Over the last ten years, Casemates Studios has seen sustained success and has grown and flourished within its community, driven by a small, friendly, family team of 6.
The music rehearsal studios is an inclusive home for local creativity to develop, used by many members of the community from young pupils and youth groups to hosting weekly jamming sessions for retired hobbyists. Since 2013, Casemates Studios has grown from providing 4 to 8 studio spaces, plus the installation of a Cafe in 2020, a licensed bar in 2021 and most recently expanded with inside and outside seating areas and an intimate gig space in 2023. 2024 has seen the introduction of our new recording facility.
Casemates has been an established music rehearsal studio since 1994 and is suitable for bands at any stage of their development. The studios are situated in the Hilsea Lines in Bastion 4, an 18th Century fortification, full of history and impressive architecture.
However, being a scheduled monument has presented many challenges over the years, mainly with damp and maintaining a clean, safe and inspiring space. Transforming the rooms from empty, derelict shells to fit-for-purpose studios, has taken a lot of work from Paul and the team. Financially, the installation of the studios was substantial and lots of time and manual work was delivered by the team themselves to save on costs. They were careful to stick to the strict guidelines in preserving the monument, but also breathed new life into the building by implementing the iconic Casemates brand and special design of sound boards and dark red walls. As a result of this, Portsmouth Creates invited Paul, lead director, to be a guest speaker for their networking event titled ‘Curating Spaces’ in which he spoke confidently about this innovative expansion and its success.
If you walked into Casemates Studios and Cafe today, you would be greeted with a friendly smile, warmth, the smell of coffee, families chatting, laughter, dogs, the distant noise of bands playing and a buzz of activity. However, four years ago, it was a very different picture when things took a dark and unexpected turn during Covid times.
Back in 2020, when Coronavirus hit, the fears of paying the rent and how to keep the small business afloat kept many of the team awake at night. By thinking on their toes and quickly transforming one of the studios into a takeaway coffee hut, the business hung on and from this moment, gradually became a special landmark in the local community. The cafe, originally only selling takeaway teas and coffees on people’s ‘half-an-hour mental health exercise walk’ has evolved over the years with the costumers needs, expanding in both inside and outside seating capacity and now selling a selection of hot and cold snacks, locally crafted beers, homemade cakes and most recently, branded T-shirts. By going from strength to strength, Casemates Cafe has been described as ‘the heart of Hilsea’ by local councillors and provides a regular meeting point for many walking groups including those who enjoy a stroll through the woods with their dogs but also those who are lonely and seek the company of others.
For the last few months, Casemates has been the home of an original music ‘Open Mic Night’ which has quickly grown in popularity. This space and time has been hugely popular for local musicians to launch original live music, jam, network and find the passion of creating new music. It has brought immense pleasure to see the Casemates community growing each day in using the cafe and the studios filled with customers new and old, socialising together again. New friendships and bands have formed as a result of the Open Mic Nights and future plans to host ‘Record, Games, Blues and Jazz nights’ in the cafe and bar area are on the horizon.
Making sure the studios and cafe are inclusive are a key priority for Casemates Studios. Each year the team host ‘Enable Abiliity’ musical workshops for Special Educational Needs young adults by arranging tutors to host specific skills sessions focusing on having a taste of vocals, drums, guitar and recording.
Inclusivity is also promoted working closely with different charities and Portsmouth City Council and this year, the Casemates team have worked hard to address challenges raised by their customers through many community-led projects. One project led by a local charity, Seekers Create, called ‘Trails and Connections’ worked with Casemates to capture community voice through interviews and postcards. Concerns were voiced mainly around accessibility and vandalism and as a result of this, the Casemates team have had successful discussions about these challenges with the council, Historic England and local charity Sustrans, demonstrating a commitment to making a difference and to building a stronger safer space for customers.
The Casemates team have also promoted community spirit and supported others through their challenges in providing PA systems and backline free of charge to local charity events such as the ‘Interstellar Food Drive’ and ‘Ukraine Fest’. They have raised money for mental health charity ‘Tonic’ and made generous donations to raffles for Youth Music, Rowans Hospice and Music Fusion. Within Casemates itself, vouchers for ‘Random Act of Kindness Day’, a ‘Christmas Countdown Calendar’ filled with discounts and freebies and a special guitar giveaway have continued to expose the cafe to a larger and wider audience but also break down the challenges for some members of our community in being able to afford the services and enjoy its use. Events planned for 2024 to continue this growth include hosting a Casemates Foxes Forest Litter Pick and continuing to host events for the community including ‘Live at the Bandstand’ on King George V playing fields and showcasing local talent on the Casemates Stage at Victorious Festival.
2024 is already looking exciting and promising for this business with the latest addition of Casemates first recording studio opening in the early spring. By continuing to listen to the community voices, Casemates Studios and Cafe will evolve with its needs, growing stronger with its strategy to be inclusive, accessible and diverse. New events will soon be launched targeting not just musicians but also bringing people together locally too, consistently demonstrating a positive and impactful contribution to the Portsmouth community.