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Bingo! We're here to stay

EYES down for a full house as bingo is set to continue in Aldershot after the town's only cinema closes next month.

The Gala group, which owns the High Street building that houses the cinema and bingo, has acted to quash rumours that the days of bingo in the town may be numbered after the curtain finally falls on the cinema on July 10.

Steve Rogers, general manager of the Aldershot bingo club, said: "People have been wondering whether Gala is shutting down — well, we're not!

"Bingo is very popular in Aldershot and I want to get the message out that bingo will be here in Aldershot for the forseeable future.

"We have our members and staff to consider, so I really do think that if there was any transition between this building closing and a new facility opening in Aldershot, it would be minimal. I would be very shocked if there was a large gap."

The Gala statement means that although the Westgate leisure development in Wellington Avenue could begin early next year, nothing will happen in the High Street for the forseeable future.

Keith Holland, Rushmoor Council's head of planning, said Gala is in a strong position because the company owns the building.

He said the council would frown on the idea of redevelopment commencing on a piecemeal basis, so Gala could maintain its High Street operation until any new facility was ready.

Peter Gardner, Rushmoor's director of resources, said the council agreed it was important for bingo to continue without a break.

He added: "Other than the small car park, the council does not own any of this land. The Westgate development is the important one for now."

Asked whether the Gala group's decision to stay on site would hold up the High Street development, Mr Gardner said: "I would have to be able to look into the future to answer that. Town centre developments are very complex and it will be very testing to get it all co-ordinated."

The news was greeted with delight by campaigner Chris Byrne, who was upset over the decision to close the cinema.

He said: "The fact that the bingo is staying in the building is a victory in itself. To preserve a building which is a classic example of 1930s architecture is a victory."

It is also good news for the more than 8,000 Aldershot Gala club members, and the 22 members of staff.

There has been a long tradition of bingo in Aldershot. Gala has operated the site for more than 20 years. Bingo goes on seven nights a week and most afternoons, with up to 400 players at a time hoping to pick up cash prizes.

Sunday nights carry a £1,000 house prize and the club is linked to the national game, which has a £100,000 jackpot. The club also runs a busy bar/diner.

"Aldershot bingo is very popular and we are 100% committed to continuing and improving facilities for our customers," said general manager Mr Rogers.

Rushmoor Council had already given its backing for continued bingo in the town.

"It was a high priority in our discussions with the developers," said leisure officer Peter Gardner earlier this month, with Mr Holland adding: "We really do think it's a good thing for Aldershot."

The most likely scenario is that the new bingo hall would be included in the Westgate leisure complex in Wellington Avenue and Mr Rogers confirmed that his Gala bosses were in negotiations with developers.

Work could start as early as this year, with Westgate plans including a hotel, cinema, homes and parking.

It is too early to say how High Street plans will progress but shops and homes are a good bet. The main hope is to attract at least one big name store.


Charlotte Neal
Chief Reporter (Aldershot)
Joshua Smith
Farnborough Reporter
Jon Couch
Sport Editor
Stephen Lloyd
Fleet & Yateley Reporter
Ros Collins
Junior News & Mail
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