And so it begins…

For anyone who has been following the clusterf**k that’s Thurrock Council, this news will not come as any surprise: Council faces financial shakeup as it battles cash shortage. Cllr Shane Hebb, Cabinet Member for Finance will be delivering a report on the council’s financial situation to the cabinet on Wednesday 7 July.

In a press release allied to this report, Thurrock Council has said that it “will begin to transform into a leaner organisation that continues to deliver on residents’ key priorities”. In plain English, that means cuts to services and flogging off land and buildings.

There’s this as well: “Service reviews will be completed which are fully outcomes focused; ensuring that services are reviewed in line with post-COVID realities and that upcoming discussions are about how services are delivered, not just what buildings services inhabit”. You don’t have to be a genius to work out that means they’ll shift what they can over to digital delivery while they flog off some buildings. Haven’t got an internet connection or only have one that’s intermittent and unreliable? Tough luck – that’s your fault for being a Luddite.

In a bid to balance the books, Thurrock Council look to be seriously considering flogging off the Thameside complex: Council finally concedes it has plans to close Thameside and dispose of other assets including Grangewaters and other buildings it considers not fit for purpose. The Thameside not only hosts the theatre, it’s also home to the central library and the museum.

If the council are seriously thinking about getting shot of the Thameside complex, while it may be possible to find other venues for drama and other performing groups, it begs these questions… What will happen to the central library and the museum? Do they seriously think the borough can do without a central library? If it goes, that pretty much puts the future of every branch library across the borough in severe doubt. If it’s re-located to somewhere like the Grays campus of the South Essex College as a ‘shared’ facility, will what it currently offers to the public be reduced? As for the museum, that tells the story of what the borough was and helps put some historical context on where it’s going in the future. Do Thurrock Council think that role can continue to be fulfilled if all the artefacts and papers at the museum end up buried somewhere in the recesses of the Essex Records Office?

It would seem that the bean counters at Thurrock Council see the Thameside complex as just another building with little or no appreciation of the activities that have and still do take place there. Which may explain why the use of the complex has been getting run down for some time: Thameside Theatre hours cut. Creative businesses speak of anger and disappointment after being hit by ‘unilateral’ council decision. When a council is seriously considering effectively trashing a fair chunk of the borough’s cultural life and heritage just to raise some money, you have to wonder what on earth is motivating them to behave like this.

Suffice to say, we’ll be keeping a close eye on this and will support any efforts to keep the Thameside complex open and bring it back to being a thriving cultural hub.

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