The plan to recreate new home for music and arts in Skelmersdale

A Skelmersdale music venue operator hopes a new home for arts and entertainment can be created in the town centre.

He is also interested in the possibility of redeveloping 1960s or ’70s town centre buildings and precincts in Skelmersdale, into new spaces for music, arts and events.

Steven Horrocks. who runs the E Rooms, has also spoken about the challenges faced by grass-roots music venues today; recent challenges faced by other venues in Manchester and Wigan, and about Skelmersdale’s own music and culture mix, which include Lancashire and Liverpool influences – from urban, rural and new town environments.

The E Rooms, located off Westgate, has concert, rehearsal and recording studios. It hosts small gigs, comedy, arts, karaoke and education activities. He said people attend events there from across the area including Skelmersdale, West Lancashire, Wigan and Kirkby near Liverpool.


The E Rooms supports grass-roots music but has links to better-known pop and rock musicians including Simon Tong from The Verve, Gorillaz and The Magnetic North. The Magnetic North, which includes singer Hannah Peel and Gawain Erland Cooper, have an album called Prospect of Skelmersdale, an exploration of the town, which includes Lancashire and Liverpool influences. Lily Moore, daughter of rock star guitarist Gary Moore, has also played at the E Rooms.

Steve said: “The Verve are associated with Wigan because they played they earlier gigs there. But they came from the Skelmersdale and Up Holland area. They emerged before the E-Rooms existed in Skelmersdale. But Simon is a big supporter of us. He has never forgotten where he comes from. ”

In community history projects, visual art, photography, design and publishing, Skelmersdale has been the focus of various projects in recent years. Examples include a community history and photography book called Skelmersdale: A New Town by Glassball studios, Glassball’s Illume public art project, a photo exhibition at Liverpool’s Open Eye gallery and work with Lancashire county archives in Preston. Current projects include preserving 3D new town planning models of Skelmersdale.

Skelmersdale was a small mining town but designated a new town in 1961, part of a second phase of new towns across post-war Britain. It was originally intended to have a population of 80,000 but this was later reduced. Residents moved there from locations including Liverpool and Merseyside, which were fast-growing. Skelmersdale includes a mix of community histories and influences, urban and green spaces, new town design and a road network with many roundabouts and few traffic lights.

In recent years, West Lancashire Council and others has been involved in Skelmersdale town centre changes, such as a new retail park and public spaces work around the Concourse shopping centre and West Lancashire College. The council also wants to build a brand new leisure centre which could include demolishing the old Nye Bevin Pool. There is also a campaign to get a railway station.

Speaking at the E Rooms, Steve Horrocks said a railway was included in the original Skelmersdale new town plans, But that and some other proposals did not materialise, such as a Skelmersdale arts centre. However, Skelmersdale Library and the Nye Bevin Swimming Pool were built and remain today. Steve now hopes the swimming pool might be redeveloped for future arts and entertainment uses, if a new leisure centre is built elsewhere.


Steve said music venues are currently facing hard times with many smaller venues closing across the country,. But the E-Rooms is pressing-on with activities for different audiences and users, from young bands and DJs to community events and classes for adults with additional needs. Steve also plays in bands called Scurvy Dogg and Red Eye Jedi.

He said: “I took this over in 2016. It was previously called the Engine Room but went bust in January 2016. Engine Room is a nickname for drums, typically the pulsing centre of a band. Me and some other staff who used to work here took it over. It was losing over £60,000 a year when we took it over but we’re on a more even keel now.

“We are primarily self-funding with events, studios, rehearsal spaces, room hire and the bar. But most of our income is through crowd-funding rather than official bodies.

“We don’t receive any funding from the borough or county council. All the venues I know don’t get anything. However, we do get rates relief, because this is a community interest company. We’re entitled to 80 per cent rates relief as standard. The other 20 per cent relief is discretionary. To be fair, West Lancashire Council does not take that from us.”

Free demo recordings re available for bands and an application to the Arts Council is under-way for the Future Sounds project, This aims to promote music industry, social media and stage presence skills.


Steve said: “There’s a historic split between Skelmersdale and Ormskirk, and a perception that Ormskirk gets everything. I think that’s true in some ways but not others. Ormskirk has lots of town centre events. Some are funded by the council and some by local bars, which we don’t have many of in Skelmersdale.

“I started attending meetings about Ormskirk events to try to drag some of their activity into Skelmersdale, such as Christmas events. We also did Skem Fest, which was a totally independent music festival. We’re trying to equal things up.

“Part of the challenge is getting people involved. For example, the Gingerbread Festival in Ormskirk is put on by a private entity, working with the council. Ormskirk also has the car festival.”

Skelmersdale town centre is changing. There are new retail units and public spaces between the Concourse shopping centre and West Lancashire College. A cinema is operating inside the Concourse. There are also plans for the new leisure centres. That includes proposals to demolish the old Nye Bevin Swimming Pool near Skelmersdale Library.

Steve said: ” We need a town centre building or space for events, night markets and other things. We need to breathe life into the town centre, which can be a bit stagnant but has had millions of pounds spent on it. For clarity, I’m not suggesting we work against the council. That approach gets nobody anywhere. This is about working together on the future of Skelmersdale. I’ve had a few conversations with councillors about ideas.”


Music activity is key at the E-Rooms. But is also used for other activities by community groups, adults with additional needs and teenagers. Examples include discos with the Active for All network, yoga and music tuition.

Steve said: “We do tuition for kids who aren’t doing so well at school. We have an understanding with them. Care organisations use us for alternative education. People can learn about electronics, making beats, rapping, recording equipment, synthesizers and studio equipment. Music is a very wide thing. We have got to cover it all.

“The Engine Room saved me when I was younger and hanging around the streets. It has saved many people. Later in life, I suffered a brain haemorrhage and couldn’t work. The Engine Room offered me a job.

“Everything we do here has got to make a profit. But activity has to fit with our ethos of helping the community. This is a safe and inclusive space. Other places in Skelmersdale can feel like its all lads in tracksuits and Ninja hoods. People don’t feel safe with that.”


Steve said: “We do a lot of work with the Music Venues Trust around keeping grass-roots venues open. We recently had a meeting with the government’s Department for Media, Culture and Sport about trying to get a ticket levy put on big venues, which would be passed to smaller venues.

“Also we want VAT reductions on tickets. At the moment, we have to pay 20 per cent of a ticket sale. So a for a £10 concert ticket , we get £8. We want new laws. It’s difficult work to lobby the government but someone has got to do it.

“Music venues are facing massive pressures . One third of all grass-roots venues have closed on the last year. It’s shocking. I know of three venues that have gone. The Snug in Atherton [Greater Manchester] nearly went but it was saved. And look at the pressure on better-known venues like Night & Day in Manchester city centre. It has faced challenges around city centre planning applications for nearby apartments and worries about sound disturbance from live gigs.”