To even begin to list the phenomenal array of off-the-wall events, exhibitions and happenings that have occurred at Islington Mill over the past twenty years or so would take a book in itself...
...Think the Ting Tings, Creative Industry in Salford, Off With Their Heads, Moon Landing Party, Lydia Lunch, Ordering Chaos, the Unconvention for starters...and add in community plays, screenings, talks...This week alone, the Mill is hosting events for the 150th anniversary of the Salford Trades Council (see here).
The two hundred year old Mill, pretty much hidden down a side street off Oldfield Road at the back of the Islington estate, is everything to everyone – a venue, fifty artists' studios, a meeting place, gallery space, even a Bed and Breakfast.
It's reckoned that around 1,700 artists have launched careers here, while 15,000 people visit every year. Islington Mill is Salford's permanent Mad Hatter's Tea Party with some serious creative business undertones and artistic overtures. Yet the roof is crumbling. So is the Mill actually in danger?
"It is" says director Mark Carlin "It's existed for a long time on the breath of its own energy and not much else, with a roof that has slowly given way. It's not a case of someone knocking on the door to take the building away but mother nature is slowly eroding it, and this is the moment where something needs to happen."
Now it's not just the roof that's the subject of refurbishment, it's the whole building, with a £2.5million plan in place to completely overhaul the Mill, to make it more user friendly, add a lift and open up new spaces for artists on the currently unusable fourth and fifth floors.
"I think this is a good opportunity to not only fix it but make it better, get more things happening here; to make it not look like a two hundred year old mill with a big prison-like door that's hard to penetrate" Mark explains "We're aware of all those things but it takes money and resources."
The Arts Council has ringfenced £960,000 which needs to be match funded. Salford City Council has pledged £350,000, Mill founder, Bill Campbell, has added another £350,000, and there's the Temporary Custodians of Islington Mill 2018-2028 project which it is hoped will raise a further £100,000.
This a massive creation by renowned artist, Maurice Carlin, who has done relief prints of a section of the fourth floor which is currently derelict. These are basically screenings of the actual stone-flagged floor, with ten layers of paint, based on an ancient Chinese imprint technique. The artwork has been divided up into one hundred individual works which are on sale for £1,000 each.
Already 56 original pieces have been sold to people in three continents; some have been bought by individuals, others by people clubbing together. It's an artistic take on the buy-a-brick method of saving buildings but for the Mill it's much more than that...
"It's also looking at how art is owned" Mark explains "Big pieces of art like this tend to be created then either put in a museum or in storage somewhere. The idea here is that each person is invited to become a part of owning it, so this work exists entirely but someone might have number 9 or 22 and together they own a large artwork.
"What we're really interested in is bringing a community of people together, so now they have a say in not only what happens to this art but also to what happens to the space, and we're inviting people to do that" he says "In ten years they can come together and say `Do we want to keep it in bits or exhibit it somewhere?'.
"The history of this building is different ideas, some have gone nowhere and some have ended up going stratospheric, so we want to keep finding new ways of doing something and this seems to be going really well" he adds "It's such a crucial part of fixing the building."
With £56,000 already in the bag from project and another 44 pieces to sell, this will eventually add another £100,000 to the kitty it is hoped, hitting almost £1.8million in total. But the Mill would still need to raise at least a further £200,000, so the refurbishment can get underway in March next year. Mr Scruff recently did a benefit gig which raised £3,500, while other artists and supporters have gone off and done their own events.
"It's a call to the creative community worldwide, because so many people have come through the building" Mark insists "This is not just a building, it's a way of doing things; it's free and open for people to be creative to try things, fail and try again. A place where that can happen is important to the local area and the people."
If the Mill fails to reach its target, the allocated funds will not materialise, there will be no renovation, no residencies, no roof... It's important for the community because, as developers circle around the Mill, at Middlewood Locks, Chapel Street and Ordsall, soon this could be the last independent bit of Salford left with an open door. Hopefully a new one...
For details of the Save Islington Mill campaign and to donate – click here
For details of the Temporary Custodians of Islington Mill – click here
To be involved in the campaign or to visit the Mill contact Lucy Lloyd-Ruck firstname.lastname@example.org
* Main photo Mark Carlin and Lucy Lloyd-Ruck