Black Cat Radio hunts for new home after getting boot from St Neots premises

BLACK Cat Radio has made a desperate appeal to the people of St Neots to help find the station a new home after being told to leave its town centre premises.

BLACK Cat Radio has made a desperate appeal to the people of St Neots to help find the station a new home after being told to leave its town centre premises.

The radio station, which moved into rent-free offices on Huntingdon Street last May, has been given its marching orders by landlord Councillor Bob Farrer and has five weeks to pack up and move out.

Black Cat owner Tony Gillham and Cllr Farrer disagree about how long the office, adjacent to Smith Farrer Holdings, was going to made available.

Mr Gillham says it was “for free and for as long as it takes” while Cllr Farrer said it was for six months.

The oral agreement, brokered with the help of St Neots Mayor Barry Chapman, allowed Mr Gillham and partner Mark Hansard to construct a state-of-the-art studio.

But the radio station’s long term plans at the site were cut short when they received a letter at the end of April from Julie Button, director of Smith Farrer Holdings. It said that Cllr Farrer had only offered free use of the premises for six months and asked the community radio station to pay �4,600 a year rent on top of utility bills.

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Mr Gillham, who has ploughed thousands of pounds of his own money into the station, which is run by volunteers, told The Hunts Post: “This is heartbreaking.

“We agreed to provide a radio station for St Neots on condition that we’d provide the equipment and we were given free premises and some start-up money. When we received the letter we were devastated.

“We explained to Cllr Farrer we could not afford any rent and that we were led to believe the premises were on a free loan. Cllr Farrer then asked us to write a cheque for about �1,100 to cover three months rent.

“We were reluctant because we weren’t expecting to pay anything, but he said he wouldn’t cash it – it was just to keep his partners happy.”

Mr Gillham said the station had contributed towards utilities, but added: “We’re an organisation run completely by volunteers for the sole good of the community. Any money raised goes to pay for the broadcast licences we need.”

Black Cat Radio was founded in 2007 by Mr Gillham, who is a presenter on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, and broadcast initially on the internet from the garage at his Buckden home.

In May 2011, the station moved to Huntingdon Street and now broadcasts on DAB radio. The next step is to re-apply for a community FM licence after being rejected two years ago.

Cllr Farrer said this week that Black Cat Radio was leaving him and his business out of pocket.

“I said they could come here for six months to see how they got on,” he said. “It’s going to cost a fortune to put the building back to its original state. I tried to help them all I could, but I can’t be out of pocket because of it.”

Cllr Chapman added: ‘Black Cat Radio, over the past year has supported local business, our Portas Bid, Christmas lights switch-on, Jubilee celebrations and lots more in the life of our town.

“The Black Cat crew provide St Neots with an excellent community radio station and much more.

“It is extremely disappointing that a volunteer service which promotes St Neots should be put under threat.

“The town council has previously recognised the contribution Black Cat has made to our community and I’m confident the council will do all possible to support this important service.”

The council has given Black Cat a room to use at the Priory Centre in St Neots, but the radio station needs a permanent home for its studio.

INFORMATION: If you can help find a home for Black Cat, contact the station on 01480 215711.