Peel Centenary Centre is celebrating its 20th anniversary through theatre, film and two nights of world music.
The centre opened in October 2003 and from the outset was proud to be a community arts venue as well as showcasing types of music that were underrepresented in the island.
Dave McLean is one of six members of the original management committee and this year was recognised for his role by being made an MBE in the King’s Birthday Honours List.
Asked how he felt to be celebrating 20 years, he told Island Life: ‘It feels amazing. When we started I don’t think we had any long-term plans. I don’t imagine we thought too much about what it would be like in 20 years.
‘Looking back at the hundreds and hundreds of shows that we’ve done, you think to yourself: “Wow, it’s amazing we’ve managed to bring so much to the island, and just as importantly, that people on the island have been prepared to support us.
‘It’s a two-way process. If it wasn’t for our customers and friends coming along and supporting us we’d have closed down years ago.’
The Centenary Centre came to life when the Methodist Church decided to sell the building but wanted to ensure that it stayed in the community. For the past decade it had been used for some community events, including badminton and Peel Pantoloons’ pantomime.
They offered it to the original management committee, which as well as Dave, comprised of Ernie Leece, Keith Hughson, Sam Knight, Geoff Dixon and Norman Teare.
‘The great thing was the Methodists offered the whole building, lock, stock and barrel for £120,000,’ Dave said.
‘You can’t believe how generous an offer that was, and it’s something we are always eternally grateful for.’
The team spent nine months doing the building up, including increasing the size of the stage and fitting lighting gantries.
‘I’m always proud to tell people that we had 5,000 hours of free skilled labour - professional plasterers, electricians and joiners - as well as countless hours of unskilled labour.
‘That enabled us to put the place together and we opened on October 18, 2003.’
That first concert featured a range of island acts, including the band Moot, Steve Parry and Paul Kinrade and three-piece harmony group Jude.
Raked seating was installed in 2007 thanks to funding from the Isle of Man Arts Council.
Dave said: ‘Apart from my family, my life is devoted to music. My wife and I go to a huge amount of gigs.
‘I knew, from my point of view, what I’d like to do. And that’s basically bring lots of artists over, particularly from types of music that wasn’t really represented on the island.’
They included folk music and world music.
‘To save me having to go across I could bring these bands over and hopefully enough people would come and see them that we could afford it,’ he said.
Ernie and latterly Mick O’Kneale, who is now lighting engineer and stage manager, developed the theatre side of things.
And the centre also hosts a wide range of community events and groups, covering art, yoga, music, film and local heritage in the main hall and more intimate Atholl Room.
‘Every day the place is really busy,’ he said. ‘We always knew that the most important thing was it was going to be based in the community.
‘Fortunately, it’s been great for the whole of the island - a lot of the shows, people come from all over.’
Dave’s highlights include bringing over blues singer Eric Bibb in 2004. He’s now a worldwide star.
‘I say he wasn’t well known but he must have been reasonably well known because we sold out the show in 48 hours,’ Dave said.
A second highlight was bringing over a band from Mali led by Bassekou Kouyate.
‘That was a brilliant night,’ he said. ‘None of them could speak a word of English, they all spoke French. They all thought that they were in Germany!’
And a recent highlight for Dave was running the Our Island, Our World Festival, before Covid.
‘I was looking back at some photos yesterday and I was thinking to myself: “Good lord, how did we do all that?”’
Dave said Covid was one of the biggest challenges they have faced: ‘We’re still getting over it,’ he said.
‘Probably all the venues on the island are feeling the same that it seems to be harder and harder now to get people to come out.’
He qualifies that by saying shows at the Centenary Centre over the last two weekends were both sold out.
Asked about future plans, he said 2024 was already looking busy. ‘It’s amazing how quickly the diary is getting filled up and I’m not sure how much space there is going to be for me to do much because other people are taking all the slots,’ he said.
The centre runs thanks to the hard work of many volunteers, from the meet and greet team, cleaning team, tea and coffee servers, bar staff, Friends of the Centenary Centre who are the fundraising arm, technical side, maintenance from Mike Durber, Dave’s son James who is a graphic designer, and the management team.
The current chairperson is Rosemary Gibson. ‘She’s amazing,’ Dave said. ‘She’s working so hard.’
Dave said: ‘It is a lot of work but it’s a privilege, it’s not anything to complain about.
‘To be given the opportunity to do your hobby is a major privilege and I’m very grateful I’ve had this opportunity for the last 20 years and people have just let me get on with it.’
The celebrations kick off with two nights of Willy Russell’s comedy play Educating Rita on Friday and Saturday next week (October 13 and 14).
And it will be followed by two nights of live music the following weekend. On Friday, October 20, Dave has organised a night which features Democratic Republic of the Congo dance music soukous from Kanda Bongo Man, Malawian one-man band Gasper Nali and old school, low-key reggae from Michael Mountain, who grew up in Zambia and is a now a farmer and village chief in Malawi.
And on Saturday, October 21, Trevor Bougourd is bringing over Mez and the Fezzes for a return show. The band has members of the Van Morrison Band, Jools Holland Rhythm & Blues Orchestra and Madness.
Films in Peel, which screens fortnightly films, is showing 2018 drama animation Isle of Dogs on Sunday, October 22 at 3pm.