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Salsa dancing solicitor steps out to save Canterbury hall

By This is Kent  |  Posted: December 16, 2009

Salsa-dancing solicitor Bob Long and Julia Claughton campaigning to save Westgate Hall from demolition

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DANCING solicitor Bob Long is stepping out to stop the city council from pulling down Canterbury's Westgate Hall.

The lawman runs the Salsa-asi dance classes in his spare time and says the planned closure of the hall - to make way for car parking for the new Marlowe Theatre - would cripple his Thursday night club.

He said: "I believe this move is short-sighted and ridiculous.

"The hall is a lovely venue which has been there many years and, I suspect, even survived the Blitz.

"Now the council is planning to do what the Germans couldn't.

"It is probably one of the best dance venues in the south east and plays host to numerous activities.

"It is the only place in Canterbury people can go for a good time without drinking themselves silly.

"There are pubs and clubs galore for the youngsters but very little for others, though we get a lot of university students here, too!

"We get teenagers, pensioners and everyone in between including pupils, students, barristers, accountants and builders. Yet the council wants to pull it down to make way for 50 parking spaces."

Bob, 60, of Westgate Court Avenue, Canterbury, added: "As a local boy I believe this hall is an important part of our heritage.

"If it was owned by anyone other than the council I am sure it would have been subject to a preservation order by now."

Bob, dubbed Rumba of the Bailey by his students, said: "I would like to know how the council can find £26 million for the Marlowe development in hard financial times yet says it can't afford a relatively paltry sum on the maintenance of the Westgate Hall."

He has written to the city council objecting to its proposals and launched a petition to keep the hall.

Bob, who runs the club with Julia Claughton, has also invited councillors to join him on one of his dance nights to see for themselves what it is like.

He stormed: "I consider it quite outrageous to even contemplate pulling the Westgate Hall down. It is an incredibly valuable social resource in a very safe and accessible location enjoyed by hundreds every week. It is very important to the city.

"There is absolutely nothing like it in Canterbury. It provides opportunity for people from all walks of life, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, ability, and financial circumstance, to participate in many varied activities.

"In particular, it has a first-class dance floor, unique to the area, and is centrally located.

"It provides for dance classes, gigs, dances, wedding receptions, shows, social occasions, blood donor sessions and Weight Watchers.

"Many of these will be permanently lost if the venue closes. There is simply nowhere else remotely suitable for most of these activities.

"It is a far too valuable resource to be consigned to the scrap heap. Once demolished, there can be no return.

"The Westgate Hall should be preserved and cherished, not demolished."

Final day for comments on council plans is tomorrow, Friday.

* Should the hall be saved? Email newsdesk.times@krnmedia.co.uk.

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    oliver cooper, Canterbury  |  January 29 2011, 12:30PM

    I agree with what Bob has said. It is perfectly clear as to how ridiculous this is. It would be like removing a hospital or a shop just to make more room for flats or something similar. What I said could be seen as extreme, however what the hall provides is a sense of belonging and feeling accepted in the area, and this is an important part of our emotional and mental health .It is clear to see that in order to be balanced a city needs to have many different places. Not only for the necessities like a hospital or a post office, but also what will add to a city¿s general wellbeing. And if attention is being placed on an existing building, that will also add to peoples wellbeing in the area, it doesn¿t make sense to take down something that already exists for the enjoyment of the city. It is to me, a case of tunnel vision. I believe it would be a grave mistake to remove this building that brings the city together.

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    Nick Blake, canterbury  |  March 20 2010, 12:40AM

    Support your campaign and would help with any group formed to keep the hall.