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Category Archives: Live music in Woking

Ray Morgan 1

Almost three years ago this blog ran an item titled ‘The thoughts of Woking’s Ray Morgan’, a report of comments Woking council’s chief executive had made on a wide range of subjects at a public meeting. At the time we said we thought this was interesting because of Mr Morgan’s status – he is regarded as ‘Mr Woking’.  Not so much the power behind the throne, but the throne itself, you might say. Recently he has made his views known again, at a public council meeting, about the Phoenix Cultural Centre – a cause which Wokingmatters has supported in a number of blogs –  and its relationship with the council in its search for a live music venue with community facilities in Woking, a search that councillors have instructed Woking council officials to assist. Commenting on the progress made, Mr Morgan produced these soundbites:

“There’s a reality check here … I drafted an email in response to the one sent by them … It’s still in my draft box, because I thought it would cause more offence by sending it … simply because I was appalled by their approach, and their total misrepresentation of everybody else, and rubbishing everybody else … and not valuing anybody at all that actually makes a difference, and whinge and moan … so I’m afraid … but I didn’t send it … although I’ve said some of it … it’s been very difficult … [it’s] very easy to go in and complain about what we should do … but they need to actually help themselves …  I think sometimes they over-represent the contribution they make to the cultural life of the borough, and under-represent that made by others. So, we’re trying to navigate that route, they were offered premises … not yet resolved, I think would be the way to say that … but is that easily resolvable? Probably not. But all the fuss they were making to you [the councillors] about not being made homeless … I know who owns the building, they’re not in a hurry to do anything about it … they can’t, because everyone around them won’t let them … so the likelihood of it being let to someone else in the short-term, once everything around it starts getting knocked down, it’s not likely to be let to anyone else. So I think the practical reality is, it’s not a crisis at the moment  … so could we just avoid believing them always when they whinge and moan about us, and actually start recognising that officers have tried really hard to work with them, and so far that’s not been over-productive.”

Mr Morgan goes on to say that council officers made arrangements for a redundant building to be used “for the York Road project to look after the most vulnerable instead of giving it to them [the Phoenix] … where’s the priority in our life? Should we look after rough sleepers before we look after those that just want to make a lot of noise? We’ve got other places for them to make noise …”

At this point the council chairman interrupts him: “Can I stop you there …?”

It appears not. Mr Morgan goes on: “Sorry chairman … but they really annoyed me …”

The council chairman says: “No doubt they’re watching on the webcast …”

Ray Morgan: “Jolly good!”

Council chairman: “And no doubt we will hear … “

Ray Morgan: “I can send my email … if you like. But I think there is a danger that we listen to those who complain, rather than to those that matter.”

Council chairman: “Can we definitely stop there?”

And that, amazingly, is that.

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In reply the Phoenix Cultural Centre – here’s a photograph at the start of one of their music nights at Goldsworth Road – have issued a very long statement “to clarify our position, draw a line under this regretful situation, and move on”.  It includes these comments:

“In November, we sent an email with a report attached updating on the progress of our project since 2014 when councillors agreed to support our petition for assistance to identify a building. The report and email sent were private and part of negotiations. They were sent to all Woking borough councillors, senior officers who have dealt with us and Woking’s MP who had asked to be kept up to date on our project.

“Our CEO spoke to the Woking Advertiser on viewing the content of the webcast and said that the project and its volunteers are only interested in building something good and not fighting or taking on an adverse stance to make things happen, and furthermore had no interest in entering into a negative public exchange with [Ray Morgan] … as she did not believe it to be in the best interests of the project, its volunteers, beneficiaries, partners or fair to the council staff we deal with. She did ask them however to publish that the project had a fantastic working relationship with Woking BC officers and had found them professional and courteous and enthusiastic. We have worked with them on a number of projects in the borough.

“However … it is important that we correct some of the points made in the statement to councillors on 4 Feb. First of all, to clear up some common misconceptions:

“We have not asked the council for money, we asked them to help us identify a building and assist with brokerage to start the  … process set by government to enable communities to run buildings for community benefit and unlock central funding to enable them to do that.

“We have never turned down free premises or any offer of premises. We have entered into lengthy negotiations and these were not taken off the table by us.

“In 2013 we negotiated a shop premises offered by the landlord rent free after a local letting agent presented our case to them.

“There was a statement made by the CEO of Woking BC that he knows the owner of the shop we use and contrary to what we have been recently saying there is no intention of us being asked to leave. This has given the impression that we are falsely claiming this for publicity. Firstly there is no value in this to us, we have been on the point of moving before and know how unsettling it is. Secondly the letting agent confirms that whilst the owner does know the CEO of Woking BC they are intending a short-term let and the planning portal on Woking BC website had the documents lodged in October 2015 for change of use to restaurant as the kebab shop next door wishes to extend. These are available for public viewing. The restaurant have also confirmed this to a group who used us and who have now relocated based on this information. When this is received (anytime now) we will be given the notice date so can only guarantee 30 days hence. Learning partners have started sourcing other premises too.

“We have never refused to work in partnership with anyone. We have a track record of putting on music for a variety of causes and in a variety of places and organisations in the town. One of our most constant partners is Woking BC.

IMG_3219“UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES HAVE WE OR WOULD WE RUBBISH OR DENIGRATE OR SEEK PREFERENCE OVER ANOTHER GROUP IN WOKING. It simply doesn’t make sense nor does any of the work we do ever suggest that and to be honest this assertion was the one the volunteers took most personally especially as it was levelled with regards to our attitude to homelessness. On this point we can only hope and trust that people are aware of the character of the people who work in the centre, their track record and attitude to the community of Woking and let that speak for itself.

“We haven’t overblown our culture contribution to the town and put down others. We have listed our activities and achievements – open for all to see so to do anything else would not bear scrutiny. There’s no value to pretending to do what we haven’t.

“We may appear to Woking BC’s CEO that we are just a group of people who want to make a load of noise and he is entitled to his personal private opinion. We appreciate not everyone will be a fan of what we are trying to achieve. Hopefully those who know us and know the project and what it is trying to achieve will see the positive work it has been trying to do which ultimately benefits Woking. It is to our regret however, that he made the remarks without ever having visited. He would be made very welcome if he did engage with us. We see no use in carrying on any tension and would rather be optimistic about working relationships.

“To describe us as ‘moaners’ and ‘whingers’ and ‘those who shout the loudest’ doesn’t really match up to our communication style at all, or our history. It also insults the intelligence and expertise of the group who call on many years of experience in music and community and business and come from many different backgrounds for a common aim.

“We received no reply to this document sent in November yet now in February this happens. We did not use a public forum to call out or denigrate the council as a body and are disappointed that the most senior paid officer chose to do so about a group of residents who are volunteers, on camera, in front of the press where we weren’t present to answer, and thus forced us to spend time away from building our project to answer when we could so much better have spent the time on something useful.

“There was an assertion at the meeting that it would make future meetings with council officers difficult with us. This will never be the case, we are not in the habit of making life difficult for people trying to do their job to reach a positive outcome.

“This is our answer – this is all we have to say on the matter and wish only to move on positively. We can only hope that everyone has a bad day at work sometimes and is also allowed to move on.”

Wokingmatters has not of course been privy to the negotiations between the Phoenix Cultural Centre and Woking council, and so cannot reasonably take a view on who is right and who is wrong, if there are such black and white positons in this case. But we can express our amazement at some of the angry language used by Woking’s chief executive Ray Morgan – and reflect that dismissive phrases such as “making a lot of noise” in regards to music might just have alienated a great chunk of Woking’s youth in one fell swoop.

Unlike Ray Morgan, Wokingmatters has visited the Phoenix Cultural Centre’s warm, welcoming but inadequate premises on a number of occasions, and can testify to the encouragement given to nervous young musicians stepping up to the open mic for the first time.  A number of important and worthwhile community activities also take place at the former shop in Goldsworth Road, near the JobCentre. These are the ideals and vision that we understand the Phoenix wishes to develop at a designated, suitable place somewhere in the heart of Woking.

Going back to that previous time when Ray Morgan went public in a big way, back in 2013, there was a comment made at the end of that meeting which is still pertinent today. A businessman spoke from the floor about moving both his home and his firm from Guildford to Woking. “We should be proud of what goes on in Woking,” he said. But he added the rider that there should be more facilities for the youth of the town. And on that, surely all of us can wholeheartedly agree.

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Elaine McGinty of the Phoenix Cultural Centre, appearing on Pyrford TV Arts

Almost a year ago, Woking’s Phoenix Cultural Centre reached what it regarded at the time as a milestone on its quest to find a permanent live music and community arts venue in the town, when a full meeting of Woking council told its officers to assist the centre in finding a suitable building. Eleven months on from that meeting, the Phoenix says it is still in talks “but look to receive some positive news  … we really need this to happen soon”. Next month councillors will ask officials for an update on what progress has been made in helping the Phoenix, which in the meantime continues to operate out of temporary premises in Goldsworth Road, where earlier this year that excellent local TV operation, Pyrford TV Arts, went along to film one of the regular Phoenix Monday open mic evenings. Its footage includes an interview with the centre’s Elaine McGinty, who says the campaign for a permanent live music venue in Woking has had many “incremental” successes along the way. In the interview she emphasises that that the Monday open mic nights are particularly aimed at encouraging new, nervous performers to gain confidence and to find their voices.  It’s high time that the hard work of the Phoenix Cultural Centre volunteers was rewarded. A live music and arts venue would undoubtedly raise the profile of Woking and attract new visitors and residents to the town. Let’s hope for – if not expect – some good news from Woking council’s officials next month.

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Lisa VonH appearing on the Pyrford TV Arts feature on the Phoenix Cultural Centre

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The Surrey Advertiser newspaper is backing a campaign – and Wokingmatters is too, for that matter – to establish a live music venue in Woking that could double up as a performance space for spoken word and other art forms. The campaign is also supported by former Jam drummer Rick Buckler, and local band The Stanley Blacks, pictured playing at Woking’s party in the Park last summer. The campaign is spearheaded by the Phoenix Cultural Centre, which says it wants to provide a centre for Woking that stages live music and arts events and has space for community groups to use.  It is good that a grassroots group has taken the initiative like this, but actually it is a disgrace that a town the size of Woking does not already have a purpose-built arts and community centre. At one time some people hoped Woking’s Lightbox museum and gallery would fit that bill, but for all its virtues, sadly that has not proved the case, with any spare facilities being used by corporate clients rather than the community that is actually paying for it.  Although the council is apparently managing to find millions from somewhere to revamp the town centre, a community building to help cater for all the flat-dwelling newcomers, as well as the existing residents, does not yet seem to be on the agenda. High time it was! In the meantime,  all power to the Phoenix Cultural Centre and its efforts to wake up Woking, and to showcase the town’s hidden talents. There must be more to Woking than grey office blocks. There must be …

Update 15 April 2013 If you agree with the above there is now a petition you can sign here