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Spotlites Theatre Company could fold after 30 years due to Union Place car park plan for former Buzz Bingo hall in Chatham High Street

The future of a performing arts workshop which has nurtured the talents of thousands of youngsters for more than 30 years hangs in the balance.

Plans were put in for 231 flats housed in two six and 10 storey blocks on the former Buzz Bingo hall site in Chatham town centre earlier this month.

But the large-scale development could mean those who use the council-run Union Place car park would lose the access road to it, now acquired by Donard Living.

This includes members and visitors of the Spotlites Theatre Company in the High Street.

Director and owner Kieron Riddell fears that this could be the final curtain for the theatre which he says is a lifeline for youngsters and adults with learning difficulties.

Mr Riddell believes it plays a vital cultural and well-being role that cannot be matched in the town.

He said in a questionnaire he has carried out, 77% said if they could not use the pay and display 49-space car park they would leave.

What the redevelopment of the Buzz Bingo building in Chatham could look like. Picture: POD Architects Ltd
What the redevelopment of the Buzz Bingo building in Chatham could look like. Picture: POD Architects Ltd
Kieron Riddell, Spotlites director
Kieron Riddell, Spotlites director

Donard Living has said it would offer some of the space to Spotlites Theatre, which neighbours the building.

But Mr Riddell is still negotiating with company and the council to provide an alternative, nearby place to park.

He added: "We would need agreements in place to ensure we are kept safe from disturbance during the construction phase through noise and the like.

"We would also need a drop off zone for disabled patrons – although this is far from ideal with the activities we run for disabled patrons and parents.

"If the car park goes I will lose 90% of the business that is already still recovering the affects of the pandemic. Spotlites would not be able to keep running."

Mr Riddell, 32, who grew up in Chatham, joined the group when he was 11 and is "passionate" about its survival.

Spotlites Theatre Company in Chatham High Street
Spotlites Theatre Company in Chatham High Street

He said: "I didn't fit in at school. It nurtured my talent in a way that school didn't.

"Spotlites offers youngsters a safe space, it's somewhere to be yourself and explore your creativity and meet life-long friends. It's a place to grow and learn and reach full potential.

"There is no other place like it in Chatham."

He said the not-for-profit business could not afford to move and there were no other suitable premises in the vicinity.

There are currently about 60 members, aged between six to 17, but he said there was a countywide network of former members and supporters which he was encouraging to back a fundraising campaign.

The group has put on more than 300 productions and won national amateur dramatic awards over the years. It is currently fundraising to help ensure its survival.

He said: "This development isn't going to be complete over night, and whilst it is under way it could cause potential issues for us.

"So if you can donate please do. Or if you would like to do your own fundraiser for Spotlites Theatre Company then please get in contact with Kieron at kieron@spotlites.co.uk."

The plans will be decided at the start of April this year.

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