the Harbour Arts Centre

Return to main HAC page

The story of the Harbour Arts Centre from 1965
as published in booklet form in 1987, with an extra chapter covering 1987 – 2007, now here on the Web

Chapter 16: 1987-2007

It would be wrong to re-issue the 1987 story without attempting to bring it up to date, as half a century of the Centre looms within range. We hope that readers will forgive omissions in this chapter – everyone has their own memories, so this will include the main events and a few other mentions.

In 1989, Cunninghame Arts Council was set up by the local authority (then Cunninghame District Council), with our Vice-Chairman Malcolm Rae acting as our representative on it. He initiated discussions with CDC and IDC to discuss future ownership of the building. That year also saw the addition of the front porch, reducing the blasts of sea air on wintry days, and an extension to the office, both designed by in-house architect David Wordsworth. Volunteers continued to turn their hands to maintenance above and beyond mere DIY to avoid costs being incurred – property was always an issue at committee meetings. Malcolm burned his arm when the roof was being refurbished, and on another occasion fell out of the hatch in the bar. No risk assessments by volunteers in those days!

Fund-raising had moved on from the Space Invaders machine (1980 profit £478) to a gaming machine (1983 profit £2361), but its fast-declining popularity (1987 loss of £600), led to its removal. The 9th Summer School attracted 87 students for 110 places on 11 courses.

Pat & Jean Jack retired, and in 1990 were made Honorary Members in recognition of their ten years of looking after the fabric of the Centre and its small garden – and enhancing the Centre with Pat’s splendid show cases (he was a Fellow of the Institute of Carpenters) which enabled jewellery and small craft objects to be included in exhibitions; Pat,a friendly and sociable man, of considerable wit and lively repartee, died a month later.

By 1990, the number paying subscriptions had dropped to 300, continuing the trend of a 10% loss per annum, though the number attending classes and shows was still high. In 1991, Graeme Robertson, of Harbour Theatre background, joined the cast of TV’s ‘Take the High Road’. In 1992, one month’s exhibition realised £1400 worth of sales, as Archie Carswell put his energy into the Gallery programme. In 1993, another Car Treasure Hunt, in a series begun by Jean Park and run as a fund-raiser in conjunction with the Skinners, kept members puzzled, this one organised by Vicki & Colin Stewart.

Programme highlights in 1989 included Communicado’s “Arabian Nights”, jazz by the Temperance Seven, a return visit by the Grand Theatre of Lemmings (a successor to Madhouse), and performances by Winged Horse and Pocket Theatre, Cumbria. This paragraph to be extended. On the amateur front, the new group Stagefright, launched while Harbour Theatre was still active but continuing after it, put on a number of productions, including pantomimes. George Hewitt's New Orleans Joymakers developed from an occasional to a regular and popular monthly Sunday afternoon attraction.

The Camera Club, though leaving the Centre, continued its success as the Dreghorn Camera Club. The Art Club encouraged and enabled Margaret Carswell to graduate from the Glasgow School of Art as a mature student. New sculpture works included those by Mary Bourne, and our few acquisitions included George Wyllie's bicycle, hanging above the coffee servery; the Stained Glass Partnership created a lovely window of sky and sea colours on the landward side of the lounge. We also displayed the large works by Nigel Lloyd, whose illness and untimely death brought out the supportive nature of many friendships forged among the volunteers of the Arts Centre over those active years.

The Manpower Services Commission Community Programme, initiated in 1981, continued until 1988. It was followed, for a couple of years, by the Government-sponsored training agency BEST (Business and Employment Skills Training Ltd), which involved a supervisor (Louise Turmine), and ten trainees. The MSC and BEST teams organised day-time opening, publicity, courses, and much else.

The Centre continued to depend on much goodwill. Our contacts with Irvine Development Corporation enabled us to deal with various interior and exterior repairs in 1988-90. An unusual solution to a cash flow crisis in 1992 was a personal guarantee to enable a bank overdraft of up to £2900.

The Urban Aid scheme began in 1994, bringing bright new signs to the outside of the building and much activity within. Laura Brown was manager, and Kirsty Young officially opened the revamping of the interior. From then until March 1998, this scheme took on many of the artistic and day-to-day management tasks which the ever-reducing number of volunteers were by then finding it difficult to sustain. The Board continued to provide advisory programming assistance and to monitor property maintenance The Club committee continued to manage the bar, albeit ending the voluntary staffing rota by paying expenses to the Bar Convener and wages to casual staff. In 1994, the Centre changed its licence from a Club licence to an Entertainments licence, doing away with the need for members and guests, with the bar open whenever there was some form of entertainment. Towards the end of the Urban Aid scheme, the lease ended and the building reverted back to the local authority (now North Ayrshire Council).

In 1996-97, the Centre had another of its periodic crises. Auditing of the 1995 accounts showed up serious errors, leading to technical insolvency at the end of 1996. Accounts were restructured, a February 1997 meeting with the Council ensured their backing, and a new committee, including three past Chairmen, was elected en bloc at the March 1997 AGM. That group, with only a few changes, led the Centre through the following ten years of transition from being mainly voluntary-run to being entirely Council-run. The arrival of the new committee coincided with the new post of Centre Manager; the first incumbent stayed only for a few weeks, and was succeeded by Marie Blackwood from the Valley Arc at Lochwinnoch - she seems to have enjoyed the Centre so much that she is still here ten years later.

The gallery was redecorated in April/May 1991, revealing the original rainbow painted on the wall. The screen wall by Pat Jack’s showcase was cut back to open up the coffee bar, a new carpet salvaged from the closing Paige shop was laid in the gallery and theatre, the copper fireplace was replaced by reclaimed timber one from an old tenement flat, and reclaimed timber flooring was laid. This was organised by Fiona Lee, Chairman at the time. The theatre was repainted navy blue in September 1992, thanks to sponsorship from Azco.

The lounge bar was redecorated in 2000, the floor being sanded, the walls being painted, some new lighting installed, the ‘new’ fireplace refurbished, a miniature stage installed, and new seat covering – testimony to the energies of Andy, Colin, Eric, Nicky, Claire, Louise & Vicki. Also that year, we launched the web site (the easy-to-remember address has now lapsed), offering regularly updated event details (now on part of the NAC site). In those latter volunteer years, Friday Night Live and the Sunday afternoon sessions helped to keep the Centre afloat, the bar being managed by Nicky Stewart and Claire Gilmore (nee Baird).

The complicated process of applying for Lottery funding began in October 1997, when Enterprise Ayrshire arranged for a local consultant to meet the voluntary Board. Then, in 1999, North Ayrshire Council, through Supervising Officer Gillian Wall, worked with the voluntary Board, to engage new consultants to produce a feasibility study and a set of outline plans. They reported back in December 1999, but several aspects were unsatisfactory, and the report proved unusable. A new Arts Develop-ment Officer, Jo Leviten, took up her post in 2000, appointed new consultants early in 2001, and produced the first North Ayrshire Arts policy ‘Pride of Place’ in November. The consultants produced this second feasibility study in January 2002, this time destined for eventual success. Their draft ideas were worked up by the Council and Lottery funding was granted in September 2004. The Centre closed at Christmas 2004, work started in late summer 2005, to a design by NAC staff. By late 2006, there were new workshop spaces, a café/bar, improved dressing rooms, smarter toilets, a slightly different stage, an increased capacity (115 from 96) and an external control room (envisaged in 1973, but beyond budget; and necessitating the removal of the ivy which gave many small birds a cosy roosting spot, and annually blocked the gutters), as well as more efficient office space. Jo has now moved here, joining the Centre Manager, now Audience Development Manager, Marie Blackwood, her assistant, Jean Gibson, and exhibition and administrative staff. The final bill came to over £1.1 million, contributed roughly half each by North Ayrshire Council and the Scottish Arts Council (Lottery funding).

The charitable company, Harbour Arts Centre (Limited) Irvine, incorporated on 29th March 1984, was closed on 31st March, 2005, as by then its functions had all passed to the staff of North Ayrshire Council. Subscriptions ceased to be covenanted from 1995 as the effort was not worth the extra income, and Summer Schools were run under Council schemes from 1996. The last financial assistance to the voluntary committee from outside sources was a grant in February 2002. The Council took over responsibility for property repairs in 2000, and utility bills, Scottish Arts Council grant applications, performance costs and income, and Gallery sales in 2003. The company funds were run down so that by the dissolution date it had no assets, the residual amounts being with the original Club. Those funds, managed by the four members appointed by the final EGM, will be used for arts-related purposes until they are wholly depleted. The voluntary Centre’s Permanent Collection of art works, no longer in the Centre, is looking for a new permanent home.

Ian & Louise Dickson were created Honorary Members in 2004. Ian, who joined the committee in 1970, served as Membership Convener 1972-75, Programme Planning Convener 1975-77, Secretary 1977-81, Vice-Chairman 1981-83, Chairman 1983-85, Treasurer 1987-93, Chairman/Treasurer 1997-2003, and committee member thereafter. (What was he on?) Louise’s contribution included catering (with Anne Wilkinson) at the time when a late supper was needed to keep the bar open, and re-covering the lounge seating, as well as seeming to take second place to the Centre in Ian’s affections for most of her married life.

The tradition of the H.A.C. Burns Supper, organised as always by Andy Baird, on the first Saturday of February continued to the last possible year, in 2004, the 25th Annual Burns Supper (and the tradition has been continued on that same Saturday in the succeeding three years, in the homes of past committee members). Two records must be noted – Jim Butler had been piper at every one, and in 2004 received a commemorative quaich in honour, and Sam Gaw was our reader at 23 Suppers, ill one year (causing a last-minute panic change in running order) and speaking abroad another. Perhaps the most memorable (for the organisers) was in 1992, when the water main supplying Ayrshire burst earlier in the week, threatening the event with last-minute cancellation due to lack of water for toilets and cooking. Thankfully, a repair was effected in the nick of time and the evening was – as usual – a resounding success. Many of the group who enjoyed those 25 Burns Suppers still meet on the first Saturday of February, though numbers are even further limited than they were in Centre days.

This chapter ends by recording the reception for past volunteers on Tuesday 11th September, 2007, organised by Andy Baird, the one person who never filled the role of Chairman but most worthily would have done. The evening centred on a performance by 7:84 Theatre Company, mirroring their contribution when the Centre re-opened 25 years earlier, after the upgrading of 1972. The ‘old’ volunteers were delighted that the Centre has been updated to meet the needs of Irvine (no longer a New Town) in the 21st century. The new Centre carries on the hopes of its founders with a freshness, an openness, and a security for the future that its founders did not dare to presume in 1966. The next generation can continue the story in a future chapter 17.

return to top