Brassed off neighbours may stop the music

A school must choose between putting up cash for sound-proofing work - or shutting up. Andrew Mourant reports

Discord is in the air at one of England's few remaining rural music schools, where adults learning brass and wind instruments face being silenced by a noise abatement order.

The cost of sound-proofing the Wiltshire Rural Music School in Trowbridge is so high that it may have to quit the Victorian building that has been its base since 1965.

The order was served by West Wiltshire district council earlier this year following complaints from sitting tenant Dennis Gibbs.

He has lived in the upper floors since they were let in 1970. The school, a registered charity, says it will cost pound;15,000 to comply fully - a sum it cannot afford. Some sound-proofing work, however, has been undertaken and an appeal against the order is due to be heard next month.

"It's an iniquitous cost," said treasurer Mary Macey. "If we lose, it looks as if we may have to go. We can only hope that magistrates will realise what they are doing to the community."

Since running into trouble, the school has launched an appeal. Around pound;3,000 has been raised but Mrs Macey says that it is impossible to fulfil all the council's requirements.

The school was set up in 1932, one of a number created around England to arrest the decline of music-making in rural areas. A key part of its role was sending peripatetic teachers into schools, but when the county music service took over this function, the school began concentrating on adult learners.

The building, in Gloucester Road, is used also for music exams and lessons for the neighbouring John of Gaunt comprehensive, whose players were commended recently at the National Festival of Music for Youth.

But for Mr Gibbs, now more often at home having retired as a transport and distribution manager, the musician's pleasure has become his torment.

Mr Gibbs, who has been advised not to comment on the case by his lawyers, was keen to portray himself as a music-lover. He said: "I know a little bit about music myself - I played most brass instruments when I was in a Salvation Army band and I've also played drums with some of the best jazz musicians in the land."

Lindsey Pearce, who has lived opposite the school for 11 years, sympathised with Mr Gibbs. "When I have my window open, it is like having a brass band in the front room," she said.

The council is still hoping for a last-minute agreement. "We don't bring about noise abatement notices lightly - they are a last resort," said spokeswoman Louise Knox.

"We hope that with sound-proofing under way and by the school reviewing its programme, things need not go to court.

"While we have a responsibility to the complainant, we have no desire to see a community resource run out of town. If we can bring this case to an amicable conclusion, I think our environmental health officers should go to the United Nations."

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