Saturday, 19 July 2008

The Good

It is a while since my last update on the Tower so it is refreshing to report some good news. T
he Autumn programme is now out and you can see what’s on by clicking on the link on the left.....

Well done to Ben Ward and Kings’ School for putting this on. The programme looks interesting and quite wide ranging and I look forward to attending as many shows as I can. In future seasons, I hope Ben can also put on some of the popular folk music that made the Tower such a unique venue. This will ensure an even wider programme that compliments the programming at the the Vaults and the Railway Inn.

I can also report some other good news. The County owned Ashcroft Arts Centre in Fareham has been saved after Gosport Borough Council threatened to withdraw its funding to the local Discovery Centre. If only our city council had the same courage to take on their political allies at the County!

The Bad

On a more depressing note - the Tower has yet again been let down by the County Council, this time with the connivance of Winchester City Council. In a decision made two weeks - they have broken a number of commitments that they made in December when the decision to transfer the Tower to the school was made.

At the time the County Council press statement stated that
"The Council is committing £75,000 over the next three year to develop a mixed
evening programme of performing arts at the Tower and other venues across the
City. This will be matched by Winchester City Council.”

County Council leader Ken Thornber added
“The resources we have committed, together with the City Council, will ensure
the continuation of an evening programme focussing initially on the Tower.”

Reasonable people interpreted this to mean £50,000 p.a. funding for three years for mixed evening programming, initially focussed at the Tower. A significant shortfall on previous funding, but at least some recognition of the public outcry.

The deal agreed last week means that the County Council, aided and abetted by the City Council has broken commitments on three grounds(for details of the decision see,)

1. Both local authorities committed to dialogue with existing Tower users on the development of the evening programme. This has not occurred, the deal has now been approved and the Autumn programme at the Tower has now been released.
2. The deal falls significantly short of the £50,000 p.a. commitment to a mixed evening programme. In fact, it only guarantees £15,000 to evening programming and this will be at the Discovery Centre. A further £15,000 has been committed to the Tower for 2008/9 to fund “public events” and (bizarrely) the promotion and subsidy to Kings’ School of the participatory classes. I say bizarrely because the participatory classes have nothing to do with the evening programmes and it should not need subsidising (it made annual profits in excess of £20,000 p.a. under the previous management!)
3. Less than 50% of the £50,000 funding will go to the Tower – contradicting Councillor Thornber’s commitment of an initial focus at the Tower.

and The Ugly......

I personally feel let down and misled by both local authorities. I find City Council leader Cllr George Beckett’s reported comment on the decision that this is a “good news story” (Chronicle on 10th July) particularly offensive.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Great Art Centre, Great School, Bad Decision

Councillor Thornber today confirmed the recommendation from the Art and Heritage department

a) That the management of the Tower Arts Centre be transferred from the Recreation & Heritage Department to Kings' School on 21 April 2008.
b) That the property be appropriated from Recreation & Heritage purposes to Children's Services purposes, staying within the County Council.
c) That Hampshire County Council provides £25,000 per year for a minimum of three years, starting in 2008/09, to develop cultural provision and programming at the Tower Arts Centre and other venues in Winchester, including hiring the Tower from Kings' School for evening performances. This is subject to Winchester City Council matching this commitment.

I am very saddened by the decision and my thoughts go out to John Tellet and his great team that have done so much to build up such a successful community art centre. It is testimony to them that they received the greatest support for any public meeting in Winchester for 30 years.

I am very angry about the way that Conservative County Council ignored the people of Winchester and went ahead with this decision.

Ultimately it was also a vindictive decision. Councillor Thornber retreated from an earlier offer made to use the reduced funding to support the evening programme exclusively at the Tower.

The reduced funding will now be used in a programme that the County's own Art Officer referred to as "not having a huge amount of detail". She defended this by saying there was not anough time to flesh out the detail.

Well, I say that's exactly the point. The Art and Recreation department should have been recommending a deferral of the decision to allow for this to be clarified. Yet again they have displayed a wanton disregard for community art. This is also evidenced by their abject failure to obtain any commitments from Kings School in exchange for the Tower (thats a bit like me giving you my house for no money and letting you do what you like with it).

The points raised within the deputation by Jan Moring and Alex Hoare were almost totally ignored by Councillor Thornber in his summing up. This has been the pattern throughout the consultation. The points have been ignored because the Council has no anwer to them. I have attached the full text below from Jans deputation below. I have also attached in the links on the left the letter from Alex Hoare and over 30 representatives of the Creative Arts industries to Councillor Thornber.

Councillor Thornber also commented that Winchester is rich in places to see performing arts. As well as the Theatre Royal, he referred to those well frequented performing arts venues of the Great Halll, The Cathederal, St. Swithuns, Peter Symonds College and Winchester College! What chance have we got for reasoned debate when we hear such total hogwash as this!

These paroachial views lack the vision that I would expect from our leader. Winchester should be competing with the likes of nearby Salisbury and Chichester where performing arts is really taken seriously. It has exactly the right foundations, with the two Universities that specialise in Art, to create an artistic centre of excellence that could drive the creative industries and generate significant wealth in the area. After all, in the new knowledge economies, the creative industries employ 15% of the workforce and represent the fastest growing sector.

Councillor Thornber concluded by taking issue with my view that this is the end of the Tower as an Arts Centre.

My view is based on the fact that it will be managed by a school. It will not have any professional art management staff, the staffing will be cut from 6 to 2, it will not have a curated programme, it will not have any marketing and it will not have a box office.

Its a bit like saying that a school is still a school after you have removed the teaching staff , transferred the building to the local art centre and torn up the curriculum.

As mentioned before - Theodore Roosevelt said
"Suppose you see a bird walking around in a farm yard. This bird has no label that says 'duck'. But the bird certainly looks like a duck. Also, he goes to the pond and you notice that he swims like a duck. Then he opens his beak and quacks like a duck. Well, by this time you have probably reached the conclusion that the bird is a duck, whether he's wearing a label or not."

I hope that I am wrong and that it does remain as a community arts centre. Councillor Thornber's reputation rests on this.

I, for one, will be watching carefully how the summer programme is put together. If they are serious about it - then we should hear before the end of February what they intend to put on.

The campaign group will consider the option of pursuing maladmistration. We are also thinking of forming an Art for Winchester Action Group to promote amore structured approach to art within Winchester

I would be interested in your views on both of these issues. Please e-mail me at


Good afternoon Cllr. Thornber. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today.

I will start by addressing several points from today’s report with which the User group takes issue.

The matter of the building is clearly central, although the Council’s ‘requirement to have no direct responsibility for the fabric of the building’ was only made explicit in the Options Report in October. The true costs of maintaining the building are unclear. We have requested details of the future property costs but this has not been forthcoming. Without sufficient time and a thorough examination of all the factors, supporters have been unable to make counter proposals.

We are pleased that the New Forest Arts Centre is considered to have the potential to operate as an independent organisation but as far as we know, no work has been done to corroborate this claim. The centre has three years to work up a plan but the Tower Arts Centre has been unfairly denied this opportunity.

The ‘Westie’ has also been given a three year reprieve because it is in Aldershot, specifically in Wellington, an economically deprived area. The report ignores the fact that St Luke’s ward, where the Tower is situated is significantly more deprived than Wellington. Average weekly income is £490 as against £620 and 10% of residents claim housing benefit compared with 6%.

The County subsidy to the Tower is £36k lower than the West End and the District subsidy to the Tower is £21k more than the Ashcroft. The report concludes that this is not significant. Any reasonable person would conclude that these are significant numbers relative to the overall County subsidy of £106k.

Elsewhere the report fails to grasp the significance of statistics about the geographical spread of Arts Centre attendees. 92% of the audiences for the Tower come from Hampshire. This compares to 67% for the New Forest and 54% for the West End. Hampshire ratepayers effectively provide a significant subsidy to Dorset and Surrey. The current proposal would mean that the priorities of Surrey and Dorset residents have been put ahead of the Hampshire ratepayers that attend the Tower

Today’s report has misrepresented the User Group by stating that we will only be satisfied by the status quo. This is completely untrue. We have consistently argued for time to develop a new financial model and we are prepared to form a company limited by guarantee to achieve this. We must reiterate categorically that the school option is unacceptable to us as it means the end of the Tower as an Arts Centre.

We are deeply saddened and disturbed by the Council’s lack of response to the overwhelming public support for the Tower. The Public meeting was a triumph for the campaign and has generated unprecedented levels of direct responses.

The County Council commissioned an independently run telephone survey of 500 randomly selected residents of the district. This showed that 70% of respondents want the Tower Arts Centre to remain as it is, the majority (44%) under a new funding model. Only 17% favour the transfer option. However, the report states that the results ‘do not provide a clear pointer in a particular direction.’ This is an outrageous conclusion.

The Discovery Centre is completely irrelevant to the future of the Tower but the report refuses to accept this and misrepresents a statement from the Option Appraisal report. Ms Felton says ‘In my opinion it cannot be a replacement for the Tower performance space’ but this has become ‘The discovery centre is only suitable for some elements of the Tower’s evening programme’.

The proposal to develop new programming for venues across the city needs more work before it can be properly considered. It has an obvious educational bias, an unspecified agenda and would not attempt to replicate the current evening programme which is so valued and appreciated by the public.

Cllr Thornber’s requirement for a business case from King’s school has not been delivered. The report includes an extensive review of current activities and facilities which are unrelated to professional arts provision in Winchester. The change from a predominantly adult focus to children’s educational use is transparent, it can no longer be claimed that the transfer will do anything other than close the Tower as an Arts Centre.

We have put together a plan that could reduce the public subsidy by around £45k. This would be achieved by increased revenue from adult classes and members, new ventures and individual support. We are also aware that the Blue Apple Theatre group has plans to expand. Income from the University Faculty of Arts for professional services could reach as much as £20k annually. It should also be understood that the university is only interested in buying services from a professional arts venue, not an educational establishment.

Local authorities who ask their residents what they want but refuse to act upon their passionately expressed views cannot expect to retain the confidence of their communities. We urge you to reconsider your intention to make a final decision today. Instead, please allow a period of at least one year for further detailed examination of ways to avoid the irreplaceable loss of the Tower as a professional arts centre.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Is this a Stitch Up ?

The officers of the Recreation and Heritage department published their report on the future of the Tower Arts on Friday. As we all feared and I guess expected, this confirms the original recommendation that they made back in July to transfer the Tower to the school. The report can be found at

The report also recommends that £25,000 per year for a minimum of three years is provided to work with the University of Winchester to deliver a programme of arts development in Winchester. This is on the condition that the City Council commits the same. There is no role in the future for the Tower User Group or the friends of the evening programme.

I am very disappointed with the proposal – it will mark the end of the Tower as an Arts Centre. In my view, the report has been written in a biased way to justify a decision already taken. There are numerous examples where they are selective with the facts – some of these are summarised below.

We now have confirmation in the report that 70% of the people in Winchester District want the Tower to stay as an Arts Centre. Only 17% prefer the option that includes the transfer to the school. The largest public meeting in Winchester for nearly 30 years said the same thing. I hope that Councillor Thornber sees through the flawed report and makes the right decision.

We plan to hold a protest outside of the council offices (by the Hampshire Hog) starting at 2pm on Friday 7th December. We will be making our final deputation to Councillor Thornber at around 2.30pm. The public are welcome to attend this. We really need to have as many protestors as possible at the meeting. This is the final push.

Councillor Thornber originally requested that the County present a business case from Kings’ School. A business case is a structured document that clearly defines the costs and benefits of the proposal. The case put forward in the report falls way short of what a well run business would require before making such a significant decision.

If this goes through the people of Winchester will have been sold down the river.

The campaign group has stayed away from party politics throughout the campaign in the belief that the Conservatives would listen to the overwhelming view of the public.

Phryn Dickens, Martin Tod and others from the Lib Dems have been very supportive but ultimately the Lib Dems are not in power. The only additional funding from the City came from the Lib Dem controlled town forum.

George Beckett and Steve Brine, whilst supportive, appear to have made very little difference and in the end as Conservatives must take responsibility for any decision that is taken.

The proposal that has been made with regard to the programme for art development has been put together in a rush and does not add up. It leaves many unanswered questions including such basic things as how the box office will operate. The school plan is to slash the staffing levels from a headcount of 6 to 2 - any reasonable person can see that there is no real intention to save the Tower as an Arts Centre.

It seems clear that the Tower will now be fragmented between educational establishments and will have little if any community arts provision.

We want the people of Winchester to be listened to and the Tower to be treated equitably with the more expensive Art Centres within Aldershot and the New Forest. It should be given the same three year breathing space that their local Conservatives have managed to negotiate. The Tower supporters have already found £16,000 in pledges to save the Tower - more than any of the other Art Centres.

If you have not done so already - please write to George Beckett at and to Steve Brine at

Examples of Bias within the Report

· It tries to rebut the campaigners claim that the Tower is being unfairly treated relative to the other HCC owned Art Centres. It states that the point that we make about the lowest subsidy from HCC to the Tower is insignificant (despite being £35k less than the West End in Aldershot!). It also states that the higher support from the local authority is not markedly different for the Tower compared to the others (despite it being £21k more than the Ashcroft!). These are very significant amounts in the context of the total public subsidy of around £120k.
· It states that the socio-economic considerations are more important in making the judgement – so it refers to the economic deprivation within Aldershot and the New Forest. Amazingly it does not refer at any stage in the report to Stanmore and the excellent connections that the Tower has to this community. The statistics that I have seen suggest that St. Lukes in Winchester is a more deprived area than the wards that the other Art Centres are located in (see
· It tries to rebut the campaigners claim that the Tower provides a service to Hampshire outside of the District by presenting the relative statistics in a misleading way (see 6.8 in the report). It states that the % of people booking tickets for events at the Tower from the local district councils area are higher than those in two out of three of the other Art Centres. What it conveniently fails to mention is that in both these cases – most of these attendees come from outside of Hampshire i.e. Hampshire ratepayers are subsidising Dorset and Surrey residents! Surely HCC should be looking for some subsidy from these Counties before it closes the Tower. Here are the unadulterated statistics:

Achcroft has 93% attendance from Hampshire (44% attendance from own district, 49% from Hampshire outside own district) and 7% from non hampshire.

New Forest has 67% attendance from Hampshire (65% from own district, 2% from Hampshire outside own district) and a 33% from outside Hampshire - manily Dorset.

West End has 54% attendance from Hampshire (33% from own district, 21% from Hampshire outside own district) and a 46% from outside Hampshire - mainly Surrey.

This compares to the Tower which has 92% attendance from Hampshire (50% from own district, 42% from Hampshire outside own district) and 8% from Non Hampshire.

. It also conveniently fails to mention that the Winchester District population is growing rapidly, whilst the Aldershot District is static and the New Forest is declining.
· In the phone survey, 70% of the people in Winchester District want the Tower to stay as an Arts Centre. However, this is dismissed within the report as not providing a clear pointer in a particular direction.
· The report highlights that the Tower currently operates efficiently within a headcount of 3 full-time and 4 part-time staff plus casual and contract staff to cover cleaning, technical and the bar. It says that there are no opportunities for savings. The School will operate the Tower with one full time and one part time staff plus casual and contract staff to cover cleaning, technical and the bar. Surprisingly, this goes unchallenged.
· The report states that the “Discover Centre is only suitable for some elements of the Tower’s evening programme”. This is misleading – the consultant report states that “In my opinion it cannot be a replacement for the Tower performance space.” This is because it has very limited changing facilities, it has no real back stage or back of house facilities and it is neither decorated, nor acoustically appropriate for live music gigs

These are just some of the glaring issues with the report. We will present more at the deputation on Friday.

Friday, 23 November 2007

A great turnout for Thursdays celebration of the Tower. This time we managed to get the media to attend in droves - on the link on the left you can see clips from a few of the TV and Radio shows that covered the event.

Particular thanks to Sam Cousins for organising such a great show.

Miles Banister, Christopher Jarman and Jane Jessop spoke at Full Council. The Winchester County Councillors also submitted some written questions.

The County seem as intransigent as ever. Despite giving Art Centres in New Milton and Aldershot three years to find alternate funding - they seem intent on closing the Tower as an Art Centre. The Tower receives the lowest subsidy from the County and is better supported by the District. In addittion to this, in a little over a week, we now have individual pledges totaling £16,000.

None of us can understand why the Conservative County Council are taking such a harsh view of Winchester. I am left to wonder whether it is politically motivated........Is it because Aldershot and New Milton are conservative dominated?

Tower Arts campaigners gain apology at

Sunday, 18 November 2007

A Fun, Entertaining, Colorful Media Spectacle: Taking the Tower to the Castle

Following the largest Public Meeting in Winchester in 30 years, SaveTowerArts now plan to celebrate the Tower Arts Centre at Full County Council Meeting at the Castle in Winchester on Thursday 22nd November.

Campaigner John Golley said “We don’t think any of the County Councillors in the cabinet have ever attended the Tower – so we thought we could take the Tower to the Council!”

It promises to be a highly visual and entertaining spectacle. Following his now famous appearance at the Public Meeting, Henry VIII will be making a re-appearance. Jonathan the Jester is expected to add some frivolity to proceedings

Sam Cousins of TAPAS and Blue Apple fame has organised for the “Sing Our Hearts Out” choir to be there. They will be performing a number of songs including Seasons of Love and medleys from Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables.

Performance Arts Winchester Resident Director Adam Graham and the cast from “A Christmas Carol” will be performing extracts from their Christmas production. University of Winchester students will also be providing readings from their upcoming production of "Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick" - a tribute to the Carry On films.

The campaigners will be handing out a booklet “A celebration of the Tower” including contributions from Tower users, tutors and performers to demonstrate the broad range of activities enjoyed by the many Tower users.

Parents of children at a local Primary School will be celebrating their magnificent Heroes portraits – produced in conjunction with the Tower.

The notorious campaigners “masked and mysterious” will be there. They promise to reveal there true identities when the Tower is saved

The campaign team will be presenting the 1,200 strong petition requesting that the County Council retain the Tower Arts Centre Winchester in its current form and with the present management and staff for three years whilst a solution to the funding issues is investigated. They will have 10 minutes to present their case to Full Council.

The event starts at 9am Thursday 22nd November at the Council Chamber, Castle Hill, Winchester (opposite the Hampshire Hog statue). The campaigners will be presenting a petition to the Full County Council starting at 10am. Our intention is to have a fun and entertain with a colorful media spectacle which may well be our last chance to lobby the decision makers on the future of one of Winchesters most iconic theatre, arts and music venue’s.

Letters to your County Councillors are key at this stage. Contact details at Don't forget the pledges - there is a link on the left.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Lots to tell you about.............. Let's start with whats happened since the public meeting. Well, first we have set up a pledge form. The idea is to give Tower supporters the chance to pledge money, time or services to The Tower on the condition that it is givewn three years to find more secure funding - more detail on the link.

Despite all the protests - the County appear to be determined to transfer the Tower to the school even without a business case from them. Councillor Thornber made the presentation of the business case one of the conditions of the consultation period - lets hope he presses for this over the next couple of weeks (see for his decision day document)

I have received a number of letters referring to an Ombudsman review of the process that has been undertaken. My view is that it is premature to go down this line at this stage. The key thing is to keep the pressure up on the County Council in the lead up to full council next week - so please e-mail your local county councillor urgently. You could forward any correspondence that you have previously sent to the County Council with a short cover note. I would also include your city councillor and your MP. You can find all your local representatives at an excellent web-site called

Inconsistencies from the County Council

In the same decision day document (point 2.1), you can see that the prime justification of the original decision by Councillor Snaith in July was "The opening of the Discovery Centre in November 2007 and the increased programme of community involvement at the Kings' School presents an ideal opportunity to transfer most of the Tower's activities to the Discovery Centre as soon as it opens. This will bring its much valued activities to the centre of Winchester and provide the Kings' School with extra capacity for developing its community links and offer."

Now that the Felton report has clearly stated that the Discovery Centre is not appropriate for the vast majority - Councillor Snaith is now saying that it was never the main driver behind the decision. There is an interview with Councillor Snaith on Dream FM tomorrow morning where hopefully she will respond to these inconsistencies.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

We have manged to track down some photos of the Public Meeting on 1st November - thanks to local photographer Joe Low.

Official number of attendees from the Guildhall was 450. I am told that this makes this the biggest public meeting in Winchester since the 1970's!! Confirmation, if it was ever needed, that the people of Winchester certainly care about the Tower


'Enry V