Actor Forbes Masson joins campaign to retain a town hall in Falkirk

Actor Forbes Masson is one of nearly 2000 people who have signed an online petition demanding that Falkirk gets a replacement for its town hall.

The stage and television star – who is currently appearing on London’s West End with the Royal Shakespeare company – says he “cannot believe” his home town could lose its only large scale performance space.

He is urging his followers on Twitter and Facebook to show their support by signing the petition set up by Falkirk and District Arts and Civic Council (FDACC) when they heard the ageing town hall might not be replaced.

FDACC vice-chair John Paterson says members were shocked that Falkirk Council could even consider not having a town hall.

They believe it is is absolutely vital for the area and hope that people who enjoy attending concerts and performances on the town hall stage will lend their support to the petition.

Mr Paterson said: “Everyone at the meeting found the whole concept of not having a town hall just unbelievable and one of the participants at the meeting offered to create a petition.

“The signatures have been coming in thick and fast but I don’t think enough people know there is a threat to the town hall.”

The plea comes as a row rumbles on over plans to build new offices to replace the municipal buildings and a new 550-seat arts centre to replace FTH (Falkirk Town Hall).

At a special meeting of the council in November, Conservative councillors argued that while new offices are undoubtedly necessary, the arts centre is a luxury the district cannot afford.

Labour councillors are also reluctant to give their backing to a project that will almost certainly cost at least £50 million.

They argue that the cost of paying the loan back will be nearly £3 million a year from the council’s revenue budget – and that could cost other jobs and vital services.

Falkirk Council’s leading SNP group says building new council offices in the town centre will revitalise the area and give it a much needed boost – but it needs the backing of at least one other party to go ahead with plans.

At the moment, Falkirk Council is costing two proposals, both of which include new offices and a 550-seat arts centre and more details will be put to councillors in the new year.

The SNP believes that a new arts centre would also boost the night-time economy, bringing people into bars and restaurants before and after shows.

And while the new building will have a similar number of seats to the current town hall, they say it will not be ‘like for like’.

A consultant’s report shows that a modern building with a better backstage area will be able to accommodate a bigger range of shows, including professional musicals such as Blood Brothers and Sunshine on Leith, and large-scale touring theatre productions.

The FDACC petition is a reminder that any new arts centre must also be a place which is accessible to local groups and local people – from floral arts shows and poetry readings to musicals and shows.

“I think they are actually putting people off by calling it an arts centre,” said Mr Paterson. “What we are really talking about is a replacement town hall.”

The signatories on the petition show that many people have fond memories of performing on the town hall stage, whether in dance displays, concerts or amateur dramatic shows.

For many, including Forbes Masson, the town hall gave them their first experience of being on stage.

Mr Paterson believes that the arts being described as ‘nice to have but not essential’ could not be further from the truth.

He said: “It is part of being human to have places where artistic performances can take place.

“People these days are going on about mental health as much as physical health.

“To have performances locally lifts people’s spirits and is vital for people’s well-being and mental health.

“It actually take a load off the NHS because get people so much well-being from it and it helps industry and our economy because people who are stressed and ill take time off work.”

The plans for replacement offices and town hall will be looked at in more detail at a meeting of Falkirk Council’s executive in January.

Council leader Cecil Meiklejohn said: “A further update will be provided at the January Executive for members and this will hopefully enable us to move to the next stage once the outcome of the 
procurement exercise is known.

“It will then be up to members to examine this further and this will include options for an arts venue located in the town centre.”

The current FTH was built in the 1960s, replacing the previous town hall in Upper Newmarket Street.