The Far Pavilion (s)

FANS of the famous book The Far Pavilions don’t have to travel to India to experience the epic because Weymouth is offering a saga with a similar name which is much closer to home.

The latest twist in the battle to save the town’s theatre complex has seen councillors formally approve its closure on May 31st.

But they have also tried to throw the Pavilion a lifeline by further approving that tenders go out to run the huge building with community groups favoured as the new owners.

There are some who might say that councillors have turned a cold shoulder to the popular arts facility and they’d be right…..a cold shoulder, cold hands and cold feet because the heating didn’t seem to be working too well when a full council meeting met to debate Weymouth and Portland’s 2013-2014 budget of which the Pavilion was a crucial part.

Everyone arrived and promptly took off hats, coats, scarves and gloves but, as a frequently passionate debate ground on and on, it was possible to see spectators and councillors alike slowly putting discarded clothing back on as the temperature left “comfortable” behind and headed inexorably down towards “chilly” and then “It’s a bit parky in here isn’t it?!”

So, while most of the early applause was heartfelt, it may well have been that later enthusiasm owed as much to clapping hands together to keep warm as to a popular point.

And there were plenty of points made during a sprawling and frequently bewildering debate with lots of “I refer you to big 2 little iii sub-section d” which often forced debate into a brief halt while a particularly obscure piece of councilese was simplified for the rest of us.

Every speaker and every councillor seemed to favour Option B, letting a community group take over the running of the Pavilion, but there was a series of running clashes between rival political groups on the council on just how the authority should work towards this desirable outcome.

One of the biggest fears voiced by spectators and many councillors was that sorting out tenders and other minutia would take so long that it might torpedo a community group’s efforts to get in and run the Pavilion before they even started.

The best comment on this during the entire night came from Councillor John Birtwistle who pointed out that “manana” was a Spanish word meaning “not today”, wickedly adding that the council did not actually have a word which conveyed such urgency!

Attempts to instil that urgency into handing over the Pavilion were defeated, the prevailing argument being that the tender process needed to be done once but done properly to ensure whatever group takes over the Pavilion is given the best fighting chance to succeed.

At the moment, that group would appear to be Weymouth businessman Phil Say’s Save the Pavilion which got huge support from among nearly 150 people in the audience who had braved a bitter night to make their voices heard about the need to save the facility not bulldoze it.

And when the dust settled Mr Say was delighted but also cautious, promising to submit a tender once he could find out what that required.

Some common sense had been exercised about the evening’s proceedings because, rather than leave packed public seating twiddling its thumbs until the Pavilion came up on the agenda, the meeting took that budget item first.

That dealt with, there was a brief lull for cheers, back-slapping, optimistic comments about “a bright new future”….and a max exodus from the building by almost the entire audience.

Yes, the council certainly knows its audience and the half dozen spectators left when the budget debate resumed scarcely had an important decision to wonder at apart from councillors backing the sale of the entire council offices on North Quay, the town’s historic Guildhall, herculean measures to deal with harbour wall repairs and…oh yes, £100,000 knocked off the CCTV budget.

Bearing in mind that CCTV offers the forces of law and order a chance to nip crime in the bud or catch criminals almost as soon as they’ve committed the town centre assault-theft-vandalism-drunken act, it should be interesting to see how that dovetails with closing the Pavilion complex on May 31st.

If the Neanderthal assault on buildings left empty for ten years ahead of finally constructing Weymouth’s new town centre was anything to go by then the council had better pray that it can find a word to convey speedy action and quick.

If it can’t, then smashed in windows and doors, ripped out fittings and perhaps a small fire or a bit of skilful toilet flooding may turn a building that debate referred to as “the jewel in Weymouth’s crown” from a Far Pavilion to a Too Far Gone Pavilion and the bulldozers will win the day.



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