A SERIES of concerts which started 25 years ago at Warrington’s Walton Hall seems likely to fold-up because of “unsustainable” rising costs imposed by the borough council
The Friends of Walton Hall Music fear their concerts – featuring a variety of music, but mainly classical music – will be unable to continue.
A spokesman said: “It seems rather ironic that today we are thinking about improving the cultural heritage of Warrington and yet a council decision is working to the detriment of a well-loved, long standing series that gives enjoyment to Warrington-wide concert-goers both young and old.
“It does give food for thought about how serious the council is about cultural activity in the town.”
The council started the concerts in 1990 and, following fundraising efforts by the Friends of Walton Hall Music, was able to purchase a grand piano specifically to use at the concerts.
For the past 25 years, the Friends, a voluntary group, has presented a varied diet of concerts – although mainly of a classical nature.
Until last year the Friends used the hall free of charge and held eight, well-attended concerts per year.
But earlier this year, they were informed the free use could not continue as the council had determined that the Walton Hall Estate must be run at a profit.
After talks with the hall management it was agreed that for this interim charges of between £100 and £150 per concert would be levied and that the Friends would bring their own wine.
The hall management then decided charges for next year would increase to £295 per concert and there would be a charge of £6 per bottle corkage on wine.
Now however the Friends have been informed that in future all drinks must be purchased from the bar and the bar would only be opened if the Friends could guarantee takings of at least £500.
Average attendance at the concerts is around 70 – mainly older people who value the social occasion meeting people with similar interests.
The spokesman added: “In looking to 2016, in order to maintain the present social benefits and atmosphere, the ticket price of £12 would have to rise to £19. On top of that a further £3 per person would be needed for the series to break even.
“This is unsustainable, although a one-off grant of £1200 from the council has given temporary relief.
The Friends have been told by the hall management that there is no negotiation regarding the charges.
There is no account taken of the cultural benefit to the town and it is sobering that we are regarded by the council no differently from any casual one-off user of the hall.
“As a result, there is the real likelihood that it will lead to the demise of the Friends in the not too distant future.”
A Council spokesman said: “We very much want to secure the long-term future of the concerts, but these have been running at a loss for a number of years and local council tax payers can’t be expected to pick up the bill.
“Our aim is simply to break even on all Walton Hall activities and we’ve been working hard with the Friends group over the past 12 months to find a way to reach a mutually satisfactory arrangement.”