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In the wake of the fire

Creative Kernow CEO Fiona Wotton’s update on the tragic fire at Krowji last month.


May 16th should have been a day of optimism – the eve of re-opening and summer was coming. Early that Sunday morning I was jolted awake by a mobile call, tears and rain blurring a panicked drive to Krowji and finding the car park full of fire appliances, dozens of firefighters and smoke in the air. Colleagues joined me, briefings were given, and we toured the site with the fire service. The first thing they showed us was the Creative Kernow offices – untouched by the fire but water had poured through the ceiling, piling debris onto our desks, computers, files and equipment.

And then we looked at the North Light Building. Still smouldering under a constant arc of water, it was hard to recognise any of the colourful, creative spaces that had previously been there and which were now consumed by the flames. It is a painful memory to revisit and I can only imagine the sadness which the artists who have lost their studios feel looking at the shell which now remains.

So instead of being a day of hope, May 16th was a day of loss. More painful loss piled on a viral mountain of frustration and missed opportunities for everyone in the creative and cultural sector. I’ve written in previous blogs about being optimistic in the face of the challenges which Covid brought along, but the additional anxiety, extra work and logistical challenges in the wake of the fire have been sorely testing.

Through this awful experience, we have felt very loved. I want to say a humble and very personal thank you to everyone who has reached out to us. We were overwhelmed by the offers of support, donations of cash and equipment and messages of hope and of sympathy. It has taken some time to respond to everyone personally and to keep up with communicating with our wider stakeholders and audiences. We thank you for your patience and hold this love and compassion close to us as we navigate the challenges ahead. I also want to thank all the staff who have adapted to yet another obstacle with grace, patience and good humour and particularly the Krowji team who are managing this crisis alongside day-to-day site business and who have put their own distress to one side to offer support to members of the Krowji community on countless occasions.

Thanks to public support from the two Just Giving campaigns and some big donations from Cornwall Community Foundation and Real Ideas, we have been able to distribute £50,000 in donations directly to the artists. This has helped with emergency costs and provided a contribution towards replacing lost equipment and materials. We are also connecting the artists to advice and financial support from our Cultivator Creative Business Development programme.

If you haven’t already, please consider supporting and sharing our Krowji Recovery Campaign. We are continuing to raise funds for the artists who lost their studios to support them in recovering their practice and business at this difficult time. The campaign will also support the wider Krowji community and site as we look to recreate the spaces we have lost. Neither Krowji nor Creative Kernow (which owns the site) have any excess funds. Krowji had a difficult year delivering a capital project (Krowji Phase 2) with major staffing changes during a global pandemic which has left us in deficit and Creative Kernow’s income streams were also affected by the Covid restrictions. We do have comprehensive insurance but that doesn’t cover the artists’ contents and we have a lot of extra work to do to ensure the highest safety standards going forward.

I will hope to have more news about how we are progressing as well as reflections on our wider Creative Kernow programmes in the next blog post.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Prisk 2015)