Volunteers' challenge to buy Cube arts centre in Bristol

Volunteers at the Cube Microplex
Image caption More than 150 people are part of the all-volunteer staff at the Cube

Imagine a place staffed by people who love it so much they don't want to be paid.

That place is The Cube - Bristol's "best kept secret". The volunteers behind this independent arts centre have set themselves a challenge.

They - and there are more than 150 of them - want to buy the building they currently rent and "become masters of their own destiny".

They are proudly independent and say they are determined not to resort to external funding to run their business.

The venue funds itself with income from the bar and the door. The all-volunteer staff say having to pay rent to a landlord has always been "a fly in the ointment".

Now, their 15-year leasehold is coming to an end and their landlord has offered to sell them the building for £185,000. They say they "jumped at the chance".

They need to raise the money by the end of the year to stay in the property, which is hidden away in a square on the edges of Stokes Croft in central Bristol.

The building has been used as a community arts venue since the 1960s but its identity as the Cube was born in 1998 when four friends made a "dream become a reality" by establishing it as an arts cinema and music space.

'Truly collaborative'

Robert Fludd, one of the original volunteers, said: "The Cube was started in 1998 to address the lack of interesting things going on in Bristol and the absence of any really progressive, open and truly collaborative film, music and art projects.

"I hope that finally having the building to play with we can start to build better working and production environments, improved access and spatial organisation and more advanced programming and creative tools facilities."

Volunteer Kate Rich moved to Bristol to work at the Cube - she said: "For me it's hard to separate the resource of the building and the resource of the volunteers."

So far the volunteers have raised £45,000 - which includes £20,000 worth of donations from people who subscribe to the Cube's mailing list. One woman turned up at the centre with £1,000 in cash.

Other Cube supporters and musicians have contributed by playing benefit gigs.

Two established venues in the city - Bristol Old Vic and the Colston Hall - have offered to host fundraising events.

The volunteers are also applying for capital grants towards the purchase, which they say would not interfere with the independence of the business.

Image caption Running the bar is one of the most popular jobs with the volunteers

Performance artist Zuleika Gregory runs a cabaret at the Cube and her parents performed in the building as actors in the 1970s.

She said: "It's nice to think I am contributing to that carrying on - I want to keep the Cube going, it's a really unique organisation. It would be hard to imagine it in a different building."

Animator and photo-media lecturer Kari Nygard has been involved since the beginning.

She said: "I'm one of the first volunteers since day two in 1998. In Norway, where I'm from, there's a tradition for spaces like this so I looked for it when I came to study."

She is involved in front-of-house and runs the children's cinema known as the nanoplex.

She said: "I want the Cube and the space to be secured for the future and what's particularly good through running the nanoplex is seeing punters come back as families.

Jamie Lindsay said: "Generally this place is outside the arts sector, it's not market driven. The building is quirky, unique and has a history to it. I'd hate to see this place become a block of flats."

'Tomorrow's mainstream culture'

Dick Penny, managing director of Bristol's Watershed arts venue said: "It would be great if they secure the building because it enables that experience and the whole concept of the organisation which is experimental and has managed to stay experimental.

He added: "You need the quirky, underground leftfield innovative spaces that really do enable new talent to find its niche. Today's alternative culture is probably tomorrow's mainstream culture.

"Ideas need places to grow - what the Cube does is allow people to participate."

A separate non-profit community-based organisation - Microplex Holdings Ltd - was formed in 2011. Its aim is to buy and hold the freehold of the Cube "as a community arts space in perpetuity" for the people of Bristol.

If they don't succeed in raising the money in time, the volunteers have contingency plans in place, including taking out a loan to cover the shortfall.

But they say they are "working at full tilt" to raise the remaining £140,000 in time for the 31 December deadline.

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