SUPPORTERS of Salisbury Arts Centre say a merger with the Playhouse is actually a “takeover” by the theatre.

Plans to combine the two bodies with the International Arts Festival to cut costs were announced in May, with news that the 2018 festival would be cancelled and all its staff made redundant.

The new, combined organisation will be called Wiltshire Creative.

Shortly after members of the arts centre approved the merger at their annual meeting last Monday, it emerged that director Paula Redway had been made redundant.

Arts centre member and former trustee Peter Williams said trustees had told the meeting it was a “takeover” and they faced a choice: “If you don’t approve it, we will close.”

Mr Williams said there had been a feeling of “disgust and resignation” and a “robust discussion” on the centre’s future. But he said members accepted that it was the only way to secure continued Arts Council England funding, which was vital.

This view was echoed by Roger Townsend, who founded the arts centre and the festival, and who has sat on the board of all three organisations.

He said the choice was between “merging and complete oblivion”, but said “takeover is probably a more effective description”.

“Take the festival,” he said. “It hasn’t been a merger it’s been a massacre. The whole thing has been completely wiped off the map. The only thing left is a name.”

But he added: “One has to accept the reality. We have got to live with it and make the best of it.

“It was a fairly emotional meeting, as you would expect, because it’s the end of an era.

“A lot of people there were trying to maintain what was the status quo of the utopian days of two-to-three yeas ago. None of us would wish to be in this position but the situation is what it is.”

It comes after Playhouse chairman Tim Crarer told a meeting of Salisbury City Council that “extremely good progress” was being made on the merger, which was expected to be confirmed formally in the new year.

Mr Crarer said despite its new name, Wiltshire Creative would be a “predominantly Salisbury-led organisation” and the festival, arts centre and Playhouse would continue under their current brands.

Festival trustees are expected to agree the merger at their own annual meeting on Monday.

Unlike the arts centre, Wiltshire Creative will not have members, but only a board of 12 trustees.

Five of these will be drawn from the Playhouse, two each from the arts centre and the festival, and three will be newly appointed.

The arts centre’s problems began when Wiltshire Council withdrew all its financial support in 2015. Its current funding deal with the Arts Council ends in April and will not be renewed because the Arts Council only supports organisations with local backing.

Tim Crarer, chairman of Salisbury Playhouse, said: “We understand that change is always difficult; however, far from being a “takeover,” this is a merger, supported by all three boards.

“We have received much positive feedback from the community, which recognises the opportunities this merger offers - in particular a model, properly supported by public funding, which ensures future sustainability of the arts in Salisbury and beyond.”