Groups’ fears over Letchworth hall closure

THE futures of community groups are in doubt after it was announced on Monday that a well-used venue will close for an unspecified period of time.

Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation has revealed that Plinston in the town will stop hosting live evenings in January 2012, with some private hire functions continuing until March, ahead of a planned refurbishment.

As yet the organisation, which funds and runs the hall in Broadway, has not defined the nature of the refurbishment, with customer research being carried out this autumn to determine their plans.

Plinston has hosted events including theatrical shows, gigs, club meetings, dance evenings and children’s activities since opening in 1982 and averages a total of 1,400 events a year.

In the year ending September 30, 2010, the operating costs of Plinston, along with the Spirella Ballroom, totalled �638,000.

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Heritage Foundation chief executive John Lewis said: “Plinston Hall opened for business nearly 30 years ago and has played host to thousands of performances entertaining large audiences, combined with providing homes for many Letchworth clubs and societies. It has been an important asset for the community.

“With that success behind us, it is now time to move forward ensuring that Plinston continues to play a major part in fulfilling the Heritage Foundation’s commitment to recreation and leisure.”

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The organisation is currently trying to find new homes for the many clubs and societies that use the hall, but Karen Toft, who runs Plinston Toddlers, told The Comet she expects the group, which uses the venue on Mondays, to close.

“It’s disappointing for us because we’ve always got away with not spending a lot,” said the Letchworth GC resident, who starting running the group in October 2009 after taking her daughter there.

“If a parent comes we charge �1.25 and 75p goes to Plinston but if we move somewhere else they’re going to charge a fixed fee. We won’t be able to afford that so we will have to close.

“The people who have been coming to my group have been coming for two years and we’ve new children from the same families come in that time. It was never a money maker but it was getting their [Plinston] name out there for a good cause.”

Michaella Walker, director of dance club Cero Central, which has used the venue for more than two decades, also expressed concern.

“We were told at a meeting on Tuesday that the Heritage Foundation don’t know if wooden flooring is going to be put back down,” she said.

“At the moment we’re OK as we know we’ve got the Spirella for a year but we’ve been told if something big comes up, and no doubt it will, we will be given 28 days notice.

“If something came up at Plinston we’d use the Spirella but we won’t be able to do that so it’s not ideal for us.”

Geoff Tomlinson, secretary of North Herts Organ Society which has used the hall on a monthly basis for the last two decades, added: “We’re disappointed. They’ve offered us the Spirella Ballroom but it may not be suited to us as we’ve got to get the equipment up there. We’ve put it to the committee and there have been some concerns as we’ve been in there before and some have said they’ve been disappointed.

“All the artists are booked for the next 12 months so we’ve got to find somewhere. We want to try and keep it close to Plinston if we can.”

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