Howden Park: Thousands sign petition to save Livingston arts hub as West Lothian leisure centres face closure
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More than 5,000 people have signed a petition to save a previous community hub in West Lothian which has been threatened with closure. A campaign group has been set up less than 24 hours after it was announced Howden Park Centre in Livingston could close alongside three other Xcite sites in Livingston, Armadale and Broxburn.
The petition on Change.org said: “Howden Park Centre is more than a building, the closure of this establishment will have a huge affect on people’s mental health. Many of the clubs that use Howden have many vulnerable people that come along.
"Howden Park is a community, that offers friendships, companionship, support and inclusiveness. Howden Park Centre offers community support for local businesses, dance groups, charities and runs LGBTQIA events. We need to act now to save Howden Park Centre, let’s stand by the team who have worked so hard to build Howden to what it is, our community hub.”
Protests will also be held outside the Civic Centre on Tuesday morning, May 8, as the newly formed campaign group Hands off Howden Park gathers supporters to save the performance venue. The barrage of dismay and criticism which greeted the decision by West Lothian Leisure to close Howden Park and the other sites was summed up by one centre user: “It’s ridiculous that you want to close the Centre. If Howden Park is closed then the closest facility like this will be Edinburgh. Our public facilities are being decimated.”
Howden Park Centre has become a cultural gathering place for everything from pantomime, music gigs, dance classes, writing groups, exercise classes, children’s shows, ballets, plays, musicals and comedy. The cuts are being proposed due to the severe financial difficulties being faced by the council, and councillors vowed to push for any alternative to closure to protect services and staff.
Independent councillor for Armadale and Blackridge, Stuart Borrowman, said: “This is a real body blow for Armadale and Blackridge. I’ve been in to talk to the staff who – understandably – described their mood as ‘rubbish’. number of people stopped me in the street to share their astonishment and I’ve had a large number of people contact me to discuss what might be done.
“This’ll be a real test for the Labour administration to demonstrate that it has a sense of geographical fairness. This facility has served the area for two generations and it would be disappointing if it was allowed to go on the watch of this generation of politicians.”
Leader of West Lothian Council, Labour’s Lawrence Fitzpatrick said: “We are totally committed to providing the best services to our community. This news will come as a huge blow to many members of staff and customers. These are changes that nobody wants to see within our communities.
“It is a stark reminder that a lack of funding of £150 million over the last fifteen years from the Scottish Government has required us to strip the flesh from the bone. Scottish Government cuts are now playing a more devastating part in the downgrading of local services in West Lothian.
"The Government cannot seriously expect the same level of local services to continue without providing us with adequate levels of funding. For years councils have been forced to make cuts and changes in order that we balance our budget – something we are legally required to do – but the stark reality is that we are not receiving enough funding and really difficult decisions are being forced upon us.”
Councillor Fitzpatrick said he has “repeatedly” called upon the Scottish Government to provide the council with additional funding.
Meanwhile, councillor Andrew Miller, who was formerly on the Board of West Lothian Leisure, said: “West Lothian Leisure are facing a significant budget shortfall as a direct consequence of West Lothian Council’s Labour / Tory administration’s budget decisions. Any decision to close facilities requires the approval of West Lothian Council – the SNP group will fight tooth and nail in order to preserve these vital facilities for our population”