DEVIZES and district has much to offer but it lacks one significant attribute. I recently very much enjoyed watching the White Horse Opera give a performance of Iolanthe. The singers, musicians and technical staff produced such a high-quality entertainment that I was saddened only by the fact that as a venue the performance was being done in a school hall several miles outside Devizes.

The Mayor of Devizes was present at the same performance and I couldn’t help wondering if he was questioning in his mind why he had to travel so far outside his town to support a company that is essentially Devizes-based.

I heard comments made around me on the evening of the operetta and since then that made me realise that my views about the venue are shared by others. The talented folk that exist in abundance in and around the Devizes area deserve a modern, purpose-designed and built theatre and arts centre in which to perform and display other forms of art.

The comfort and convenience of audiences also need to be seriously reviewed. When booking my tickets for Iolanthe it amused me to be offered a padded seat if I paid a premium ticket price. The padding turned out to be a couple of millimetres thick and made little difference to my comfort.

Several years ago I played a part in a venture aimed at getting the old law courts building in Devizes taken over and converted into a community theatre. Plans were drawn up showing the potential for the theatre to seat 250 and have stage facilities that would allow scenery to be flown. The venture came to nothing due to a lack of political will to overcome the challenges and decades later we see the once impressive building deteriorating and becoming more of an eyesore by the day.

More recently, a commendable plan to convert St Mary’s Church in Devizes for theatrical use was given the thumbs down by English Heritage. The church is no longer used for worship and stands empty for much of the time.

My view is that to get full value for any money invested in a venture like a new 21st-century theatre and arts centre, you need to start from scratch rather than opting for conversions of existing buildings. At the end of the day, a building that started life as a church or a law court or a waterside warehouse is going to force compromises when trying to make it into a theatre.

Obviously, assuming the political will at the Town Hall and County Hall can be mustered, one of the major obstacles to be overcome is funding. We are still in the grip of austerity and public finances are under extreme pressure.

If public money is not forthcoming for the new theatre and arts centre, perhaps private enterprise could be enlisted to help? The Apple Arts Centre has a nice ring to it, don’t you think, as does the Amazon Arts Centre and Theatre? Instead of squirrelling their profits away in tax havens thousands of miles from us here in Wiltshire, what a boost it would be to the image of such companies to be seen to be sponsoring the arts in the heart of this wonderful county.

Where such ventures have succeeded in other parts of the UK, the local groups that benefit from the existence of a proper theatre and arts centre have learnt to set aside rivalries and co-operate for their mutual good. I dream of the day that happens here.