Salford’s Self-Sustaining Hot Bed of Fine Art, Printing & Workshops

Drive (or walk) up The Crescent, turn left opposite the old Salford Royal Hospital building and you will enter a world of high-rise construction.

By Manchester's Finest | 4 June 2019

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Lorries, barriers, dust, no entry signs and high rise apartments…well, rising. That’s pretty much the same scenario around every corner in the twin cities these days.

But venture just a few hundred yards and in a sea of new build you will find an island of the non-digital – a Victorian warehouse that’s staying put, thanks to the efforts, enthusiasm and quite frankly entrepreneurism of the team that run Hot Bed Press.

I visited Sean Rorke, the Artistic Director, at 11am. The Press was quiet, with maintenance work being carried out and just one or two visitors working on print making.

Sean had asked me to call at that quieter time because it’s an afternoon, evening and weekend place, often with thirty or forty printmakers working alongside each other. Sean pushed the mop and bucket aside in his office – original wooden floor still slightly damp from his mopping efforts – and made me a brew. He re-capped the history…

Hot Bed Press was set up by a group of graduates looking for a workshop to make prints. Then – 1994 – it was called Manchester Artists’ Papermaking and Printmaking Studio. Which doesn’t quite slip off the tongue.

In 1999 the initiative became Hot Bed Press and registered as a not-for-profit company. Several subsequent moves and Hot Bed found its new and permanent home on the first floor of The Casket Works in 2004.

Things really started to move when Sean joined in 2006, on the back of an Arts Council of England grant to employ a Development Manager and an Administrator.

The press works by (modest) membership fees, running courses, renting space and events and the numbers since 2006 speak for themselves: an increase from thirty-five members to almost three hundred and from twelve print-making courses a year to almost fifty.

A one-off grant from Salford Regeneration Company in 2010 enabled occupation of a further floor and – relentlessly – Hot Bed Press bought the whole building in 2017.

Sean explains. “A grant from the Arts Council provided £168,000 and, because of our commercial activities we were able to fund the rest ourselves. In addition to complete refurbishment, we replaced the roof and all the first floor windows.

That all sounds straightforward, but Sean tells of a three-year process in which he had to convince Salford City Council firstly not to move them from the (valuable) site and secondly to sell the building to Hot Bed Press.

He thinks that the turning point came when he was the final speaker at a regeneration meeting, which included the Mayor of Salford. Sean explained that they weren’t asking for funding from the council, they were asking the Council to sell them the building. That people came to Salford from around the UK because of the workshops and courses. And that a municipal strap-line was ‘Salford – City of Makers.

He asked that they be treated as a respected business and not just artisans. The rest is history, but only history to date, with plans to restructure the whole building, including new stairwells and frontage. Ambitious, but ambition has worked so far with plans to spend up to £2m creating a building and workshops for the best creative environment in print-making.

And the Hot Bed Press initiative 20:20, which was started in conjunction with Red Hot Press in Southampton, has become one of the largest print exchanges in Europe. “If not the world!” Sean added. Those horizons again!

20:20 is an annual event in which over five hundred print makers from more than forty workshops across Europe (and increasingly the world, with a Moscow workshop joining this year) each produce an edition of twenty-five prints of one image.

These are then sent to Salford where 14,000 fine art, completely diverse prints are randomly packed into small boxes and twenty prints sent back to each participant. A magical box of other people’s prints. One of the twenty-five from each print maker is retained for a touring exhibition.

The cost to join in, create, receive a magical box back? Just £10. From around the world to Salford – and back around the world.

Sean, the team and the directors are – totally justifiably – proudest of the fact that Hot Bed Press is self-sustaining and self-funding. Proof that believing in the arts – whether in Salford or Manchester – can create a vital creative cog that is essential to make the engine work.

Sean nodded towards the window of the workshop and the road obscured, for now, by construction. “When all this is finished, right down that road we will be connected to The Factory and Manchester.” And of course The Factory and Manchester will be directly connected to Hot Bed Press. “And the world…” As Sean reminded me again.