Bitter blow to Chippenham theatre group
3:10pm Friday 17th January 2014 in By Joanne Moore
A theatre group that has been inspiring Chippenham children to enjoy acting for more than 40 years might face closure because of a change of catering rules by the town council.
For the first time, Chippenham Hi-Lights will not be able to sell soft drinks and cakes at its annual pantomime in the Neeld Hall and risks losing up to £1,000 in revenue.
Hi-Lights producer Verina Vanzillotti said: “In the past we have always run our own stall selling tea, coffee, sweets and cakes but we received a letter from the town council saying it has now appointed a private person to run all catering.
“I can understand if we wanted a licensed bar to sell alcohol but we only want to do stuff that families want. It has always been a vital part of our income and I don’t know if we will be able to survive without it. It could mean moving out of Chippenham or stopping totally.”
Ms Vanzillotti has told families buying tickets for the production of the Wizard of Oz, which runs at The Neeld Hall from January 26 to February 2, to bring their own refreshments.
She said: “The only other income we have is the ticket price and we use that to cover our other expenses. It costs us £2,500 to hire the Neeld Hall. I tried to arrange a meeting with the town council to discuss the possibility of us being a special case as we do a lot to help so many children but they did not get back to me.”
The group also holds a collection at each performance but this year the money is going to the Fibrosis Society, as long-term Hi-Lights backstage helper Roger Pentecost died in October, aged 56, after being diagnosed with fibrosis four years ago.
Ms Vanzillotti said: “We wanted to do something in his memory and to raise money for charity but the town council doesn’t seem to want to do anything for us.”
A council spokesman said it had appointed a private catering manager and he needed to make a profit.
She said: “The only exceptions to the rule is if something like a food fair is being held in the Neeld Hall. Otherwise the rule is the same for everyone.”
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