Sports groups anger at Drill Hall bookings decision

SPORTS groups claim regular meetings at a popular Great Yarmouth venue have become “untenable” after new owners put a stop to block bookings.

And the long-standing users of the Drill House say time table changes have signalled a “sad day” for sports in the town as they fear the venue could be lost to future activities.

But SeaChange Arts, who took over the York Road building in February, said groups had been given 18 months warning that arts activities would be given priority, as it worked towards bringing more community activities into the town.

Sports, including badminton and basketball, are regularly held at the hall and groups had become used to booking up to three months in advance. Members have now been told, however they will not be able to make such block bookings.

Mark Westgate, who used to coach ladies basketball at the venue - formerly the Drill Hall - said many groups were now seeking alternative premises, but choices were limited.

“From a sporting point of view the Drill Hall has got one of the best floors for sports in the area. We have some of the new school gyms but they’re not available during the day and the Marina Centre lacks that type of floor,” he added.

“I think it’s a very sad day for sport in the town.”

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Mr Westgate thought it was a shame that sport may be sliding off the programme at the Drill House after the legacy the Olympics and Paralympics had left.

“We have had a summer of sport and unfortunately SeaChange have stuck two fingers up to that,” he added.

“I enjoy the arts but it’s not something for everyone - same as sport.

“But there’s probably more people that take part in sports than there will be in carving polystyrene statues.”

Since coming to the town Sea Change has introduced more art based activities at the Drill House, including establishing a circus school. Sarah James, executive director, said one of the reasons for cutting the block bookings was so the hall could accommodate more artists who had expressed an interest in coming to town.

She said: “We’re promoting the facilities here nationally and internationally to artists and companies to come and have residencies and come and work with the local community to do workshops.

“Companies are ringing me up this week saying can I have it from next Wednesday onwards and I have to give tsports users at least three weeks notice at the minute, so I’m turning down a lot of income, which is - in terms of a business model - not very sustainable.

“We’re not closing the Drill House to sports use, on a week to week basis it’s open for bookings. It’s just we’re struggling to accommodate three monthly bookings of sports users and all the other activity we’re here to promote and deliver.”