Canterbury City Council gave the Westgate Community Trust a challenge: “we are proposing to make funding available to keep the Westgate Hall in Canterbury open until September 2011. This will give the Westgate Hall Community Trust, a group of people who want the hall to remain, time to put their business case together and show the council that they can take on the running of the building at no cost to the council in the future. It’s pleasing to be able to give some good news” (Leaders Column, District Life 40, page 4, Winter 2010).

We grabbed this opportunity and a combination of hard work, people’s generosity with their skills and good luck meant that, in partnership with Curzon Cinemas we have presented the Council with a sustainable business plan. It’s not just us saying that.  The council officers’ report on our business plan concludes that “The proposal from the Westgate Community Trust provides assurance that they are able to run the building at no cost to the council.”(follow this link, page 17).

And so, on Wednesday 27th of July, at 5pm at the Canterbury’s Guildhall, we will find out whether our nearly 100 year old Drill Hall will be serving Canterbury for another century, reinvented as a sustainable community hall and a 3-screen digital Curzon cinema, or whether it will have to make way for a few more car parking spaces. There is still time to write to the members of the Council’s executive and express your support.

Last Saturday, the Westgate Community Trust and Curzon Cinemas invited Canterbury to Westgate Hall for our free all day Big Screen event. We aimed to demonstrate to the community how the Trust and Curzon could work together and what our partnership could offer the city if the Trust succeeds in saving the building.

In defining Saturday’s programme, the Trust and Curzon had worked to highlight Canterbury’s film achievements and its dynamic film community by placing them in the context of the national and international scope of Curzon. And what a wonderful day it was beginning with Curzon’s offerings of beautiful children’s films, followed by creations of Animate and Create (stars of Canterbury’s Anifest), the amazing work of Peter Cook with the Marlowe Youth Theatre, the Historic Films of Canterbury, the documentary about the Westgate Community Trust by University of Kent film student Justinian Dispenza, with Pina and The King’s Speech ending the day.

One of Curzon’s hallmarks is interaction with the community where its cinemas are based; they are located in the heart of urban areas, not on the fringes. On Saturday, Curzon representatives discussed potential programming and ticket prices with visitors and led children’s craft workshops based on the stories of the films they had just seen.

Philip Knatchbull, Chief Executive of Curzon Artificial Eye, joined the Westgate Community Trust and cinema goers for a reception at 6.30 to explain Curzon’s proposed plans for the construction of a three-screen cinema in the conference wing of the Westgate Hall, and the role Curzon would like to play in the community. His personal connection to Kent and Canterbury, having been a student here, has certainly made him keen for the company to have a presence here. However, most significantly, he stressed the contribution Curzon would like to make to Canterbury’s community, such as providing programming responding to local interests and developing relationships with local film makers, and to the economic and cultural rejuvenation currently underway in the city.

The enthusiastic feedback from the several hundred visitors who came through the Westgate Hall’s doors throughout the day confirmed community appreciation of the potential of this proposed partnership between the Trust and Curzon Cinemas and for the Trust’s proposed future for the building. A great day was had by all!

Whatever the outcome, the Trust would like to thank Canterbury’s residents, all our volunteers, members, corporate, private, and voluntary sector supporters, and the collaboration of the Council, for your interest and encouragement since we started this project in March 2010.

As Saturday once again emphasized — thanks to this process we have found community, and begun building it. It’s been amazing teamwork. It’s been a fantastic journey!

However, regardless of whether we get a positive decision or not, this campaign will not end on Wednesday. If the decision is positive we will have a big job ahead, turning this nearly 100 year old building into a community space that Canterbury can be proud of.

If negative, we will not give up quite yet…

Thank you.