On the evening of Wednesday 24.11, we attended a peaceful protest in Grays against the threatened closure of the Thameside complex which as well as the theatre, also houses the library and museum. The protest took place before a full meeting of Thurrock Council where the future of the complex was to be discussed. Because of ongoing ‘difficulties’ at the Civic Offices, the meeting had to take place over the road at the Grays campus of South Essex College.
Given that it was dark and cold, a healthy attendance of over one hundred was a sign that people are not letting the threatened closure of the Thameside complex pass without putting up a good fight. Looking at the protesters, it was abundantly clear what the complex, particularly the theatre means to them. A cash strapped Thurrock Council sees the complex as little more than an asset to be sold off. Many people in Thurrock see the Thameside as an integral part of the cultural life of the area and much more than just a building. There is a glimmer of hope in that investigations are underway to see if the Thameside could be transferred to community ownership where, as far as we understand, it’s possible to secure funding streams that local authorities can’t access.
As we wrote in an earlier post, a number of the Tory ruling group councillors were nervous about walking into the council meeting through the front entrance of the college and past the protesters: Some Thurrock councillors really need to get a grip! It turned out that the Tory councillors crept in via a rear entrance: Thurrock Conservatives avoid campaigners and use back door entry to meeting. This was despite the presence of council security and at least eight cops. We’ve lived in Thurrock for more than forty years and that’s the most cops we’ve ever seen together in one place in all those years!
Let’s just say, it was probably the easiest few hours work those cops have had in a long while! Still, the fact that Thurrock Council called in a police presence in the first place along with Tory councillors sneaking in through a rear entrance leaves a bad taste in the mouth. It sends out a signal that the council a) do not trust their residents and b) have no wish to directly engage with them. This comes on top of a long history of arrogance alongside a lack of transparency and accountability. A consequence of this is that the relationship between Thurrock Council and their residents continues to deteriorate. At some point, radical change has to happen to give power back to the residents…
PS – we shifted a decent number of Heckler papers:)