Tourist Information Centre and Assembly Rooms.

It also coincided with the first phase of the restoration project, which focused on replacing the roof and carrying out external works, and saw the facility closed for the first half of last year.

But a leading city councillor is calling for an urgent re-think about how the historic building is run.

Chairman of the council’s scrutiny panel Marilyn Bowman said: “We have got to look at how things are done in private sector retail. There needs to be a totally different way of looking at how we can provide a sustainable service.”

The information centre was temporarily re-homed at the Cathedral Lodge between January and the end of June last year.

The figures, which come from the council’s revenue report, don’t include takings from the lower part of the venue, which is leased to several businesses including Costa Coffee and the Alternative gift shop.

More than £490,000 has so far been invested in restoring and repairing the Grade I listed structure.

And further cash has been earmarked for the second phase of the project, which involves remodelling the interior and carrying out more improvements to the information centre.

It also includes work on the Assembly Rooms, which is on the first floor, in a bid to encourage more groups to use it.

Mrs Bowman added: “Yes, the building needed the repairs and it has done for a long time but if you keep milking the cow but don’t feed it, it won’t keep producing milk.

“This trend can’t continue – we need to have private sector thinking and stop burying our heads in the sand, which is what we’re doing now.

“It’s too important a building for us not to maintain properly – it’s the centrepiece of the city and something we should be proud of.”

She also believes many visitors to Carlisle are by-passing the information centre as they will have already researched where to go and what to do online before they arrived.

“It [the Tourist Information Centre] needs a hook to get people in and spend money,” Mrs Bowman added.

Carlisle City Council says it wasn’t able to offer as much retail space and normal services were restricted while the information centre was based at the Cathedral Lodge.

The authority added that the move also had a “significant effect” on sales and bookings for the Assembly Rooms.

A spokesman said: “Phase two of this project is now well underway and will see the transformation of the internal space at the Old Town Hall.

“This will help improve our ability to deliver services, offer a better selection of retail items and give customers a fresh, historic and unique city space for events and meetings.”

The second phase of work is scheduled to be completed by June 2015.

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