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“I was working in small-scale theatre in the West Midland when I saw the ad for ‘Venue Development Officer’ in Cambridge. I liked the look of the role and importantly, I could navigate my narrow boat, which was my home, from the canals of Birmingham to the river Cam at Cambridge. I arrived in August 1987 on a 12 month contract. I was a 24yr old with the responsibility for setting-up an £1m arts venue – the first new-build of its kind in the country.
Eric Orme and Nick Welsh.
Since the National Lottery in 1995, new arts buildings have become
commonplace but in those days they were exceptionally rare. There was no longer a ‘housing the arts’ fund and few alternative sources of capital funding for arts. I was in an unusual position being responsible not to the Council, with whom my post was nested, but to the Venue Steering Committee made up of Council Members and representatives of the CVG.
Open day to discuss the building plans, with Eric Orme.
It was a very tough call. Although there was political support for the
project the Council officers were not that keen. It was seen more as a reluctant answer to a social problem than as a visionary and
aspirational cultural project. During the period we were trying to
fund-raise to fit-out the venue, inflation in the construction industry
ran up to 20% per annum so the cost of the build was outstripping the budget. The extension of my contract was a good sign but the slow progress made it hard to maintain the enthusiasm of young people in the town. I often found myself sitting in Mandela House drafting press releases from the CVG critical of the Council but calculated to keep the project on track.
Eventually we did get there. Th lovely Jonathan Goodacre joined me as my Assistant in July 1989 but I felt that fresh energy was needed to take The Junction forward and argued hard for the appointment of Paul Bogan which I feel was one of the most important things I did. The Junction was actually due to open in November 1989 but the construction company got into difficulty and only by speaking to workers on site did I find that sub-contractors were refusing to work due to non-payment. The opening was postponed until 14 Feb.
Jem Linsey remembers: This is CVG members on the door of an event, I think one of the ‘legal raves’ in the Guildhall. Eric had acquired some carnival costumes for some other event and so we made use of them for this one! Of the six, I recognise four: Eric Orme, me, Lyn Disley and John Wroe.
This is obviously only a quick summary. We had great fun running Cabaret on the Common, Comedy Underground and Cum Cum as fundraisers and to provide an interim solution. Although I am immensely proud of it, I have returned to The Junction very little over the years. My contribution, (and it was a collective effort, it was just that I was on it full-time), was to actually keep it on track, shape it as much as we were permitted and to make it happen but it was the team we appointed that made it what it became.
Eric: ‘I worked full time for 3 years to make it happen so 14th February 1990 was proud day for me. That is me in the picture, cutting the tape with John Peel. Incidentally, John told we it was the first time he had ever been invited to open anything!’
Having felt rather trapped on the inland waterways and yearning for a wider horizon I sold my narrowboat, bought a seagoing sailing boat and set off across the ocean but that’s another story …
Eric Orme recording in the Lost Nights and Love Songs Memory Shed. February 14th 2020.
John Wroe, Cambridge Venue group member, discussing the role Eric played.