How might a creative hub provide an alternative for Blackpool residents? Blackpool Social Club takes a look at the first year of The Old Electric.
You might remember the old Club Sanuk or Main Street. The club and bars had a long life in Blackpool, I remember attending Main Street in 1996 The Miss Blackpool competition appeared to be on and I kinda’ ended up in there when for me there was a limited choice of places to go as a local (a typical story in Blackpool for residents). We had lost Oz on a Friday night at Central Pier and McCluskys a brilliant Acid Jazz and funk night that had been held at the old gas showrooms. The beginnings of house music were a memory with Shaboo, Hacketts, and Sequins gone and Blackpool residents were left with a number of tourist focussed bars and nightclubs.
I have a vague memory of a young DJ Fubar in a helicopter-styled DJ booth high above the dance floor and a packed bar as sixth form students and local young people crammed in on a Tuesday for half-price drinks.
Around 12 months ago I was invited by local Theatre practitioner, Melanie Claire Whitehead of The Electric Sunshine Project to view and photograph the old Club Sanuk. Of course, I jumped at the chance to see what was behind the closed door and how spaces that once held thousands of people watching a film or dancing till dawn hold a kind of tangible atmosphere. It made me think of an article I had read about how old nightclubs were the new art galleries or how creativity can cross over with music influencing film, film inspiring photography, photography as a theatre the list is endless. What of the spaces that held a gazillion people – how do we make sure we continue to have shared experience.
When we arrived in the space in May 2020. The space had somehow been frozen in time, remnants of a lost New Year eve. Party poppers, party paraphernalia, and nightclub Christmas decor literally hung in the air as gigantic snowflakes appeared to drift across the ceiling mimicking a surreal dream or a memory of a party that I had arrived too late for.
But how could an art site, community theatre, creative hub open in the middle of a pandemic? How could Blackpool create a nod towards residents and locals? In lockdown interesting things began to happen, photography talks went online, I didn’t need to travel and was not allowed anyway, Blackpool began to look a lot tidier without visitors of which Blackpool so heavily relay on and The Old Electric began to go through changes to become a safe and inviting place that would include and create stories of residents and the people of the town, perhaps something alternative and very, very much focussed on community.
Through lockdown carefully treading through a pandemic minefield volunteers have cleaned, scrubbed offered donations, created and found ways to get The Old Electric to a point where great things will happen. As Spring made an attempt and in recent much warmer days sprang the Old Electric doors have opened.
You might be surprised that The Old Electric already holds a plethora of creative outcomes invited by collaboration and pulling a metaphoric chair up to the creative table. On entering the building you might wander to the left down a strange ethereal corridor where you chance upon a fortune-telling booth – it has a look of a distant relative of “Zoltar Speaks” offering you an unexpected peek into your future and created by Artist: Janine Walker whose amazing collaborative sculptural costumes will feature in a future Old Electric “Alice in Wonderland”. As we delve deeper down the corridor a wall holds a collage of paint complimented with small cut-out animals paying homage to Old Electric volunteers and collaborators. There are flying squirrels, alligators, elephants, lions it reminds me of the recent TV adaption of Phillip Pullmans Golden Compass and created by Blackpool artist Matthew Jones whose work can also be found embedded into the tables of The Old Electrics cafe space.
As you turn the corridor you are propelled into an undulating vortex through Warrington’s Sarah Harris’s painted installation – with nods to fairground funhouses and optical illusions. When you turn around and journey back down the corridor you will find a Sound Booth the brainchild of artist and DJ Buzz Bury as well as Joiners studio headed up by community gardeners Urban Organic both offering the promise of workshops and skill-sharing.
There is excitement in the air and in “kiss me quick” succession I have attended a drum workshop, a life drawing class, a junior film club, viewed an Alice in Wonderland “test” parade, a contemporary Punch and Judy, a drama for confidence workshop, online Yoga and movement workshops, attended a drop-in drama workshop and know of a brilliant care and repair cafe which happened in the building. Not forgetting a little earlier on in the year a verbatim play based on real stories of addiction in Blackpool. There are many other happenings on the boil in the space and an invitation to wider audiences to chat about how a community creative space might grow and be inspired by the people of the town.
Of course as a resident of Blackpool, a place known for performance, the seaside, a tower, amazing ballrooms, three piers and somewhat well documented for our high levels of social-economic problems and drinking culture. A place like The Old Electric is a long time coming, something for the people by the people. Surely the best things come out of DIY culture, happenings that create a sense of ownership. Blackpool can be expensive with leisure activity often geared towards tourism – it feels like The Old Electric might allow space for conversations, experimentation, music, affordable theatre, and just the chance to call something our own.
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