A balloon launch has taken place at The Public in West Bromwich in protest at plans to turn it into a sixth form college.
Bosses, businesses and groups based at the New Street centre made the gesture yesterday against proposals by Sandwell College to transform the venue into a centre for 500 A Level students.
Earlier this month the Express & Star revealed that top level talks were taking place between bosses at Sandwell Council and Sandwell College over the future of the £72 million arts centre, just five years after the New Street centre opened in 2008.
Sandwell Council took over the management of the centre in 2009 after the Arts Council walked away, and continues to pump £1.5 million a year into the building.
Council leader Councillor Darren Cooper has said the authority has ‘gone as far as we can’ with the building.
The college aims to offer 500 places for A Level students at The Public if plans go ahead due to demand for places.
College Principal Val Bailey has said The Public could be a ‘perfect fit’ and moving the sixth form to the building would free up space on the Sandwell College campus, in nearby Spon Lane, to expand vocational courses.
Since the announcement, LearnPlay Foundation, one of the tenants within the building have launched a campaign, #LoveOurPublic, where members of the community can share their messages of support and sign an online petition.
And yesterday members of the foundation, as well as people from the tea dance and knitting groups, staff, and workers from businesses based at the building, attended the balloon launch to signal their support for the centre.
Linda Saunders, managing director of The Public said: “The Public is widely used by so many members of the community for such a diverse range of activities.
“It’s been absolutely fantastic that so many members of the community joined us today to show their support. Over the last few weeks the messages of support we’ve had from across the borough has been overwhelming.”
Meanwhile, mysterious Black Country ‘ghostwriter’, known simply as AJW, has also backed The Public’s campaign.
The region’s very own Banksy has posted a selection of his infamous beer mats to the venue with accompanying message of support.
For half a century the mysterious artist, whose identity remains unknown, has been baffling locals by leaving sketches of 1940s Hollywood star Mario Lanza throughout the region.
Over the years thousands of legendary doodlings of the American Tenor have been drawn on to beer mats, postcards and scraps of paper, and left across the Black Country in pubs, shops, libraries and public buildings.