A town’s arts venue and community hub is at risk of closing due to mounting costs and a lack of financial support, locals have warned. 

Stanley Civic Hall has been handed back to Durham County Council after councillors on the town council admitted it wasn’t able to keep up with the venue’s rising maintenance costs, while poor footfall has also hindered progress. 

Formerly known as the Lamplight Arts Centre, which opened in 1961, the venue is a key cultural outlet in County Durham and hosts local groups and weddings among others including shows at the Alun Armstrong theatre. 

The county council is due to receive overall control of the venue in January 2024 but it is feared the Civic Hall could close as soon as September. 

“The building is falling to bits, there’s no heating system, there’s parts of the roof that need doing and it’s all to the tune of about £500,000,” said Jeanette Stephenson, leader of Stanley Town Council.

Staff have worked with community groups to find alternative venues and the venue’s immediate future is now in doubt. 

Cllr Stephenson added: “It’s not safe for people to be in the building. It needs such a huge investment and we don’t want to put an extra burden on the residents of Stanley for something that very few people use."

The Northern Echo: The venue could now close as soon as September The venue could now close as soon as September (Image: Sarah Caldecott)

Staff are now waiting to see what the county council plans to do with it but are unsure.

“We called on the county council and asked them for grant funding but with very little success,” said Cllr Stephenson. “We have been trying the whole of this year to find out what their intentions are.” 

Lindsay Kellegher has launched a campaign, urging locals to help raise awareness of the building’s importance and the lack of alternative venues.

“The Civic Hall should be, and always has been, a community building for the people of Stanley, providing not only a venue for arts and theatre, but private functions and cinema,” she said.

“It has also offered space for community groups and has been a hub for people in our town to meet and come together. 

“With the right business plan and structure in place, this venue could be a thriving, welcoming community venture, not only generating income but providing a much needed place that local people can come together.” 

The venue’s slow demise has been partly blamed on the lasting impacts of the Covid pandemic, which have led to low audience numbers. Now, locals worry it is another nail in the coffin for the North Durham town. 

Cllr Stephenson added: “It’s really sad, and for children who are quite poor around this area and don’t get many chances to visit cultural events around here, where are they going to go now? It’s an absolute disaster. 

“It’s just really sad and such a detriment for the people of Stanley.”

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Responding to the concerns, Conservative councillor James Rowlandson, on behalf of the joint administration of Durham County Council, said: “Stanley Town Council has had a full repairing lease on Stanley Civic Hall since 2015, and the Labour run town council has clearly been reckless with an important county and community asset.

"Rather than use the opportunity to develop a thriving hub for residents, the town council has failed to maintain the building to anything near an adequate standard, all while setting an annual council tax precept that’s close to £1 million.

“I can attest to the negligence of Stanley Town Council first hand. I made a point of visiting the hall in 2021 and saw a hole in the roof.

"The then town clerk could offer no information on when it would be fixed – county council officers visited a few weeks later and the hole was still there. That is symptomatic of a dysfunctional town council that has lost seven clerks in as many years, and is now attempting to duck its responsibilities.

“The lease does not run out until February, but the town council has chosen to leave the building and throw out its users, without finding them other suitable venues.

"I have written to remind Stanley Town Council that the hall remains its responsibility until the lease is surrendered next year. The present situation is also the town council’s responsibility and a direct consequence of its actions, or more accurately, lack of actions. Residents should be asking Stanley Town Council why it has let them down so badly.”

But town councillors dispute the claims and say they feel “unsupported and disappointed” by the lack of support.