‘We are the counterculture’: Salford co-op coffee shop looks to launch art gallery

A co-operative coffee shop in Salford is aiming to become the ‘counterculture’ to modern society by creating a community arts and social space.

Home of Honest Coffee, a not-for-profit workspace created by artists’ collective Future Artists, has already raised £4,000 to secure the deposit for the property next door it on Chapel Street, and is now stretching to fund supplies and time in the space so that the local community can use it for free.

Future Artists plan to open the new building, The Gallery, on June 7 and showcase at least four in-house shows a year, in addition to hosting smaller exhibitions, events for up to 100 people and a small co-working office hub.

“Although Home of Honest Coffee is still only six months old, we could see it has a future in the area supporting a lot of creative talent in Manchester and Salford,” Mark Ashmore, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and founder of Future Artists, told MM.

“So we decided to try to get the building next door to us and turn into an art gallery and events space.

“Chapel Street, Salford, where we are based, has a rich history of being the space where ‘stuff’ happens. It was the original centre of Salford and we are near where Salford Cross was erected.

“While new build skyscrapers go up around us, we are here, the opposite – the counterculture.”

A ten year plan for The Gallery has already been drawn up based on a sustainable and incentive-driven business model.

Future Artists hope to be able to show potential backers around the space in order to encourage them to invest.

In return for their support backers, will have a direct stake in how The Gallery is run.

“If people want to use the space, they will hire it from the co-op who built it,” said Mark.

“If you help build and run it, you get it at a lesser rate than someone less connected with the space.

“The rent needs to be paid for, the electricity, all the taxes, and all the staff are on Living Wage or above, so it is expensive just to open the doors for an hour, but we have to make it affordable.”

Future Artists’ emphasis on The Gallery being affordable while paying staff ethically is a key element of the collective’s co-operative ethos.

They were founded in 2009 by a loose collective of local artists, event managers, filmmakers, theatre creators and designers.

The company has a record of launching successful entrepreneurial projects on Chapel Street, having temporarily turned nearby pub the Black Lion into an independent arts venue before opening Home of Honest Coffee.

“We started as a response to all the cutbacks after the [2008] financial crash of the banks,” Mark said.

 “Our first event was at an event as part of the Manchester International Festival.

“We called it Not  Part of Media City… Yet. It was a conference of sorts to sound out if we needed to be part of MediaCity to have a successful media career and do art… it turns out you don’t!

“It was the first time we got together, a lot of the go-getters on the film scene of the time, but since that first event, we have continued to evolve and grow.”

Ashmore was asked to be a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 2013 as a result of his community work in running free upskilling events and his work at the Black Lion.

Eventually that led him to come up with the idea of Home of Honest Coffee.

“My track record doing events, creating marketing and working with brands led me to figure that a community coffee shop, if built on Chapel Street, would give opportunity to hundreds of people,” he said.

“So with the experience we had with the Future Artists collective, and with the support of the RSA, I jumped in two feet first to see what would happen.”

Future Artists opened Home of Honest Coffee in August 2015, backed by 155 Kickstarter backers and the Royal Society of Arts.

The shop’s facilities are now used by a host of local businesses and over 50 community groups. 

Ashmore emphasises that there is now a need for a space like The Gallery in Manchester in response to gentrification and austerity cuts, with cheap backroom spaces vanishing and one in five regional museums and art galleries closing in the UK in 2015.

The financial support that The Gallery has received so far means that it can now host the exhibitions proposed in its six month business plan, including the work of music photographer Lawrence Watson and the history of arcade video games.

Ashmore was always confident that The Gallery would receive funding and is optimistic about the prospects of the project, however long it turns out to last.

“I’ve been part of the arts scene on both Manchester and Salford for a long time now, and so have our backers,” he said.

“We all know that if this project was to last for a year as a pop-up, it would be cool, but hey, we have done this before.

“We are planning for the next ten years, and so we need to start with a bang.

“It’s all about positive thinking.”

With Chapel Street boasting projects such as these and indie music festival Sounds From The Other City due to take place there on Bank Holiday Sunday, Ashmore is unequivocal that Salford’s main thoroughfare, rather than MediaCityUK, is where the real spirit of Salford lies.

“MediaCityUK is five corporations sat in expensive buildings with shiny glass and steel,” Ashmore concluded simply.

“Chapel Street is about art.” 

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