Otley Courthouse is a unique development, run by local people, in Otley, West Yorkshire. After an eight year development period we transformed a redundant nineteenth century magistrates court into a unique ‘arts and resource centre’ for our community.
This page tells you about the Courthouse – from the first idea to turn it into an Arts Centre to how it works today. You can also read about how we are funded by clicking here.
The project began with a large scale community play, involving 350 people, in 1996. Over two years of workshops and planning, hundreds of people found themselves working together across the usual barriers of age, background and needs- and loving every minute of it. The plan had always been that the play would seed sustainable projects and by the end of the production there was an overwhelming feeling that the opportunity to work together through the arts and creative activities was too good to lose.
In the years that followed Otley found itself with a strong umbrella arts organisation- Otley Community Play Association; a very successful community drama group- Otley Community Players; a community based choir- now the independent Otley Singers; a youth theatre (OY); a new film society, a year long visual arts project to celebrate the Millennium, The Otley Alternative Domesday Book, and a common determination to establish a unique arts centre. A series of weekend Arts Festivals tested the water- and gave us the opportunity to see that Otley Magistrates Court, lying empty and with trees beginning to sprout on the roof, might be a possible venue.
An intensive period of campaigning followed. With the help of untold numbers of local people there were study days; research and visits to other projects across the country, hours of discussion and consultation with questionnaires sent to hundreds of local organisations and members of the public. It gave us the background we needed and when Otley was awarded Market Towns Initiative status from the rural regeneration pot we were ready with proposals for a flagship project- a fully accessible arts and resource centre run by local people which would create jobs, incorporate a series of built in income streams, and offer access to the arts, support for voluntary sector organisations and encourage social enterprise.
The Building We Imagined
We imagined somewhere that local people felt at ease and empowered, where access wasn’t a problem and where you could bring a toddler, change a baby or have a family get together with Grandma. We wanted a foyer where you could meet a friend for a cup of tea or have an informal meeting with a couple of people to get a project going; a multi purpose rehearsal and performance space with good sound and lighting facilities; meeting rooms, an art room where no one minded if things got a bit messy; creative work spaces, multi media facilities, Otley CAB, a community cafe and bar.
Making it Happen
After some persuasion and with the support of our local town council, Leeds City Council generously agreed to lease us the building at nil consideration for twenty five years.
We were lucky to find a fantastic architectural practice: Groundworks, based in Nottingham, who shared our vision – a fully accessible landmark building which would be flexible, beautiful, welcoming, and environmentally friendly – and who understood how to work effectively with a voluntary organisation intent on a ‘once in a lifetime’ project. And we were just as fortunate to appoint Woollers from Skipton, as our building contractors and to be able to involve public artists Lesley Fallais and Les Biggs, who took local schools and community groups through a £25,000 public art project which led to a series of wonderful installations throughout the building.
Over two very tough years, more than 80 funding applications and huge local fundraising efforts we raised £750,000 and work began on site in the Summer of 2003.
In May 2004 on target and on budget, the building was opened by the local MP Harold Best with a fanfare from Otley Brass Band. A year later the building won the RIBA White Rose Judges Award for Conservation.
The Courthouse Today
The building today is busy seven days a week. It’s a place where people of all ages and abilities can try things out, see a film, catch an exhibition, watch a show, listen to good music, enjoy a performance by International artists and get access to advice and support- Otley CAB are just across the courtyard. It’s somewhere which acts as a springboard for local people who want to change direction, start a new career, set up a small creative business, establish an arts event, have fun and discover more about their talents – or simply try volunteering.
Local groups come to rehearse, hold meetings and events and take the opportunity to work together in new ways. Local artists and the town partnership occupy the workspaces. Volunteers aged from 15-80 plus support our part time staff team by running reception, selling tickets, dealing with IT, distributing publicity, serving in the cafe and stewarding events.
Otley Courthouse enables local people of all ages and with a range of needs to access a wide variety of arts and creative activities. Since opening the Courthouse has established a rich programme of more than 70 professional evening arts performances a year- from world music and theatre to contemporary dance, live literature, comedy and film. This programme is booked by our Programme Coordinator, Annie Latham. We are always interested to hear your ideas about events you would like to see included in our programme.
Please email your ideas or enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org . Your idea will be given serious consideration and we try to reply to all queries. We apologise if we are not always able to reply promptly.
It is also possible to hire the Courtroom to self promote a range of events. For more information about hiring contact Chloe Perry, the Centre Manager.
Find Out More
We are always happy to show people round and tell them more.
Find out more about what the building has to offer here.
Find out more about events here.
VIew the current programme and booking information here.
The Courthouse is a charitable company limited by guarantee. We self generate 75% of our income and have become a ‘key client’ of arts@leeds- the council’s arts department. We have a Board of Directors who meet once a month and manage the organisation and are involved in every aspect of the building’s activities.
|Vice Chair||Hazel Costello|
|Company Secretary||Gill Leggatt|
|Centre Manager||Rachael Savageemail@example.com|
|Volunteer Coordinator||Emma Sharmanfirstname.lastname@example.org|
|Site Manager||Glenn Smith|
|Weekend Site Manager||Matthew Lamb|
|Programme Manager||Annie Lathamemail@example.com|