Groups get their act together over ‘savage’ cuts for arts venue

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Members of the local theatre community outside South Hill Park. Photo: Gemma Davidson

A PETITION calling on a local council to protect one of the area’s most beloved arts centres has gained momentum online.

South Hill Park, in Ringmead, Bracknell, faces an uncertain future after Bracknell Forest Council agreed to a £9.5million cut to the grant it receives from central government.

It is feared that arts funding for the arts centre, which is home to many of the area’s performing arts groups, could be slashed by £244,000.

A petition started online by the chair of East Berkshire Operatic Society, Natalie Hayllor, has so far received more than 1,200 signatures.

Ms Hayllor said: “We are overwhelmed by the support the petition has received. We are receiving signatures from far and wide, which goes to show what an impact the centre has, not just on the residents of Bracknell but the wider community as well.

“We have been contacted by people who started out performing at South Hill Park and have moved away from the area but carried on appearing i local theatre, it’s great to know that they still hold the centre so dear.”

Janet Winn, Chairwoman of Crowthorne Musical Players said that SHP was ‘more than just a building’ and played an important role in the local arts scene.

She said: “Crowthorne Musical Players have existed for more than sixty years and have been performing at South Hill Park since the Wilde Theatre was opened. The threat of the rumoured severe cuts in funding to South Hill Park could have a catastrophic effect on the survival of our Society and many others who use the excellent facilities provided to the community.

“South Hill Park is more than just a building that houses events, it is the hub of all that is good in Bracknell and the surrounding area and should be supported by further investment not by threats to its future.”

John Mills, chairman of Park Opera, called the cuts ‘savage’ and called on the council to invest more money in SHP rather than constantly cutting its budget.

He said: “Park Opera has performed at South Hill Park for over 30 years. We are a charity and SHP is our home. Anything that threatens SHP has an effect on us.

“The thought of savage funding cuts means much higher charges and levies on us which may become unaffordable.  It will be the same for all the local community societies.

“SHP is a wonderful community facility. It should be invested in rather than threatened with ‘death by a thousand cuts’.”

Ron McAllister, chief executive at SHP said: “Our negotiations with Bracknell Forest Council are on-going and we are hopeful that we will be able to reach agreement on future funding.  

“However, all the staff at South Hill Park are delighted with the wonderful support of the public, which is evident from the petition organised by local societies.  This is a real morale boost to all our staff at a difficult time in South Hill Park’s history.”

Cllr Iain McCracken, executive member for culture, corporate services and public protection at Bracknell Forest Council, said: “Due to the 80 per cent reduction in the central government revenue support grant that the council will receive by 2019, we simply must take steps to reduce our expenditure.

“Every one of our services will have to be thoroughly reviewed over the next three years, including the grant funding for our arts strategy which is currently provided primarily by the South Hill Park Trust.

“I would like to stress that at this time no final decisions have yet been made.”

To sign to petition visit http://chn.ge/2dYnRxw.

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