‘Losing it would be sacrilege’: last-minute push to save ‘Ron’s Place’ | Art

Campaigners say the clock is ticking to prevent an extraordinary palace of outsider art created in a ground floor flat in Birkenhead from being lost forever.

“Ron’s Place” is a one-of-a-kind property that stops you in your tracks because its former tenant, the late Ron Gittins, spent three decades obsessively decorating it in a manner no one else would.

In the front room there is a fearsome 3-metre lion’s head fireplace painstakingly moulded by Gittins using wet concrete. On almost every surface there are classically inspired paintings of mythical beasts, romantic heroines and celestial beings. In the kitchen there is a Roman altar.

Campaigners have been working to save Ron’s Place with the aim of creating a community resource that will inspire and stimulate creativity in others.

The initial plan had been to lease the building for a year in order to run pilot projects but that has been thrown up in the air because the flat is listed to be auctioned on Wednesday.

Ron's Place interior
Gittins transformed the rented property into an ornate classical villa, featuring sculptures, murals and artefacts depicting ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

“It is an absolute nightmare but we have been trying to stop it,” said Jan Williams, Ron’s niece and an artist herself. “We’ve been trying for listed building status and we think we might get it but we just need more time.”

A GoFundMe campaign has also been started but it is a big ask, given the property has a guide price of £325,000-£350,000.

“This whole auction business has happened really suddenly and unexpectedly so it has thrown us,” said Williams. “Losing it would be sacrilege.”

A perfect outcome would be a rich benefactor or an institution coming along and buying the property. “If we could get someone like Ronnie Wood or Damien Hirst or Paul McCartney to buy it, that would be fantastic. We are just the custodians.”

Campaigners had been planning to apply for public arts funding from various bodies but could not start that process without having security of tenure on the property.

Gittins, a complicated and eccentric character, died in 2019. As well as works painted and sculpted on to walls and ceilings he left handmade papier-mache figures and costumes.

Supporters of Ron’s Place include Jarvis Cocker who once made a documentary series on outsider art and who appeared at a fundraising event last September.

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Cocker said: “With environments like these, you get a complete work of art that somebody is living in and that they’ve established the rules. It’s like a personal universe.

“Everybody decorates their house in some way, Ron has just gone that extra mile. That lion’s head fireplace is unbelievable really.

“I have always been interested in the art of people who haven’t gone through the normal channels, they haven’t gone to art college and stuff like that. They have an idea, and they follow it through. We all have creativity within us.”

The campaigners’ SOS has been supported on social media by the artist Grayson Perry who said Ron’s Place appeared to be a “rare cultural gem”.

Smith and Son property consultants lists the building as being a substantial double-fronted property that is currently four flats, three in need of refurbishment. One option for buyers is “to return the property to a lovely family home”.

It also acknowledges the ground floor flat “was known as Ron’s Place, which has generated local and national interest due to the extensive artwork, sculptures and mouldings created therein, many of which remain”.

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