BINGO lovers have signed a petition to protest against the imminent closure of Swindon's Mecca bingo hall.

The hall, which has been entertaining bingo players since 1974, will open its doors for the last time today.

As reported in Thursday's Adver, the bingo hall has been sold by The Rank Group to Swindon Council as part of the town centre regeneration programme.

Regulars at the Regent Circus venue have spoken of their anger at the closure and the gaping hole it will leave in their lives.

And to show how much they will miss the venue, they have amassed a 280-signature petition.

Helen O'Sullivan, 66, of Cowdrey Close, Toothill, has been playing at the hall for more than 20 years. She said: "I am so upset that it is closing.

"I used to spend all day there on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. That was my entertainment. Now it is gone.

"To some of us it is like losing a limb. It seems nobody thinks about the older people in this town."

Helen said she knew everybody who played at the hall by their first name.

She said: "Now we will be split up. Most won't be able to go to the bingo in Greenbridge because many of them used to get a taxi home.

"It is an £8 or £9 taxi ride from Greenbridge, and we just can't afford that."

Eighty-year-old Barbara Goddard, of Eastcott Hill, Old Town, said: "I have problems with walking, and I have to rely on my daughter and friends to take me everywhere.

"I won't be able to carry on playing bingo now. I just won't be able to go. It will leave a big gap in my life."

Betty Marfleet, of Lyneham, used to travel into Swindon by bus to play bingo on Mondays and Saturdays.

She said: "I used to just get the bus. But the nearest hall now is Gala Bingo at the Greenbridge Retail Park.

"That is two buses away, and I can't do that because it means coming home when it is dark.

"It is the people that you meet playing bingo that matter.

Among those who will be losing out is Jenny Nixon, who has worked at the hall for nearly 30 years.

Jenny will lose her job. She said: "I'm too upset to talk about it. It has come as such a shock."

A spokesman for Mecca said: "We can confirm that we have now completed the sale of Mecca Bingo Swindon to Swindon Borough Council."

A farewell party is being held for Mecca members at the bingo hall at 10.30am today.