How a cash-free win-win partnership spawned a new home for creativity in Coventry

About LTB Showrooms

From the bar at the Litten Tree Pub, you’ll notice a sweeping staircase that leads up to what has become one of Coventry’s most exciting and inspiring arts spaces. Upstairs a full circle mezzanine exhibition introduces you to an unassuming door, which opens onto a hidden complex of characterful high ceilinged gallery spaces and studios, all managed by a team of volunteers and lovingly designed and curated by Coventry businessman and renovation expert, Alan Denyer. 

Since the doors opened in late August 2021, LTB Showrooms has hosted an ever-changing programme of events and exhibitions by local artists and community members, including photography, visual arts, film, sculpture, music, theatre and fashion, all viewed via a ‘self guided tour’ route. It’s free to hang out and work there between 12-4pm each day, and you’ll find free HD WiFi as well as tables, comfy sofas, and a small outdoor garden terrace so that food and drink can be brought up from the pub downstairs. 



How it started

When Coventry became UK City of Culture in 2020 at the height of the pandemic, Alan was on the lookout for a new passion project. Three years earlier, he had transformed a huge disused building (now the Telegraph Hotel) into a pop up art space and museum, and discovered an unexpected passion for the people and activity it attracted. Instead of moving on to another restoration project, he stuck around to run it, welcoming almost 25,000 visitors in the one year that it existed before the building was redeveloped.

On his search for a new space to transform, Alan was introduced to the leaseholders of a prominent city centre building, a former car showroom, now home to The Litten Tree Pub. Above the pub was 400m2 of warehouse-like space which was almost derelict having been disused for 30 years. 

Alan and the leaseholders came to an agreement – if he made the space safe and inhabitable, he could occupy it, free of charge, to open up a new arts venue for Coventry above the pub.   

The Win-Win Partnership 

“I always try to set up win-win partnerships, it keeps things simple. There has to be something in it for everyone.” 

For Alan, the success of LTB Showrooms comes down to the win-win partnership agreement with the pub, where each has something to offer and gain without money changing hands. 

For LTB Showrooms, this non-commercial arrangement keeps things simple – with no funders to satisfy, there can be maximum flexibility when programming artists, exhibitions and events. Coventry’s community of artists therefore see LTB Showrooms as a place to experiment, that supports the development of emerging talent and further increases the appeal of the venue to both artists and audiences. This ever-changing experimental atmosphere creates a buzz that draws in other space users, such as The Coventry Society and Coventry University, who were granted space on a ‘pay what you feel’ basis, helping to cover the cost of overheads. 

Our presence here has won people over.

The Litten Tree Pub benefits from all of this extra activity in the building, shaking off a bad reputation and broadening its clientele to include younger more diverse demographics, who make use of the relaxed lounge atmosphere, abundant space and decent pub menu. Alan estimates the LTB Showrooms has encouraged an additional 7,000 people through the doors of the pub in the nine months it has been open, and provided opportunities for people from different walks of life to connect with each other. 

“If you set up a space in the right way, it kind of gives people a mandate to have those interesting conversations with people they wouldn't normally have anything to do with.”  

Alan is particularly keen to welcome local people who don’t think arts and culture is ‘for them’. Being situated above the pub provides a continuous link to the broader Coventry community, which influences how he programmes the space, ensuring it remains welcoming, relevant and authentic. 

“…they're walking around in a sense of wonderment that somewhere like this could exist in their city.”



What does it take for a win-win partnership to succeed?

Advocacy, Honesty and Simplicity

Mutual trust and understanding is essential to a partnership in which no formal agreement exists. Trust was established on the part of the leaseholder with support from Coventry Business Improvement District, which advocated for Alan’s previous work and approaches. For Alan, trust was established through candid discussions with the leaseholder, by being open and honest about plans, hopes and intentions for the building. Ultimately, the non-commercial nature of the partnership agreement keeps their relationship simple and easy to maintain. 

“We do everything here on an understanding that evolves as we go. I try very hard not to commercialise what we do here, because that's central to the partnership approach.”

Challenges

A major challenge the LTB Showrooms faced was when Coventry City Council reappraised the rateable value of the building, based on Alan’s renovations, and decided to double the leaseholders’ rent. This threatened to close the entire building – pub and all. Alan gathered a team of advocates, including his local Councillor and MP, to challenge the Council’s decision. The City Council conceded that a rent increase was not appropriate, considering the non-commercial nature of the enterprise, and withdrew their decision. Although it was a distressing time, Alan understands why this happened . . .

“Larger organisations just do not get that you can create something of value without spending lots of money. There aren't that many examples on this scale of creative enterprises that don't cost anything, but have value.”



Top Tips

Fun is absolutely the cornerstone of all this. If it stops being fun for us, then we don't do it.

Alan’s top tips for those wanting to create a space like the LTB Showrooms is to gather people who can advocate for you, share your vision and offer encouragement when the going gets tough. And to always be guided by fun and enjoyment. Throughout the pandemic when Alan was working alone on renovating the space, the support he found through social media played a big part in keeping him going. Now that LTB Showrooms is up and running, Alan and his core team of volunteers and supporters make fun the heart of everything they do, to ensure LTB Showrooms is a place where they and the people of Coventry want to be. 

And what would Alan say to publicans and leaseholders?

“Get the partnership right and you’ve got a win-win situation – free marketing, brand exposure, positive association with new communities of interest, which will translate into extra footfall, beer and food sales. There’s no real downside.”

You can find out more about LTB Showrooms and get in touch at
Facebook and Twitter: @LtbShowrooms
Instagram: @ltb_showrooms