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62 adults with learning difficulties let down by cancelled Snow White panto in Aylesford

By Alan Smith

Leeds Castle has taken centre stage to help a party of adults with learning difficulties, whose plans for a Christmas day out were let down at the last minute.

Toby Marsh, who runs Lainey's Farm day centre in Staplehurst with his partner Elaine Symes, had organised for 62 of their clients to visit the Maidstone panto at The Friars today.

However, organisers announced this morning they had pulled the plug on all remaining performances, which were due to run all the way up to New Year's Eve at a 900-seater 'super theatre'.

Toby Marsh with some of his disappointed clients at Lainey's Farm in Staplehurst
Toby Marsh with some of his disappointed clients at Lainey's Farm in Staplehurst

"It was our last day before Christmas and we had planned a big day out to see Snow White when we heard it was cancelled," Mr Marsh said.

"Our people were already in their cars and taxis heading for The Friars.

"We had several clients who were very upset and that's understandable - everyone we work with is on the autistic spectrum in some way, and some find it very difficult to accommodate change, particularly sudden change.

"Our carers have been working with them to allow them to come to terms with what has been quite a big shock."

Kent Online has since helped to organise an alternative day out at Leeds Castle, where bosses have laid on a special afternoon of fun for the group, including a tour of the historic attraction, which celebrated its 900th birthday earlier this year.

Leeds Castle. Picture: Visit Kent (5598607)
Leeds Castle. Picture: Visit Kent (5598607)

Mr Marsh added: "Hats off to Leeds Castle for their huge effort in putting this on for us.

"Hopefully we can turn a very dismal start to the day into a happy ending."

Some £620 was spent on tickets for the panto, which Mr Marsh doesn't know if he will get back.

Among the crowd is 27-year-old Zoe, who said: "We're feeling a bit happier but we were very disappointed at the beginning.

"We were really excited about going and some of them feel a bit confused as well.

"I'm looking forward to having a look around the castle and having some lunch."

Lainey's farm group at Leeds Castle (6092600)
Lainey's farm group at Leeds Castle (6092600)

Tracey Everest's daughter was also hoping to attend the show.

She said: "It's disgusting. They've all gone up there for a day out and paid their £20 to visit.

"They're ripping the place down and my daughter is there not knowing what to do.

"It's not just the group, there are other people there who wanted to visit."

Snow White Maidstone Panto (6063420)
Snow White Maidstone Panto (6063420)

Fremlin Walk shopping centre has offered a helping hand too.

It is putting on two additional showings of its sold out Magical Movies screenings in its Christmas Cabin.

The cabin will show Polar Express at 12.30pm and Elf at 4.30pm.

Tickets are limited to 60 people at each showing, anyone interested should email bookings@frogboxmarketing.com with their name, telephone number and number of people they wish to attend.

Promoter Danny Wright said: "Much to our regret, we are cancelling all shows scheduled from today, Tuesday, onwards."

He said: "Although we have had much support from many contractors, locals and The Friars, a select few are not willing to make this work, with the weather of November becoming a huge factor to this result.

"Long term, we’ve been up against it from the beginning, with local authorities, opposition theatres and ‘people in power’ really not supporting what we are trying to achieve, and have not made it easy."

Click here for the full panto guide for 2018

Mr Wright offered "sincere apologies" to his event partners and sponsors, and added: "We want to extend our most heartfelt apologies to all those who are holding tickets for the event. We would like to sincerely thank all of you for your support and understanding. All tickets purchased through third parties should contact them directly.

"All direct ticket holders of the show will be notified within the next few weeks. We would need your support to follow the steps provided when you receive the email.

"All enquiries regarding the event or the refund can be forwarded to boxoffice@maidstonepanto.com."

Have you been affected by this? Email news@thekmgroup.co.uk.

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