A question mark hangs over the future of a band which has been part of Horsham’s cultural heritage for more than 100 years.
The treasurer of Horsham Borough Band (HBB), which at one time ranked third best brass band in the UK, warned the band ‘could simply fold’ in the next three to four years.
But its ‘resilient’ 26 members remain confident that the band can be saved if funding is found.
Geoff Clarke, HBB treasurer, said: “The band has been losing money for the last few years, if we continue at the current rate of loss then we are likely to fold within three or four years due to lack of funds.
“We are quite a resilient bunch and hope to be able to turn the corner in terms of being able to increase the bands fund over the coming years.
“If we are not able to do this then the band will simply fold.”
The band hit financial difficulties after moving into a new hall at the Needles Community Centre with a 14-fold rent increase, said Mr Clarke.
He said Horsham District Council also paid the band less for its annual concerts in the town’s bandstand and Horsham Park, and fees for the band’s professional musical director have also increased.
Mr Clarke said:“The band has been in Horsham for over 110 years – being founded in 1900 – and is part of Horsham’s rich heritage, sometimes it does not feel like the authorities in Horsham actually care about this.
“It would be a very sad day of the band had to fold – many bands around the country have suffered a similar fate.”
The band’s most senior member, Peter Long, 80, of Billingshurst, has been playing for HBB since 1960 and has ‘enjoyed every moment of it’.
The tuba player said: “We make a lot of friends.
“For me, it’s been my life, I’ve done nothing else. What kills us is the rent we pay.”
A spokesman for Horsham District Council said it had worked with the band to help reduce the rent costs in 2011 and was keen to see it retained in the town.
She added: “The Band is one of a number of excellent organisations in the District that provide meaningful activities for its participants and entertainment for audiences and spectators. However, it is limited in the extent to which it can support such activities through grants or reduced rents.”
The hard-up group plans to ‘boost its coffers’ by recording a CD of Christmas and multi-genre music to sell at its concerts.
“It will probably cost about £3,000 for us to get a decent recording done for the band,” said Mr Clarke.
“Having a stock of CDs available for sale will create a revenue stream for the band at our concerts etc and help to boost the band’s coffers.”
The treasurer is looking for inexpensive recording facilities and donations to help make the CD.
HBB was founded by Horsham historian William Albery (1864-1950) and has been playing in and around the area since 1900.
Originally the Horsham Recreational Silver Band, the registered charity regularly competes in the second division of the UK’s league of brass bands and is unrivalled in Sussex. In the 1930s, the band ranked third best in the country and became the first outside of North England to perform live for the BBC.
In addition to contests, concerts and seasonal events, HBB rehearses in its bandroom in Blackbridge Lane, Horsham, for two-and-a-half hours twice per week.
The second oldest member, cornetist John Hampton, who joined in 1963, told the County Times: “I’ve always taken the view that brass banding is like malaria - once you get it you never get rid of it.”
He told of the time the band’s bright red uniforms shrunk to a child’s size after they got ‘absolutely drenched’ in a country show in the 1970s.
The ‘very sociable’ band has had six married couples and enjoys a drink after practice on Fridays, said Mr Clarke, a percussionist for the band. He and his wife joined HBB after meeting in a previous brass band.
Speaking of the local competition, he added: “There’s a lot of camaraderie but there’s sometimes the rivalry between the local brass bands.”
The festive season is the charity’s major fundraising period.
HBB is playing Christmas carols in a number of venues across the district.
The band will play at Horsham’s bandstand in the Carfax at 11am on Saturday, December 14. The annual Christmas concert will be at Holy Trinity Church in Rushams Road, Horsham on Saturday, December 21 at 7.30pm. Tickets are available from Holy Trinity Church or Mr Clarke on 01403 263620. For more information on the band, including for musicians who would like to join, visit http://www.horshamboroughband.co.uk