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SAVE THE HAZLITT: Passionate plea by arts worker as 7,000 sign petition

Wednesday 25th November 2020

A PETITION with more than 7,000 signatures of residents dismayed at Maidstone Borough Council's plan to shut the Hazlitt Theatre has been sent to councillors ahead of a crunch meeting tonight.

Amy Riley, who has a long association with the Hazlitt, wrote a highly personal plea to the members who sit on the policy and resources committee who this evening have the chance to overturn the decision.

On November 12, another committee of cross-party members took the unelected officers' recommendation to close the theatre and sack Parkwood Theatres, which runs the Hazlitt day to day.

Cash-strapped MBC must find massive savings after COVID-19 decimated revenues.

Amy has implored the members voting tonight not to be responsible for turning off the "ghost light" that always stays on in theatres.

Six Conservatives, supported by MP Helen Grant, are thought to be behind a move to ask for a deferment of the closure until the new year.

Terminating the Parkwood contract would save the £243,000 subsidy but cost MBC £103,000 a year to keep it mothballed.

Some 7,300 names have signed Amy's petition in under two weeks since news emerged the council wanted to close the popular venue.

Amy wrote: "On our darkest days, the Hazlitt Theatre has helped the people of Maidstone find laughter, magic and hope. Covid has managed to take so much from us all already. 

"You have the opportunity right now to make the people of Maidstone feel that at the end of all of this there will still be something that remains, the feeling of hope. 

"I know that in breaking the contract with Parkwood your committee has seen the benefit in being able to ‘mothball’ the building. As an individual who has worked in the arts for many years I can tell you from the bottom of my heart that this isn’t an option if you are wanting to open the Hazlitt’s doors again. The local council  will always have to prioritise something ‘more important’.

"In ‘mothballing’ the building you will never be able to give the building what it needs when Covid allows the theatre to bloom once more. Even more so there are 40 members of staff who not only have had to live a furloughed wage this year but you would also be making them redundant at Christmas time."

Referrring to the light left on at centre stage, she added: "In theatres when the audience leaves and the technical crew lock up  there is always one light that is left centre stage called the ‘ghost light’. 

"It’s an old wives tale that has become embedded in theatre culture so that even in the dead of night a theatre never loses its magic.

"As though even in all the years a theatre has existed it has never let go of the people who walked through its door. Please don’t be the person who helps to turn off that light. Keep this buildings past, present and future alive."


On tonight's committee are: Cllrs Louise Brice (Con), Matt Burton (Con), Karen Chappell-Tay (Con), Brian Clark (lib Dem), Martin Cox (Lib Dem) (Chairman), Clive English  (Lib Dem), Faye Gooch (IND), Georgia Harvey (Lib Dem), Malcolm McKay (Lab), Derek Mortimer (Lib Dem), Gordon Newton (IND), John Perry (Con) (ViceChairman), Martin Round (Con), Val Springett (Con)and Nick de Wiggondene-Sheppard (Lib Dem).