On behalf of Hastings Trust and our partners I am extremely disappointed in the decision of the Department for Education not to fund Hastings Myplace at St Mary in the Castle.
Our proposal had been initially submitted in September 2008 and we have worked with young people to develop their ideas into our ambitious proposals for a youth led and managed arts and cultural facility at St Mary in the Castle. With a team of dedicated architects and other specialists we translated young poeple’s ideas into a scheme of preservation and modernisation of the building which not only aimed to protect and preserve, but also maximise the contribution that the building could make in the current cultural and social context of the town. Our plans would have protected the building, improved it, and put young people at the heart of managing it and preserving it for current and future generations.
Alongside provision of dedicated youth facilities incorporating support, advice and development opportunities, a cultural and arts centre open to the general public, a new cafe venue, and an acoustically improved auditorium, the scheme would also have created about 15 paid jobs, countless volunteering opportunities and training and development opportunities for young people and the wider community in all aspects of managing a cultural facility.
When the government changed in May 2010 we were certain that funds would be withdrawn due to the massive public sector spending cuts that were anticipated – in fact we received a letter in December 2010 telling us that funds were still available and that we would need to review our position and confirm whether we were still willing and able to go forward. We brought partners back together and engaged consultants to carry out the due diligence process that we need to do to ensure that the organisation is aware of and protected from untoward risk, and to ensure that we were still confident in our ability to deliver. However, when we received notification that our project would not be taken forward, the decision had been informed by a report from the BIG Lottery which contained a number of crucial misrepresentations – such as stating that we had not achieved planning permission when in fact this was achieved over a year ago – and to assess our viability they had not compared like with like and had completely disregarded the USP of an iconic performance venue and the associated income generation potential. We were given the opportunity to appeal directly to the Department for Education and we took a cohort to London to meet senior civil servants where again we tried to make our case – despite this and a written appeal we failed to convince Ministers of the viability of our proposals and therefore the funding has been withdrawn.
The loss of this opportunity will have a major impact on young people in the town particularly in the context of significant changes in the provision of support and youth development services. We are also aware, through the condition surveys and other investigative works that have been carried out on the building, that a significant capital injection is needed to undertake remedial works necessary to protect St Mary in the Castle.
Despite the news, the experience of developing the project through working with young people, the design team and other partners, has been a positive one and a great example of collaborative project work. We believe that everyone can be proud of their contributions, regardless of the outcome. Our design team, co-ordinated by Derek Rankin and Guy Holloway from Dunn and CTM Architects, was inspirational and it is such a loss that the scheme cannot now be put in place as it would have made such a significant difference to the building and the historic crescent.
Hastings Trust is keen to see that the building remains in use as an arts and cultural centre for the benefit of the whole community (including young people) and we are pleased to learn that Hastings Borough Council has extended the tenure of Barbara Rogers for another year. We would be happy to work with the Council and the community to look at sustainable solutions for the building, as well as continuing to work with young people to help them to address their concerns about lack of suitable facilities and reductions in provision.