Basildon’S artists have joined forces and formed a new group to “stand up” to the council over upkeep of the town’s public art.

More than 50 painters, sculptors, performers, heritage bosses, and other members of the arts community gathered for their inaugral meeting.

The group, which is yet to be officially named, was formed in response to Basildon Council’s controversial decision in January to remove the iconic Woodsman sculpture from the town centre.

At the meeting, members pledged to make sure nothing like it happens again.

They also made their feelings clear by passing a vote of no confidence in Basildon Council’s arts team.

The group’s chairman, local artist Liz Grant, 52, said: “We had lots of people from across the arts spectum, which is fantastic for a first meeting.

“The Woodsman has been the catalyst for the group’s formation.

“We see it as a symbol of how the artistic community and the public feel about how the arts are being dealt with by Basildon’s current council and the previous one.

“It’s a symbol of all that’s wrong with how the council is operating.”

The Woodsman, carved by Noak Bridge-based artist Dave Chapple – who died last year – had stood in St Martin’s Square since 1996.

It is currently in storage at Wat Tyler Country Park, where the council hopes to put it on display.

However, under pressure from the artist’s family and arts campaigners, the council has agreed to consider alternative locations.

These may include returning it to the town centre, but not its former spot, which is to be taken up by the restored town clock.

Steve Waters, 42, one of the puppeteers behind Basildon’s internet sensation, Old Man Stan, was also present for the meeting.

He said: “We’ve got the start of a group which can hold its own against the council and make it listen.

“We now have one united voice for the arts community in Basildon.

“The Woodman is what has brought us all together.

“We don’t want it to happen again, or ever be forgotten.”

As well as keeping the council in check, the group, which is yet to settle on an official aim, also discussed projects to promote arts in the town, including putting on a Basildon arts festival.

The next meeting is being held on March 22.