Protest calls for council to change its plans and save the Thameside theatre and complex - or at least ensure replacement facilities are in place before it is levelled

  Posted: 21.07.21 at 23:18 by The Editor

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ANGRY borough residents – and some supporters of the arts who had travelled to the borough to support a local protest – gathered at Thurrock Council’s civic offices this evening to lobby councillors and call for the retention of the borough’s theatre, which is earmarked for closure alongside other community services offered via the Thameside Complex in Grays.

An eclectic mix of performers, charity administrators, arts lovers and local residents gathered with placards and banners to make their point this evening (Wednesday, 21 July) – and engaged with councillors arriving for today's full council meeting.

As well as the protest, which at one point involved protesters blocking the car park entrance, representatives of the campaign to save the theatre attended the meeting, where two petitions, including more than 4,000 signatures were handed in and theatre supporter Martyn Williams addressed councillors.

He was reflecting on the decision by the council’s Conservative cabinet to back a report extolling closure of the complex and moving its services, including the arts, elsewhere.

Mr Williams said: “The presentations at the last cabinet meeting seemed to show total misunderstanding of theatre’s ‘Thameside2U’ new streaming service funded by the Cultural Recovery Fund.

“The service is designed to bring quality entertainment to those who are unable or cannot come to the theatre.

“To work it needs the theatre to operate the streaming service and was never intended to replace the real theatre experience that audiences annually of more than 40,000 people enjoy with staged professional shows, quality stages amateur drama and many community offerings that all support small businesses.

“Like most theatres currently, it now brings a virtual offering into the community while the pandemic lasts, not as a substitute for real theatre!

“In that meeting members spoke of transparency, but there was no detailed breakdown to support the council’s claimed £16 million repair cost for the complex and £500,000 running costs.

“And in the arts portfolio holder, Cllr Deb Huelin’s recent interview, she quoted £17 million and gave wrong information on the building, e.g. a lift capacity of one person at a time. Wrong!. There are two lifts with pre-Covid capacity of eight persons’ weight in each lift and dedicated space for ten wheelchairs in the theatre.

“Grossly wrong basic information like this (and others at cabinet) brings into question the ability of all members to make any sound decision on the theatre.

Cllr Mark Coxshall told campaigners a new theatre would be built for them!

“On the council’s web page for the Grays Town Fund the council states that the theatre, museum, library and civic offices are at the heart of the town.

“The civic offices have had massive investment, yet the policy now is for staff to work from home. The library is likely to be reduced to two PCs and a 20 book bookcase in the new building, hopelessly insufficient for the size of the community it serves and no theatre or museum provision.

“Following news that the Grays Town fund now has funding, we can only hope that plans for the investment in the theatre and museum as promised in 2017 by this administration will be implemented.

“Cllr Mark Coxshall, the regeneration portfolio holder, has been quoted, in response to residents’ objections during a council meeting discussion the new council offices, saying: “We are here as leaders to say what is best.”

“If councillors take such a massive decision with plain wrong basic facts, not just those noted above, then they do a grave disservice to the people of Thurrock and beyond and lose all credibility as a council to say what is best to anyone at all.”

Cllr Shane Ralph was antagonistic towards protestors and told them they were listening to 'Labour lies'

The petition handed in to councillors includes: “It would be a shameful act of cultural vandalism to not only lose the borough’s hub for community arts and culture, but to lose a vital piece of local history.

“As we come out of the pandemic, people need to be able to resume attending the entertainments activities that bring them joy in the Thameside building and to continue to fulfil their human need to be able to laugh and smile.”

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