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6 September 2007

Save the 'Westie'

Residents, artists, music lovers, young and old, from Aldershot and surrounding areas spilled into the street outside Aldershot's West End Centre. Elaine Barnett of local punk band, 'Brunette Mindcontrol', led the defiant but upbeat demonstration against Hampshire County Council's secret plan to sell off the popular local arts venue as part of a package to cut Aldershot's public services.

Nick Kirk Reading Socialist Party

Interviews for local and national news were followed by the 100-strong crowd continuing their protest songs, poetry and speeches interspersed with chants of "Save the Westie" celebrating the diverse range of entertainment that only the Westie can offer.

I've enjoyed seeing bands like British Sea Power as well as up-and-coming bands, all at affordable prices at the Westie. The venue has helped to launch successful local rock acts like Hundred Reasons and Reuben on the national scene and provides an important service for artists, musicians and creative learners of all ages.

The Westie hosts regular comedy nights and drama workshops and most importantly is a place where young people can enjoy a safe night out in a town that lacks little alternative entertainment for those under the drinking age. See for more on the campaign.

Aldershot has lost a care home, fire station, town hall and a multi-screen cinema in the past. The Tory administration has drawn up secret plans to cut costs that would see the closure of the Westie and the town library - before consulting the public, Rushmoor borough council or county councillors from minority parties.

A discussion document and email briefing leaked to the Aldershot News Group outlines plans to combine library services with arts and events already run at the nearby Princes Hall - a larger venue for acts like Sing-a-Long-A Sound of Music!

Deborah Bonham, sister of the late John Bonham of Led Zeppelin, recently played at the venue and said to The Courier (a free local newspaper): "Since when do the arts have to be about making a profit? If they start doing that then they are denying the right to young and old for freedom of expression through music."

Unfortunately, under capitalism, music has long been "about making a profit". Whether it is Justin Timberlake singing for McDonald's adverts or gig promoters charging cash strapped bands 100s to play for the financial benefit of the promoter alone, it is very hard for artists and public services to survive in the market economy.

Reading Socialist Party demands: