Prestigious Firstsite gallery in Colchester faces job cuts

Firstsite in Colchester won Best Community Building

Firstsite in Colchester won Best Community Building - Credit: Archant

Staff at a vibrant £28million Essex art gallery are calling on management to abandon proposed staff cuts which they claim could harm the experience for visitors.

Firstsite, Colchester.

Firstsite, Colchester. - Credit: Andrew Partridge

The Firstsite gallery in Colchester is facing financial difficulties following changes to proposed funding arrangements – and its work is currently being scrutinised closely by the Arts Council England (ACE).

According to an online petition, a group of Firstsite staff are now campaigning against the proposed restructuring and are urging the centre’s board of trustees not to cut jobs because it “will halt the positive changes that have already begun”.

It is feared that if there are less paid staff, volunteers will be called upon to do more – and there could be a reduction in exhibitions and other activities at the popular venue.

The petition – signed so far by more than 760 people – says: “A group of Firstsite staff are leading a campaign to change the proposed staff restructure at the gallery, to enable the continuation of the positive changes that have begun to take place.

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“We are calling for this rethink so we can protect jobs for people, particularly local people, instead of relying on volunteers to make up the majority of the customer-facing staff.

“The cutbacks to the current staff structure will adversely affect the visitor experience and have a negative impact on the diverse and interesting programme of events, particularly within the learning department and the engagement of children and young people, currently one of the strongest areas Firstsite has with engaging with the community.

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“The restructure addresses necessary financial savings that need to be made, but the proposed changes will result in short term savings, rather than creating a sustainable organisation that can generate income going forward.”

The campaigners claim the proposed changes would “increase pressure on the remaining staff, many of whom already work outside of their job requirements”.

Earlier this year proposed funding agreements announced in the previous July as part of the ACE national portfolio were pulled, with the gallery to be instead monitored and assessed as part of a special one-year arrangement combining £814,517 of national portfolio organisation revenue funding and transition funding.

Two months later Anthony Roberts was announced as the new interim director, branded as an “innovative approach” for the arts centre.

Firstsite in Lewis Gardens – nicknamed “the golden banana” due to its shape and colour – said it was facing a “transitional period”. The building had a troubled beginning – running over budget before opening four years later than planned in September 2011, having received more than £2.5million of government funding.

No-one was available yesterday from Firstsite to comment on the petition and the current situation.

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