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Opening up a hidden gem underneath Carlisle

Thousands of people pass through Carlisle’s Citadel railway station every day, but few have a clue about the secret world beneath their feet.

The Undercroft is a 7,800sq ft space under platform one, which one determined young woman wants to turn into a public performance venue.

Kimberley Watkin, 22, has already secured in-principle grant funding that would see the Undercroft used for performing arts, music gigs, exhibitions and as a venue for conferences, private events and wedding receptions.

She said: “At the moment it’s not used for anything but it has real potential.

“We have so many performing arts students who come to Carlisle to get their skill set at the University of Cumbria and then move on to bigger cities because we haven’t got a venue where they can showcase their skills.

“We need to raise between £150,000 and £200,000 to make it happen. That would pay for cleaning, ventilation, installing toilets and a removable sprung dance floor, an entrance from Water Street, lighting and sound systems.”

The undercroftAs a priority she needs to raise £7,000 through the crowd funding web site Kickstarter to pay for legal and architect’s fees that will enable her to secure landlord’s consent from Network Rail, so releasing grant funding.

Her aim is to have the venue up and running by autumn of next year.

Anyone pledging £25 through Kickstarter, for example, gets two tickets for an event of their choice at the Undercroft, £50 gets their name inscribed on a brick, £100 brings two invitations to the launch party while £500 buys exclusive use of the venue for a full day.

Kimberley, originally from Stoke-on-Trent, graduated from the University of Cumbria with a first-class degree in performing arts in 2015.

Since then she has worked all over the country as a self-employed stage manager.

Locally, she was involved in two projects led by Dance Ahead, a Carlisle-based dance company founded by her former dance lecturer, Zoë Leigh Gadd, which staged two productions in the Undercroft in 2015 and 2016.

It was these that made her realise its potential as a venue.

Kimberley said: “I made connections with Network Rail, and Virgin Trains who manage the station, and asked how I could become a tenant.

“I was told three times I couldn’t use it but eventually persuaded them.”

She secured £5,000 from Spaces for Change, a national programme that helps young people start and run ventures that unlock the potential of unused or under-utilised spaces for the benefit of the community.

She also has in-principle approval for a substantial grant from the Railway Heritage Trust and is bidding for money from Power to Change, a charitable trust that supports community businesses.

The undercroftHer ambition is to operate a string of similar venues, making use of redundant spaces and disused industrial buildings.

Kimberley has set up a limited company, Artefact Ventures, to take the project forward and, on Zoë Leigh Gadd’s recommendation, turned to the Chamber’s Cumbria Business Growth Hub for help.

She has enrolled on the Growth Hub’s Business Start-Up Support Service (BSUS) programme and is full of praise for her adviser, Kevin Thistlethwaite.

She said: “I speak to Kevin a lot and always go along with what he suggests. It’s good to have someone with a business brain who can ensure that I’m on the right track. I’ve learned a lot in the last nine months.

“The advice has been vital. I couldn’t have done this without Kevin’s help, and if I run out of free hours under the BSUS scheme I’d happily pay for his advice.”

If you are thinking of starting your own business or social enterprise, then Cumbria Chamber of Commerce and our partners are here to help with a free business start-up programme to point you in the right direction.

Our comprehensive package of support includes:

  • Free meetings with a business adviser to review and develop your business idea;
  • Free training covering business planning and self employment, an introduction to marketing/market research and sales forecasts, promotion and sales, an introduction to planning and managing finance, taxation and bookkeeping, using the internet and social media;
  • Free help to develop your business plan and get your business up and running;
  • Free membership of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce.

For more information, call us today on 0845 226 0040 or click here to visit the Cumbria Business Growth Hub web site.

ERDFThe funding that supports the Growth Hub comes from a range of sources including Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, the European Regional Development Fund, Allerdale Borough Council (Sellafield Ltd’s Allerdale SIIF, distributed by Allerdale Borough Council), Barrow Borough Council (FEDF Coastal Communities Fund Supply Chain Initiative, the Coastal Communities Fund is funded by the Government with income from the Crown Estates marine assets; it is delivered by the Big Lottery Fund on behalf of UK Government), Carlisle City Council, Eden District Council, South Lakeland District Council and Cumbria LEP. The £1.7m Business Start-up Support (BSUS) project is creating almost 700 new businesses and nearly 1,200 jobs. It is also supporting around 250 young businesses and generating more than £92m GVA.

The BSUS project is receiving up to £1,112,686 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.  The Department for Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund.

Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information, click here.

The undercroft

  • Borough of Barrow-in-Furness
  • Carlisle City Council
  • Allerdale Borough Council
  • South Lakeland District Council
  • Eden District Council
  • University of Cumbria