Future of closing Letchworth venue still in doubt

THE future of a community venue will remain in doubt until at least the summer while research is undertaken.

The first of two workshops which will help shape the future of Plinston in Letchworth GC took place on Tuesday, although plans for refurbishing the venue are not expected to be revealed until June at the earliest.

The entertainment facility in Broadway stopped its live events programme this week, with some private functions running until March.

Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation, which funds and runs the venue, outlined its vision of Plinston to “provide a focus for arts and cultural activities” last November.

Groups and societies who were using Plinston have had to find venues elsewhere, with Variety Express moving their annual show to the Queen Mother Theatre in Hitchin and Song, Pantomine and Dance Society (SPADS) choosing St Francis College’s theatre in Letchworth GC to host its panto.

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When asked what he thought about the Heritage Foundation’s decision to announce in August 2011 that Plinston would be closing for refurbishment, Patrick Lohan, chairman of SPADS, who is attending the second workshop next week, said: “John Lewis (chief executive of the Heritage Foundation) told us in a meeting last year that it had to close and make staff redundant because it was leaking money. He said that it wasn’t fair to people to not give them notice that their jobs weren’t going to be around.

“We just need to know what’s going on. There’s all these rumours going around and from people still at the Plinston who don’t think there’s sufficient funds to do it so it could be just some new seats and a paint job.

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“If Plinston never reopens again we will stay at St Francis but if it does we would want to go back as we have been there since it first opened (in 1982). We just wish we knew what was going on.”

Another Plinston user, who asked to remain anonymous, added: “We knew last August that it was going to close so why the consultation couldn’t have taken place earlier I don’t know, that would have made more sense to me.”

Responding, Heritage Foundation chief executive John Lewis said: “We announced the closure of Plinston last year so we could manage a successful wind down of our entertainments programme. With that completed, we can now focus on preparing for the new Plinston. We will be presenting options to our board in May and then present these for public consultation.”

Speaking about the current research, Mr Lewis added: “The workshops are designed for local groups to tell us their requirements and aspirations for a high quality arts and cultural facility in the town. This feedback will be reported to our project team of North Hertfordshire District Council, North Hertfordshire College, University of Hertfordshire and Letchworth Arts Centre to create a set of options for the community venue.

“We’re looking forward to creating an exciting venue that Letchworth Garden City can be proud of. Our research over the coming months is key to this, and we welcome the views of residents and visitors so please get involved at www.lgchf.com/plinston”

Following the research, the Heritage Foundation will be working with the project team to create proposals for Plinston which will be shared with the community in the summer.

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