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Photograph - Emily Brothers Outside Granfers Community Centre as Local Arts Groups Gather to Discuss the Secombe Theatre’s Future.

Speaking at a public meeting hosted by Sutton Arts Network last night (10/09/14) held at the Granfers Centre, Emily Brothers who is seeking to be Labour MP for Sutton and Cheam, argued that Lib Dem Sutton Council had failed to be receptive to concerns about timescales for taking over theatres that community groups had raised. Ms Brothers said:
“The Council’s approach sought to close the Secombe and Charles Cryer theatres, whilst trying to mitigate against such a decision by small scale re-focusing of support to local groups. They simply don’t have a strategy for the venues other than flogging them off cheaply to commercial developers.
“After highly successful online petitions launched by me on a non-party basis and by Andy Brice who is a community activist - with us petitioners making our case at a packed and sometimes hdeated council meeting last week - Sutton Council had said they would review the timescales, but this hasn’t come to fruition.
“I’m pleased their emphasis is now on community ownership instead of closure. However, the council need to be more proactive and coherent.
“Lib Dem Sutton Council badly judged the reaction from community groups, resulting in a lack of strategy to keep the Secombe Theatre open. It is alarming that the Lib Dem Council are blindly fumbling around to find a feasible way forward. They agreed to relax their demands on community groups by asking for outline business cases within weeks rather than fully worked up bids, but they lack clarity on what is actually required. They don’t even seem to know how much they want to cut from next year’s budget.
“Amidst all this confusion and lack of operational information about the venues, it is hardly surprising that community, arts and performance groups are facing uncertainty, as they grapple with a lack of information and status of contractual commitments which they have entered. The implications of closures or any transitional arrangement haven’t been considered at all.
“Theatre companies know about acting and other performing arts, but don’t necessarily have the management expertise required to take over the Secombe Theatre. I’m pleased that support is available from Sutton Voluntary Services Council, but community groups are still being blindfolded by a lack of information and procrastination. Emerging partnerships may also need financial support to put together a viable solution.
“It is like the blind leading the blind. They’ll all hopefully get there, but it will take longer. If Councillor Penneck and his Lib Dem colleagues set out a clearer and longer timetable for public consultation and a separate proactive brokerage process for supporting community groups, that would seriously make a positive difference – no theatre to close before 31 March 2016.
“The council have clearly failed to run these facilities adequately that’s why they are ripe for property development. Local residents have very different ideas, including leasing the properties from the council and re-building the Secombe Theatre with S106 approval, to allow a new theatre to be based in the basement or first floor, but with commercial space and flats built above (4 to 22 stories) to generate income. This may well improve the facility, cultural offer available to Sutton residents and wider cultural engagement across the borough.
“The timescales are absurdly short. There is a lack of hard data and no coherent process. That’s why I fear that community groups are being set up to fail by Lib Dem Sutton Council. If they don’t want to be unfair, they need to get a grip – otherwise this is heading for a Judicial Review.
“It takes valuable time to pull this kind of complex partnership together. That’s why my petition on the Secombe Theatre continues to be so important, as the Lib Dem Council has still not got the message that they have acted in haste, in a state of blind panic because of the public’s response.”
As at 08.15 on 11/09/14 the Save Secombe Theatre online petition had 883 signatories.

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