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Monday, 06 July 2015

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Hundreds rally against Civic's closure

HUNDREDS of defiant protestors rallied outside Whitehaven Civic Hall last night against the closure of the popular venue.

Emotions ran high as the community turned out in force to show their support for the venue which has now shut - but hopes remain high that the closure won’t be permanent.

Charles Maudling, chair of Whitehaven Chamber of Trade, invited protestors to contact Copeland Council to express their concerns. He also encouraged people to sign up to become a volunteer to help run the venue if a community partnership goes ahead.

Coun John Kane, Copeland councillor for Harbour ward, was asked to share his views. He told crowds the Civic is a community facility and future generations will lose out as a result of its closure.

Diane Burns, former supervisor and duty manager at the Civic, said: “I feel that it's leaving a big hole in our community. The heart of the community has been taken away. It’s a very sad for the town.”

While performer Cathy Marcangelo brought around 40 members of the Committed to Rock Choir to perform at the protest, and she was concerned that local drama and dance groups will have to find alternative venues to perform. She praised the community for rallying together for the protest.

“The Whitehaven people have voted with their feet to show their support. Is it too little too late?” she said.

During the protest, Cumbria Police closed Lowther Street for public safety and motorists were advised to use alternative routes in the town centre.

Copeland Council has confirmed that, due to having its budget cut by central government, it can no longer afford to keep the Civic Hall open as of yesterday (Thursday).

The closure was first announced in October last year, and talks have been ongoing since then with potential partners but they have so far proved unsuccessful before the October 31 deadline.

Copeland has withdrawn funding to the Civic's managers, North Country Leisure (NCL), whose involvement with the building has now ended.

The Civic will remain closed unless a partner is found to run the facility without council subsidy. Copeland says that it costs it £200,000 a year to keep the Civic open, and the facility's closure - along with a raft of other spending cuts - must save the council around £4million before 2016.

Hugh Branney, Copeland's portfolio holder for community regeneration, says the closure decision has been "unpalatable" but has been forced upon councillors due to budgetary constraints.

He added: “Unfortunately, councils are not obliged to provide theatres or concert halls, and we are not given money to run them. For many years, the Civic has cost money to run, which is unsustainable.

“In more prosperous times, this was something we were able to do for the benefit of our residents. But now that times have changed, we can’t continue this. And contrary to recent comments, the Civic Hall is not making a profit. In fact, when you consider both the subsidy and the maintenance costs, it’s sadly a long way from doing so.

“At this stage, we cannot be certain what the future for the Civic is. In the short-term, the building will be secured and mothballed. In the long term, who knows? But we have no hidden plans and will continue to explore all options for the best for our residents. Any decision will be taken by all councillors.

“I don’t know of a single councillor who wants to close the Civic, or who doesn’t realise its popularity and unique role in the community. We recognise the views of the people who gathered outside the building last night. However, sadly, the decision taken by all councillors had to be to close the facility as we no longer have the funds to run it.”

However, Mr Maudling, says that he – along with son Danny and colleagues from The Mighty Boof Promotions – are confident they can reopen the Civic in the New Year.

“We are still very much interested in taking over the Civic Hall,” said Mr Maudling. “We have been in lengthy talks with Copeland Council, and although we accept that the Civic will close today, we are confident we can reach an agreement to re-open it in January and make a success of it. It’s the hub of the community and we can’t afford to lose it.”

Have your say

On the plus side it was great to see the magnificent new Pow Beck stadium in it's all splendour. The crowds of RL fans that thronged the local hostelries and thrilled to the World Cup matches brought a boost to the local economy. I never thought I'd see the day that Whitehaven pulled together and restored pride in the town.........oh wait, never happened.

Posted by s on 7 November 2013 at 20:01

The problem was, NCL / Copeland pretty much relied on others to hire the venue, rather than taking the lead and organising their own events.

A couple of years ago I hired the Civic for a charity event, which was successful - not spectacular, but it made a small profit. As part of that, I had to provide lunch for the artistes and we used the kitchem facilities for a small additional fee. I asked about doing the same last year, to be told that meals would have to be provided by the Civic - we couldn't just hire the facilities. That would have made event too expensive to stage, so we dropped out.

Also, I had never seen an entertainment venue closed on a Saturday until I discovered the Civic. You want customers, you have to open.

Also, someone mentioned a minimum £10k fee for a half decent band which might be well supported. At that rate, and if you add on the cost of the venue, publicity, tickets, insurance, etc., tickets would be a minimum of £30 each, just to break even and assuming the Civic - 400 seat capacity - was sold out. In these times, that's very expensive.

If you think about it, if the Civic were larger it would actually be easier and tickets would be cheaper - pretty much the same costs but double the audience and you halve the ticket price. But then again, you would need a willing population to support the events and, living where we do and as has been demonstrated in the past, we don't have that.

It's kind of a Catch-22 situation. You don't get the support so you don't get the top acts so you don't get the support.

Even so, the loss of the Civic is very sad and it will be missed. Here's hoping that something can be done to re-open it in the not too distant future.

Posted by Dave on 7 November 2013 at 10:59

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