Protesters turn out to save Blackheath Halls

aa-Feb 24-BlackheathHalls.JPGBlackheath is at risk of losing a popular arts facility under proposed funding cuts by Greenwich Council.

Blackheath Halls is fighting to overturn the proposal by the council to withdraw the whole of its annual grant funding, which supporters say will put the future of community and artistic programmes in jeopardy.

More than 100 people turned out for a sing and play protest in front of the Halls on Sunday.

Rose Ballantyne, community and education officer at Trinity Laban Conservatoire Of Music And Dance, which uses Blackheath Halls as a regular base for large-scale rehearsals and performances, said: "The grant we receive from Greenwich Council is approximately £72,000 per year, and they are proposing to cut this in its entirety from April - giving us no time to organise any kind of alternative funding.

"We were expecting our funding to be reduced but our funding will be completely cut."

Blackheath Halls, which has built up an international reputation as a performing arts venue since reopening in 1991, hosts a programme of jazz, rock, folk, classical and world music, comedy, cabaret, literary events, opera, dance, exhibitions, children's theatre and family concerts.

Many community groups use the venue including orchestras and choirs which put on shows, events and workshops for children and adults.

The facility is mainly funded through box office sales and tickets, but also relies on 40 per cent of its annual funding from Lewisham and Greenwich Councils.

Supporters have started an online petition which has around 1,500 signatures as well as hundreds of comments expressing distress at the proposal.

Ms Ballantyne went before Greenwich Council's overview and scrutiny committee on Monday to put their case for the reinstatement of the grant to councillors with a 15 minute presentation.

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She said: "I feel it went well and they listened to our argument. I went with 2,000 signatures and I think we gained their support, but we won't know the outcome until next month.

"What annoys me the most is that we also get funding from Lewisham Council who really care about what we do and are interested in our programmes.

"Many of the councillors regularly come to performances and I know them personally. Greenwich Council only know what we do from a piece of paper and have never even been near Blackheath Halls."

A Greenwich Council spokesperson said: "No final decision has been taken on voluntary sector funding in Greenwich, including that for Blackheath Halls.

"The Cabinet set out an extensive consultation process to allow interested parties to comment on a series of draft proposals.

"Any organisation can take advantage of this and will probably be better served doing so rather than operating under the mistaken belief that newspaper headlines are going to determine the council's budget.

"Greenwich Council is having to make a number of difficult decisions as the Government has decided to cut £63million over the next four years.

"For that reason, the council has always made the voluntary sector aware that cuts would have to be made in line with the level of cuts being made to council services."

A number of other local Blackheath organisations are also beginning to suffer as a result of Government cuts - the library at the centre of the village is closing at the end of May and the Age Exchange Reminiscence Centre, an award-winning charity founded in 1983 whose premises include a museum, shop, cafe and a theatre, is having its funding from Greenwich Council withdrawn.

2 Comments

Karen Lee said:

A bit of joined up thinking would not go amiss here - there could be enough free/flexible space in The Halls to accommodate the library and a community meeting space.

kare (Blackheath resident)

Karen said:

A bit of joined-up thinking would not go amiss - there should be enough free/flexible space in the Halls to accommodate the library and a community area.