Fears over plans for Letchworth venue

ENTERTAINMENT groups have expressed their fears after the future vision of a community venue was revealed this week.

Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation has announced it is looking to make its entertainment venue Plinston “a regional arts and culture base within Letchworth attracting visitors, artists and performers from the surrounding counties and beyond”.

A statement from the charitable organisation said the venue, which opened in Broadway, Letchworth GC, in 1982, will “provide a focus for arts and cultural activities, expanding on Plinston’s current entertainment offering”.

The announcement follows a decision in August that the venue, which averages 1,400 events a year, will stop hosting live evenings in January 2012, with some private hire functions continuing until March, ahead of a planned refurbishment.

Firm plans for Plinston have not yet been made, with the Heritage Foundation currently working with North Hertfordshire District Council to set up a project team – including North Hertfordshire College, University of Hertfordshire and Letchworth Arts Centre – which is due to look at available options at a meeting later this month.

The Heritage Foundation also plans to carry out research before Christmas, working with the town’s local interest groups to ensure the new facility can accommodate the needs of future users.

But two entertainment groups who have both used Plinston on an annual basis since its opening have expressed fears about its future use.

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St Paul’s Amateur Dramatic Society (SPADS) use the venue for their annual panto but the group are already looking elsewhere for their 2012 show.

“When it closes down we don’t think they are going to open it up as a theatre again,” said SPADS member Alan Bryl, who said the group are desperate to remain in Letchworth GC.

“Plinston holds 290 and we fill it up every show. We’ve been looking elsewhere but we can’t find a hall big enough.

“We’re panicking big time at the moment as we’re not getting anywhere. Normally we’ve got the hall booked for next year a few months ago.”

Variety Express, a group which performs a charity night of comedy, dance and song, are also looking at alternative theatre venues, including St Francis’ College, St Christopher School and Queen Mother Theatre in Hitchin.

Treasurer Trevor Burton said: “The rumour I’ve heard is that if it does reopen it won’t have a stage. At the moment there’s a lot of theatre and tribute bands and that’s not ‘culture’ to the people of Letchworth.

“For us the Queen Mother Theatre looks the most likely and we’d be happy with that.”

Heritage Foundation chief executive John Lewis said: “Working with our local groups and organisations, we hope to create an exciting new community venue which will be a well used and enjoyed facility in the town. To achieve this, we need to work with partners and research with local groups.”