Groups face uncertain future

LOCAL groups hoping to book the Corn Exchange in Ipswich have been left devastated by the news that the venue is set to close.But while the Labour group at the council has agreed to sell the venue, bookings are still being taken into the early part of next year.

LOCAL groups hoping to book the Corn Exchange in Ipswich have been left devastated by the news that the venue is set to close.

But while the Labour group at the council has agreed to sell the venue, bookings are still being taken into the early part of next year.

The council's official line is that the closure and sale of the Corn Exchange complex is only one option being proposed in a review of the town's arts facilities.

That is true - but the review was conducted by outside group Bonnar Keenlyside and they do not make council policy.

Ipswich Council is run by a Labour Party administration. It holds 31 of the 48 seats on the council.

At a Labour group meeting on February 9 - a private meeting to which the press and public were excluded - the Labour group agreed that: "Steps should be taken with a view to disposing of the Corn Exchange."

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That has not yet become the policy of the borough council, but with a huge majority the Labour group has, that can only be a matter of time.

But it now seems that the venue will remain open until the middle of next year.

The council had not been accepting new bookings for the Corn Exchange beyond the end of this year - but within days of our story about the closure, they were cleared.

"We had booked the Corn Exchange through until June 2005," said Tim Mutum, secretary of the Ipswich charity concert committee.

"We had not had confirmation of these bookings which is very unusual and when I saw the Evening Star story, the alarm bells started ringing."

But after calling the council to try to find out what was happening, confirmation of the bookings came through two days later.

Other organisations have expressed their outrage at the decision to close the Corn Exchange.

Susannah Hodges of the Ipswich Orchestral Society said: "Our members are devastated at the news of a possible sell-off of the Corn Exchange.

"The Grand Hall has provided a prestigious, congenial venue for concerts by many of the world's leading soloists and for over 20 years local youngsters have been entertained and educated at our hugely successful Family Concerts.

"The point is that there is no other suitable venue in the area; the Regent is too large and too expensive for local groups to consider.

"The future of our Society, highly respected in the musical world, who have performed in Ipswich for the past 101 years, would be seriously threatened by this proposal, as would that of the many, many other groups which contribute to the vibrancy of our town.

"Ipswich used to be called a cultural desert but the opening of the Corn Exchange changed that; to close it now with all that it offers to the people of Ipswich would only prove those critics right."

Chris Green, who runs Trianon concerts at the Corn Exchange, said events had only been "pencilled" into the venue's diary and there was no firm contract for next year - it would still be possible for the bookings to be cancelled without a contractural wrangle.

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