Colchester: Warm reception for Firstsite’s opening day

RESIDENTS in Colchester descended on the newest edition to the town’s art scene this weekend, as Firstsite opened its doors to the public.

The long-awaited and controversial art centre saw hundreds of people pass through the striking yellow building to see its inaugural exhibition including artefacts from the town’s Roman history such as coins and ceramics.

Costing �25million and taking ten years to build, Firstsite has prompted strong opposition from those who say it has been a waste of public money when other services are facing the axe.

But Colchester Borough Council has defended any criticism arguing that the centre will bring hundreds of new jobs and provide an important boost to tourism in the town.

The lottery backed centre has been designed by renowned architect Rafael Vinoly and will be free to the public.

One outspoken critic of Firstsite, Andy Hamilton, arrived outside the building to protest.

“A lot of people feel the money has been spent so why not make the best of it but I am saying, starting from now we can’t afford to spend �1.2million of public money a year to run it.

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“We are in a dreadful recession, Budgets are being cut 7.5% a year. They are closing Abbot’s activity centre for the elderly, for example, and the council will not talk to anybody. They are forcing this on us and it is going to mess up future developments for the town.”

But local residents Charlotte Strohm and Rachel Knight said they enjoyed the exhibition and think it will last the test of time.

“I think it’s a good use of public money. You have to look at the future and there’s no doubt it will bring more tourism to the town. It would be a waste of money of there was nothing to show for it but there is. It’s been built by a world renowned architect so for it to be in Colchester, it’s a great thing.”

Shop manager Jamie Moakes also thought the centre was a positive boost to the town’s art scene.

“I am really pleased it’s in Colchester. I don’t really care how much it cost - we are lucky for it to be spent in Colchester and not Chelmsford or Braintree.”

Teachers and parents Louise and Jamie Longshaw said they were impressed by the facilities that have been included for children.

“We were brought up here so anything like this coming to the town is a good thing. Yes you can always spend the money on other things but it’s impressive how many people have turned up today and we really like the design of the building.

“There’s a kids room as well which was really interactive and kept our two children amused.”

Juju and Oana Panaite also thought, overall, the centre was a success.

“I think it’s going to be successful in the long-term and hopefully beneficial for all. We really liked the exhibitions but the reflection from the windows ruined some of the pieces. Apart from that it was great.”