The following e-mail is ‘doing the rounds’ of Camberley at the moment:
“We write on behalf of 200 members of Camberley WI. Founded in 2012 we are now the third largest WI in the country and have a very long waiting list. Our members’ ages range from 29 to 82 which is definitely all inclusive!
Our ‘home’, since our inception, has been in the Ian Goodchild Centre, part of the Camberley Theatre, where we meet once a month for two hours of inspirational speakers, hands-on craft demos and sessions and the inevitable tea and cake. This ideal situation looks as though it is coming to an end. We were shocked to learn recently that the cost of the hire of the hall has risen by almost 200% with immediate effect. This makes it financially impossible for us, as a charity, to stay there. Apparently the reason for this sudden and draconian rise is that Surrey Heath Borough Council are withdrawing their subsidy from Camberley Theatre. It saddens us to think this inevitably removes the community element of the venue. If one of the largest WIs in the UK can no longer afford to hire the hall we would imagine that other groups are also priced out of the available rooms.
Reluctantly we must search for another venue, and after intensive research we find that the size of our group forces us to move outside the centre of Camberley. Not only will we lose our central location (and SHBC will be losing at least £80 worth of parking fees once a month!) but it is shocking that SHBC seems to be no longer supportive of community groups in the town.”
We hadn’t heard before about the remarkable growth of the local WI to become third-largest in the country in only a few years. That’s amazing.
But, several ‘political’ issues also strike us. Firstly, the borough council’s subsidy of the theatre has been contentious for years. ‘GetSurrey’ reproduces an article written in 2004, which says: “Liberal Democrat councillors have branded The Camberley Theatre ‘an excessive drain’ on Surrey Heath Council’s resources and called for an end to its subsidies.” The argument even then was that, though subsidising the arts is an accepted practice in a society like ours, Surrey Heath is a wealthy borough; most of its residents do not need a subsidy in order to be able to afford a theatre ticket, and the money could be better used in helping the minority who are in real need.
Secondly, the Ian Goodchild Centre lost its name a year or so ago. It now tends to be called, rather boringly, the ‘function room’. This reflects, we believe, the borough council’s intent to generate more income from the facility. ‘Profit’ is the name of the game, for better or worse.
The third thought is that it’s not many months since local residents elected the current councillors. What has happened in that short time to turn them into villains? Well, nothing, of course. But we do, in effect, have a one-party council, and that’s not good, whatever the council’s political complexion. We need a decent opposition so that council policies are challenged properly.