A POPULAR amateur musical society has been forced to leave its Basildon home after 25 years.
BasOP was one of the first groups to take to the stage at Towngate Theatre when it opened in 1988 and has held its annual May performance there ever since.
Theatre bosses have turned them away for this year and next year, despite the week-long slots being booked since 2011.
Basildon Council claims it had no choice as the European Parliamentary and Borough Council elections need to take place in the Towngate on Thursday, May 22.
Their 2015 slot has been handed over to another company.
The group, made up of 50 members, always puts onamusical for loyal Basildon audiences in the week leading up to May bank holiday.
Fred Woodrow, who has been chairman of BasOP for two years, said: “We have been there a long time.
“As far as we are concerned, the council has plenty of other places to hold the elections, such as the Basildon Centre or Sporting Village.
“The props and backdrops had all been booked, these things have to be arranged well in advance. It has been a real pain, to put it lightly.”
The operatic society has managed to secure a new home for the next two years – 13 miles away at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff.
Their version of the Sound of Music will take place from Wednesday, May 21, to Saturday, May 24.
Mr Woodrow, who has been a member of BasOP for 12 years, admits they might never return to the Towngate Theatre or their home town.
He added: “It is our loyal fans who we are concerned about because they are going to have to drive quite a way to come and see us.
“I have been keeping an eye on ticket sales and they seem to be going OK, so it looks like the move hasn’t affected us too badly.
“If it does go well, I can see us staying at the Palace Theatre in the future. The Towngate is going to have to make it worth out while to go back now.”
Kevin Blake, councillor responsible for leisure and arts, said: “We have an excellent working relationship with the Basildon Operatic Society and have hosted their events at the theatre for many years.
“As a priority, the European Parliamentary and the borough council elections are going to be held at the Towngate Theatre and were moved from the beginning of the month to May 22 to facilitate this.
“We have offered to compensate the group in full for any losses and we have also provided them with a series of alternative dates.
“All our venue hire bookings operate on a first come, first served basis, and we have a very strict bookings procedure as we have become a very busy theatre and cannot afford to be left empty when we know the theatre is in such great demand."
For tickets to the Sound of Music, visit basop.org.uk or southendtheatres.org.uk