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A final fling for Ironworks music venue in Inverness

By Gregor White

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Closing night at the Ironworks music venue was simply “perfect”, according to its director.

Amid high emotion as local band Elephant Sessions performed the last-ever gig at the Academy Street premises on Saturday night, Caroline Campbell said it was a “fitting end” for the venue which now makes way for a new hotel development.

“It couldn’t have been more special,” she said.

As part of a big-screen farewell during the show, she said that the choice of closing act was a fitting tribute to all the good work Ironworks had achieved in the last 16 years.

“For me, they are what the Ironworks has been all about – supporting and developing local talent,” she said.

“And it’s been a real privilege to be part of their journey.”

Twice during the show, the band’s Alasdair Taylor also spoke to the audience about what the venue meant to him and his fellow band members. “Support venues, support music!” he said.

Tributes have been flowing in for the Ironworks in recent days, many of them from Courier readers.

Also paying tribute this week was former Labour MP and MSP David Stewart who chaired several meetings aimed at trying to secure a new home for the venue.

“I was really committed to seeing the Ironworks be saved, albeit at another location, and I was greatly impressed by the appetite shown to achieve that in the 10 or 11 lengthy meetings that were held with various organisations, including Fiona Hyslop who was Scotland’s arts minister at the time,” he said.

“I just felt as an Invernessian who had served the area in a number of capacities that there was going to be a huge gap for us in losing the concept of the Ironworks.

“It is so much more than the physical location and I was just overwhelmed by the contribution its staff made, and the enthusiasm the public had for the venue.

“Yes, Inverness needs new hotels, but Inverness also needs an Ironworks. I never saw it as an either/or.”

While efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, Mr Stewart said he had been “genuinely enthused” by the contribution of the council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and High Life Highland to discussions though he felt “a bit let down” by national arts body Creative Scotland who he accused of being “asleep at the wheel”.

“For visitors and locals alike, it is really important to have that provision and to stimulate a career ladder for bands who are performing at a smaller stage level, from the Highlands and beyond,” he said.

“It is a sad day. You don’t always get what you want in political campaigns, but I was really disappointed because I felt the public were overwhelmingly behind it and there was a gap in the market for it.

“Caroline and her team deserve a huge pat on the back for the tremendous work they have done. I just hope out of the ashes of this project another is born that reflects the great model that the Ironworks was. I hope Caroline and her team are able to use their expertise in the future because it is definitely needed in the Highlands and beyond.”

With the venue now closed, the focus may turn to the wider future of its Academy Street home.

No date has been given for work to start on creating the new hotel and at the weekend retailer M&Co, which entered administration last year, confirmed all its stores are to close permanently after Easter.

As the Courier reported last week, the entrepreneurial team behind the Infinity Trampoline attraction in the Telford Retail Park hope to breathe new life into the former Ponden store with the creation of a new bar and entertainment complex while it is understood the currently closed Rose Street Foundry pub-restaurant is under offer. But there is nothing definite on either front at the moment.

Inverness economist Tony Mackay said: “The key factor is consumer spending.

“People are not spending as much money as usual at the present time because of the high level of inflation.

“The economic forecasts for 2023 are gloomy, although most expect a recovery before the end of the year and in 2024.

“Consequently, I expect the problems in Academy Street and elsewhere in the city centre to continue during 2023.

“New premises are available now in the Victorian Market and on Union Street, but I believe that most retailers will wait to be confident about the economic recovery before deciding to expand or open new premises.”

He said he was “surprised” at the opening of new pubs and bars in the city centre and worried about what the closure of the Ironworks would mean for the longer term health of the city’s economy.

“Regarding local people, there must be a concern that the loss of the Ironworks will reduce the city’s attractiveness for young people, including students,” he said.

“The population of the Highlands has declined significantly in the last decade and it is ageing, because most of the people who have left have been young people under 25.

“It might be easy to exaggerate the importance of the Ironworks but its closure is undoubtedly a bad example of the local problems for young people.”

He did not believe there is a need for a new hotel in Inverness “at the present time”, believing it will not attract new businesses “but simply increase the competition”.

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