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Fears for arts centre
ONE of Basingstoke’s key cultural venues will be in dire straits if council chiefs decide to cut its funding.
Fairfields Arts Centre, in Council Road, hosts regular art exhibitions as well as dance, drama and comedy shows.
It currently receives an annual grant of £41,000 from Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council, as well as an additional £40,000 in subsidised rent, and a further £48,177 from Hampshire County Council.
But concerns have been raised in some quarters about its failure to increase participation, and about the need for greater fundraising by the Fairfields team itself.
A plan was drawn up last year, detailing areas for improvement, and the borough council’s Cabinet meets next month to decide whether to continue its programme of funding.
Fairfields’ director Andrew Buchanan launched an impassioned appeal for continued support at a recent council committee meeting, highlighting the economic and cultural importance of the venue.
He told members that with a £41,000 grant, Fairfields generates £191,000 for the local economy.
This week, Mr Buchanan told The Gazette that Fairfields will be in dire straits if it does not get the necessary funding support.
He said: “The idea that Fairfields could continue to survive on what is much less than any other arts organisation, is very unrealistic.
“Fairfields has not been treated in the same way as other organisations. No one else has been treated like us, and there is no discernible reason why.”
In November, Fairfields appointed a new chairman, Philip Howe, who, said Mr Buchanan, has implemented a host of new initiatives, including a Friends of Fairfields scheme to create a more successful volunteer programme.
Labour councillor Andrew McCormick told members of the council’s community wellbeing committee: “I get the impression that this ship is turning around. In many ways, they haven’t been helped by the council, and by things that have been pressed upon them.”
Concerns were first highlighted by both Basingstoke and Deane and Hampshire County councils in early 2009 and lead to a service agreement being drawn up between the three parties in February 2010.
When allocating its funding for 2010-11, the county council agreed to continue its grant, but for one year only. It also commissioned an independent review of Fairfields’ activities.
Fairfields’ management board accepted the appointment of an independent consultant to recommend areas of improvement, and the reporting of its business plan directly to both councils.
After closely monitoring the centre over the past year, Hampshire County Council opted to withhold funding until it is satisfied Fairfields has met the terms of the agreement. It will decide its level of funding to arts organisations for the next financial year tomorrow – and borough members are now considering their stance.
At the community wellbeing meeting, Conservative councillor Robert Donnell argued it was not important who provided access to the arts, so long as it was available in the community.
“I don’t care who provides the service. To most people in Basingstoke, who provides the service is a logo and they probably don’t know who it is. What we want is the right thing going on and how we can get it more efficiently.”
Referring to Fairfields, he said: “What I would like to see is a more light-footed organisation and one which can embrace change.”