SUPPORTERS of the Tower Arts Centre in Winchester turned out in force to show their backing for the threatened venue.

The county council - which provides the lion's share of its funding - wants to transfer the Tower to Kings' School because the revamped Discovery centre' library will make it redundant by having its own performing arts space.

Some 60 people protested outside the centre last Friday before a sell-out show by tribute band Queen on Fire'.

Protesters included city MP Mark Oaten and his wife Belinda, who attends a class at the centre.

An e-petition has been set up and attracted 136 signatures, including the names of well-known performers such as Gordon Giltrap, Dave Swarbrick and Benjamin Zephaniah.

Demo organiser, Lynda Banister, said: "I hope it will make a difference.

"It was heartening to see how many people were prepared to come and I think it helped us feel we've got good support, especially with Mark and Belinda and city and county councillors there. It helps us keep up the pressure.

"We had a meeting to discuss other things we can do, and now we feel we need to make a strong push over the next few weeks."

Another supporter Sue Oldfield, an arts tutor, said: "I just can't imagine it squeezing into a shiny new, corporate, committee-run venue, or becoming simply an arbitary adjunct to a school.

"It takes hard work and imagination to administrate.

"It's whole essence is its independence, and only through this autonomy can it provide such lively, vibrant, innovative, diverse events and classes for all."

Campaigners say the transfer to Kings' would herald the end of a unique venue - it was built as a water tower in 1928.

High-quality performers to appear there have included Eddie Izzard, Jo Brand, Al Murray, Janet Street Porter, Omid Djalili and The Mighty Boosh.

The county council has told centre director John Tellett not to book any acts for 2008.

It leaves a question mark over the future of the Winchester Children's Festival, Winfest and Battle of the Bands.