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New Milton mayor Cllr David Hawkins vows to fight ‘tooth and nail’ to save under-threat Forest Arts Centre on Old Milton Road

NEW Milton’s mayor vowed the threatened closure of a local arts venue would be fought “tooth and nail” amid feared heavy funding cuts.

As reported in the A&T, Hampshire Cultural Trust, which runs Forest Arts Centre, warned venue closures were “inevitable” if a proposed near 50% slash in county council handouts is approved under a budget review.

Forest Arts Centre in New Milton
Forest Arts Centre in New Milton

Hampshire County Council is currently the Winchester-based charity’s biggest funder, contributing £2.5m per year.

There are also fears for the future of trust-run Red House Museum in Christchurch and Rockbourne Roman Villa in Fordingbridge.

The trust is in continuing talks with HCC in a bid to mitigate the effects of the cuts, but it is as yet unable to confirm where any closures may have to be made.

Reacting to the news, Cllr David Hawkins told a recent town council amenities committee meeting that Forest Arts Centre was “a vital part of New Milton”.

“We need to not lose this centre, we should be fighting tooth and nail,” he said.

“We should meet with Forest Arts Centre and sit down with them so we know exactly what the problem is, and then we can come up with a strategy.

“We need to save our arts.”

New Milton mayor Cllr David Hawkins said the centre was “a vital part” of the town
New Milton mayor Cllr David Hawkins said the centre was “a vital part” of the town

Members agreed the talks for the Old Milton Road venue should go ahead within weeks.

Each year more than 600,000 people visit Hampshire Cultural Trust venues and around 15,000 schoolchildren benefit from immersive education programmes.

The charity also runs projects for vulnerable groups including people living with dementia, individuals suffering from mental health challenges and young people who are not in mainstream education.

Trust chief executive Paul Sapwell said: “A final decision on the proposed reduction will be made at a full council meeting in November and following that there may be further public consultation to explore different options for how and what level of savings could be made across the council, including the venues and services that Hampshire Cultural Trust provides.

“This is not a short process and while we would of course like to offer certainty regarding where we may have to close venues, it will be some time before we are able to do so.”

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