Reprieve for arts programme at Huntingdon hall

COMMUNITY leaders performed a u-turn on their decision to slash funding for arts and entertainment in Huntingdon after protestors spoke out against the move.

Members of Huntingdon Town Council agreed unanimously to recommend re-instating half of the funding for the artistic programme at the Commemoration Hall during an extraordinary meeting of the leisure and community services committee last week.

Six councillors had called for the meeting because they said the original decision had been made without a full and proper debate.

It was agreed in January the council would no longer provide �21,000 towards the programme, the majority of which funds the post of programme director, currently filled by Lydia Eldrige.

Poor ticket sales and a stumbling economy, as well as fears of future funding cuts to other groups, prompted the move.

But on Thursday campaigners said without Ms Eldridge, Performing Arts at the Commemoration Hall (PATCH) which currently runs about 30 shows or events a year including a series of discos for the disabled entitled Starz in Your Eyes, would fold.

Speaking at the meeting mother of two, Annie Welsh, who works at Spring Common School in Huntingdon said: “I was horrified to read of the possible cessation of Stars in Your Eyes discos.

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“From a modest beginning they have become very popular. It has been wonderful for young people to engage in an adult activity where they can socalise with friends.

“Huntingdon town has Saxongate, Stukeley House and Huntingdon Community Room. It also has considerable sheltered housing provision, but besides this disco it has no activities for adults with disabilities in the evening.

“The ex-headmistress at Spring Common School, she worries about what is happening to her students once they get to 27. There is nothing for them in the evenings.”

Stars in Your Eyes DJ and organiser Keith Green, who also has special needs, added: “This is going to be a great loss for all those people who come to the discos. I would like to say without Lydia, I do not think there will have been Stars in Your Eyes and none of the events that we have had.”

Councillor Deborah Scales called on members to consider how the funding cuts would affect the disabled. She cautioned councillors could be breaking the law if they are not seen to give due regard to the effect on disabled groups.

But councillor Douglas Adams, chairman of the council’s finance committee, pointed out the council had been saddled with heavy losses in the first half of last year.

A change in system meant finances were better in the second half of the year when acts were asked to help towards the running costs of the events.

Cllr Adams said: “There is a solution to this. If we can get a couple of parties together, if the town council were to split 50 per cent of the artistic programme costs and ask people like PATCH to split the other 50 per cent.

“The council can then take it forward and we are not likely to run the risk of anybody clipping us around the head.

“Fifty per cent is a nice way of sustaining the programme and at the same time reserving enough for what everybody wants us to do for other groups.”

He also recommended that all future bookings should be made on a shared payment basis. The recommendations will be discussed at the council’s finance meeting in April.