36 Lime Street studios are situated in the heart of Newcastle’s Ouseburn Valley to the east of the city centre. Formerly a flax mill, the Grade II listed building is now home to over 50 artists, makers and designers across five floors.
36 Lime Street’s guiding principle is to provide secure, affordable studio spaces for rent for artists and other creative businesses, and in doing so to contribute towards the regeneration of the building and the area.
The aim is to foster the principles of co-operation in members’ involvement with industry and commerce, training and education, and leisure and recreational activities.
It’s 1983, the early Thatcher years, and Mike Mould, the founder of the famous Bruvvers Community Theatre Company, is looking for a new home to set up his ‘Fun Palace’. Bruvvers was founded in 1969 to take live theatre and music into the disadvantaged areas of Tyneside. With his brother Roy he buys the derelict Cluny bonded warehouse designed by John Dobson.
Mike moves in with a mattress, a primus stove and a frying pan and the dream begins…
“Choose what you want to do…. watch someone else doing it. Learn how to handle tools, paint, babies, and machinery or just listen to a tune. Dance, talk or be lifted up to where you can see how other people make things work.”
The warehouse is in the run-down, almost deserted Ouseburn Valley but Mike has seen the potential of the area and sets about creating his ‘Fun Palace’ inspired by the actor/director Joan Littlewood.
The derelict warehouse that was 36 Lime Street was enormous, stretching over 5 floors. Mike meets the furniture maker Tim Kendall in the pub and over a pint the idea to invite artisans, actors, musicians and artists into the building to create workshops and studios is born.
Tim Kendall chalks out his studio space on level 4 and the collective that is 36 Lime Street comes into being. Other original members were Keith and Alison Barratt, a Trade Union group and the poet Julia Darling. There were very few windows, lots of rats and pigeons. People built their own walls, although initially the idea was for people to work in open spaces. But people liked their own spaces and soon the walls started to meet up in a rather adhock way. Floors started to organise themselves a bit more, putting their own loos in etc. The smell of Mike’s breakfast every morning travelled up to artists arriving, and they were often invited to share his food.
At this stage in 1986 there was still no proper co-op, and at that time there was no ‘Arts & Culture’ policy either. We were called ‘the Looney Warehouse’, and there was only lip service paid to support for the arts from the government.
“36 Lime Street has an exciting, pioneering history. It can be held up as an example of what creative individuals can achieve with very little outside assistance from others. By taking on assets (liabilities indeed) which the mainstream market did not want and in areas which were at the time written off as the economically and socially redundant, the founding group rescued a historic building and in so doing made it the hub for the creative and subsequent economic regeneration of an entire district.”
Matthew Rooke | Scottish Cultural Enterprise
We would like to thank the following for all their support over the years:
Northern Rock Foundation, Newcastle City Council, Ouseburn Trust and Arts Council England.
When I viewed Studio 3A I was determined that it was going to be mine! Fantastic light, high ceilings, good storage, 24-hour access, security for the future, and an established network of diverse creative practitioners, it ticked all the boxes.
Engaging in critical discussions is a vital part of my practice and having the range of practitioners we have at 36 Lime Street all under one roof is a fantastic thing when testing out a new work or bouncing ideas between of one another. There is a wealth of experience and expertise within the building, which provides an immediate network and 'directory' of resources and knowledge to share.
Over the years I have made many friends and colleagues with whom I can continue to work, collaborate and socialise.
I was a Director for 3 years and in 2009 I initiated the launch of the 36 Lime Street Gallery Programme. The Gallery has been a huge success in providing artists from the North East and beyond a project space in which to explore ideas and has brought new audiences to 36 Lime Street and the Ouseburn Valley.
Working at 36 Lime Street
I can't even remember when I ended up in the Cluny but it must have been about 1987 and I was down in the Pottery with a sloping stable floor and far from ideal working conditions. I was there with Dave Wild and Dick Graves. Liz Beech was there for a time and a manic cyclist who must be dead who insisted on wearing all black clothes and not using lights. Eventually I moved up to the third floor in what is now Emma Holliday's space. When I first arrived the whole floor was open, a vast area inhabited by Puppets and People making enormous puppets for street ceremonies - Gordon Sharp was the main man.
Slowly the breeze block partitions went up and the spaces became smaller, a loo was put in and a variety of artists moved in. I shared my enormous space with Bernie Koranteng eventually and we used to organise life-drawing sessions for all comers. That was my saving in fact as when I ran out of steam with my abstract work I felt confident enough to turn to drawing and painting for the first time since art college. It was after a year or so of landscape painting that I decided to have an exhibition in my studio (1994) the first time it had been attempted in the Cluny.
Having dropped cards through letterboxes in Jesmond (tip: skip the ones with net curtains!) as soon as the show opened at 11 o'clock a doctor came in and bought three paintings. I couldn't believe it. My financial problems were solved! I hadn't sold anything for years. But then it all went quiet. However I sold a few more and the next year Charlotte Mellis who was potting down the corridor invited me out to her place on Mull for a few weeks and we put on a show about Mull together the next year. Lisa Delarny joined us the following year and then the whole of the Warehouse opened up.
And who could forget the night of the basement rave? The basement was just a disused shell. Hundreds descended on the Cluny with no warning, police turned up, they were all locked in with no toilet facilities and in the morning Dick and co had to move in with buckets of disinfectant and brushes and spades.
I once entertained an old guy from Byker who was enthusiastically reminiscing about the pigeons he used to keep in the Cluny and becoming quite emotional as he explored around Level 3.
I am very pleased that Emma is now making such good use of my space. The big disadvantage of the space for me, I am sorry to say, was the band she played in through paper- thin walls next door. One musical visitor, a violinist, had to go away with his head in his hands feeling very ill. Such is the power of music. Mind, Tim Kendall's planer upstairs was hardly more musical. Lang may his lum reek! Is he still allowed to fire his chimney up with offcuts?
Worked at 36 Lime Street
I can't remember how I heard about the studios at Lime Street, but I just know I wanted to be part it. At the time it was all quite run down and reminded me of the stack yard at home, with all the outbuildings around it with lots of things in them. Here there were lots of smaller businesses, all cheek by jowl.
I applied for a space and was asked to select on the floor plan which studio I was interested in. I chose the central studio, as it was a good size for me. I was 29 at the time, ready to consolidate things and get my practice going. The other artists to be taken on board were Graham and Kate Reeves/ textiles and fashion, Morag Gordon/glass, Stephen Kinsella/glass, Kirsten Bell/ embroidery, Jill Hlalo/ jewellery and Paul and Steve of Rockworks who built climbing walls. I am the only person left from the original group of studio applicants.
As is still the case, 36LS had no money to take on large building projects, so it was up to the artists to build their own spaces. We had to finance the whole building work ourselves. I've found the paperwork and the initial building estimate for level 1 was £10,433.58 signed on 30th January 1991. We were always reassured that we would get the money back for our building work if and when we moved on. All these years later these payments have been rationalized into depreciating premiums. I believed strongly in the philosophy of creating affordable studio space to work.
In the spring of 1991 - I remember it as being a very damp wet winter and early spring, so the breeze blocks took ages to dry out, the lower floor was finally joined to the rest of the stairwell. We knocked through the wall and put the set of double doors in. This also connected us to the recording studio that had been established by John Sylvester but was then run by Archie Brown and George Welch. Tony Davis now runs it successfully.
In order to pay for the building work I had to work full time as a designer, as well as teaching glass techniques two nights a week. By 1997 I was using my space full-time and also running workshops and classes. After the purchase of a very large kiln and expanding workshops I realized that I needed a larger space. I then took over the larger Rockworks space when they moved to bigger manufacturing premises.
The life of an artist is not a straightforward one and at times it may be necessary to sublet/share your space. It has been fairly common for artists to move around the building from studio to studio renting and sharing spaces. Artists then have the opportunity to secure their own studio space or use the experience as a stepping-stone to start to their own studios e.g. the nearby Cobalt group. This is something special about 36 Lime Street, the possibility to expand and grow your business. Unlike other studios complexes 36LS offers you as an artist/ maker/musician security of tenure. This enables you to plan and expand. The aim of 36 Lime Street has always been to provide affordable working studios, but we are also fully responsible for the upkeep and running of a grade II listed John Dobson building.
During my 23-year tenancy I have happily contributed to life at 36 Lime St through various committees, as administrator/company secretary, organising Open Studios, Late Shows and Heritage tours. After 36 Lime Street pays its rent to Mike, all our money goes on the upkeep of this rather wonderful building. For me it is the anchor to the valley and 2014 will be our 20th anniversary of the Open Studios Event.
Working at 36 Lime Street
Tim Kendall Memories from 80's Book
I first met Michael Mould in the summer of 1983. I was looking for cheap workshop space and had heard on the grapevine that he had bought the 'Cluny Bond' and was looking for fellow travellers. I chalked a line at one end of a large open floor, and asked the price. 'Tenner a week' replies Michael, deal done. Over the next year others joined - artists, musicians, actors, potters all making little money and needing a cheap space to set up their studios and workshops. Michael converted the top floor into a flat for himself and rehearsal rooms, workshops, and an office for his Bruvvers Theatre Co. The open floors of the main part of the building were piece by piece divided up, everybody building their own spaces. Michael once referred to us rather theatrically as 'the shock troops of urban regeneration'!
The City Council were concerned that a Grade II listed building was being 'converted' in such an 'ad hoc' way and offered us a grant of £100,000 to carry out the works necessary to bring it up to the building regulation standards. A condition of that grant was that we constitute ourselves into a non-profit-making company whose aims and objectives were to continue to provide affordable workspace.
36 Lime Street Ltd was set up in 1986, the same year we won a national award from RIBA as a good example of what was then known as 'community architecture'. We even had a visit from Prince Charles in 1988!
Most importantly the 36 Lime Street tenants co-operative had negotiated a 99 year lease for the main part of the building that we occupied. This was on the most generous terms and I remember Michael's solicitor strongly advising him against signing away his interest so categorically. Tenants past, present and future all owe him a debt of gratitude.
Working at 36 Lime Street
Memories of 36 Lime Street Studios (The Cluny) in the 80s
I set up my glass studio in 1988, five years after Mike Mould had purchased 36 Lime Street. When I joined, Level 4 had already been created into studios on a self build basis by furniture makers, painters, sculptors, mime artists and a tempeh business. Level 3 was home to theatre groups 'Puppets and People' and 'Skin and Bones'. The regime was very hands off which was fantastic, and we ran it as a cooperative. We were there because it was cheap, but it was also very exciting. We got to inhabit a Grade II listed building and run our own lives.
When I told people where my studio was, most had never been there or really knew where it was, unless they had been to the City Farm next door, the Ouseburn boat club or the Ship pub, or they were interested in industrial archaeology - because this was the cradle of Newcastle's industrial revolution. The pub and the boat club were original and very local, and the farm was the only sign of regeneration.
I have lovely memories of sitting eating lunch on the grass outside with goats grazing next to us. The Ship was run by Wynne and John with Mel behind the bar and you could have any combination of beans, eggs, sausage, toast and bacon, washed down with a cup of tea. There was a pool table and darts.
There was lots of music including a free festival on the green every year, and there were warehouse parties.
There was some financial support to convert the warehouse - and in 1986 it was awarded a community architecture award and Prince Charles came to visit - there is a lovely photo of his aide carrying the wooden loo seat, made by furniture maker Ali Rhind, to the plane.
We did a lot of teaching and community workshops. There was a lot of collaboration and experimentation and conversation. We felt very lucky.
Worked at 36 Lime Street
The reputation of the building, the co-operative of like-minded creatives, the affordable rent and perfect location, were what initially drew me to 36 Lime Street. After two interviews for the studio space, I was eager to get into the building. A space on level 5 became available in May 2012, which I couldn't refuse, even though it needed a massive amount of work doing to it. A huge studio broken up into four rooms and a mezzanine. But it all had to come out, as it was poorly constructed and unsafe. I spent several months ripping it all out and turning it into one space, whilst trying to continue my artwork.
I've been in the studio a while now. There are plenty of alterations I would like to make on the studio, but now the important thing is using the space to create and paint everyday.
Working at 36 Lime Street
36 Lime Street Ltd – a brief history by a half time (15 year) inhabitant
Joined 36 Lime Street to be an administrator for an art transport company in 1998, based on Level 1, previously unaware of its existence.
I became administrator for 36 Lime Street Ltd, taking minutes (handwritten, later to be typed up and printed out for distribution) and thereby attending all meetings and getting a good idea of what was going on, as well as meeting everyone and exhibiting work in group exhibitions.
Increasingly I became involved in the Ouseburn as well as 36 Lime Street, I co-ordinated the visual arts and outreach strand of the Ouseburn Festival for a few years, doing art workshops for what was then Byker Farm and also made 60' hillside fire sculptures under Byker Bridge for summer solstice celebrations for four years around 2000-2004, and drank in the Cluny. The valley was less inhabited then and there was more of an 'underground' feel to it compared to its more developed 'creative cluster' identity these days.
We had monthly presentations by members who gave slide shows, talking about their own work, in the newly opened Cluny bar, where we also used to have our monthly meetings. Decisions would be made at one meeting by one group of members, and then at the next there could often be an entirely different group of members who differed in opinion and overturned the previous month's decision. Democracy in action. I always loved sharing resources, skills, advice, coffee etc with members, the co-operative ethos of the place.
When the transport company left, I sublet a studio from Charlotte Mellis, on Level 3; a potter who spent most of her time on the Isle of Mull so didn't use her space full time. Sharing at various points with Lisa Delarny, Dodgy Clutch and I'm sure others, it was a bit chaotic but still nearly a room of my own... moving on to another little used space after Charlotte passed her space on, subletting on Level 2 what had been the Ouseburn Trust's and Amph Thomson's space (Amph Thomson designed the Cluny bar as well as the blue and orange buildings further east along Lime Street).
Eventually the opportunity came to become a leaseholder and I became an official member a few years later. For years I was part of the Open Studios team, publicity and marketing, fundraising, as well as organising other events and interviewing prospective new members. I've seen a few members come and go, but the nature of 36 Lime Street is that members are committed professionals and tend to be here for a few years, creating a friendly stability. I spent some time on the board, was Chair for a year, seeing things from a different angle, taking on more responsibility.
Working at 36 Lime Street
My friend took me round one of the early Open Studios and I remember being amazed by the building. In 1998 I sub-let from Lisa Delarnay in what is now Julia Roxburgh's studio. The lease came up on the space next door and that was the first time I had a studio of my own. I have seen the building change and develop over the years with the addition of the Cluny bar and the renovation of Seven Stories.
I have always loved making work in the Ouseburn Valley. It has a vibrant mix of creative people that have all had an impact on my practice in different ways.
Worked at 36 Lime Street
*Effie went on to help found Cobalt Studios in the Ouseburn Valley