New arts hub and housing planned for St Leonards

From Left: Nick Watts, owner of the site in Norman Road, St Leonards, with Russell Baker of  Baker Mamonova Gallery, and architect Bernard Baker.
From Left: Nick Watts, owner of the site in Norman Road, St Leonards, with Russell Baker of Baker Mamonova Gallery, and architect Bernard Baker.
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COMMUNITY is at the heart of a project to create a centre for the arts in the heart of St Leonards, says the man who has taken on the project.

Nick Watts, 34, who lives in London but grew up in the area, is the new owner of 43 to 53 Norman Road, St Leonards, which formerly housed Brookers building merchants, and before that the town’s first purpose built cinema.

Nick, who has a background in lighting for theatre and television, hopes that the project which includes restoration of the Edwardian cinema auditorium and residential accommodation, will contribute to local regeneration.

He said: “Most people have been so supportive of what we are doing. If people enjoy and take pride in a community, people are happier, and look after it better. It makes sense, and it makes business sense.”

Work is under way, with the existing Baker Mamonova Gallery moving into the former retail space, which is also to house a cafe, and the former gallery next door is to be an antique shop.

The domed auditorium, formerly the Kinema, and then Curzon cinema, is to be a theatre and cinema venue, managed by Russell Baker, of Baker Mamonova Gallery, in partnership with London theatre and cinema professionals. In addition to the cultural offering, office space is to be converted into three apartments, and five cottages to be built fronting on to Shepherd Street, at the rear of the site.

A number of residents are unhappy about the new housing proposed (for which a planning application has been submitted) arguing that the accommodation is too cramped. Several have registered their comments on Hastings Borough Council’s planning site. However, the majority of the comments online to date are in support of the plans, and Nick said that this has been his experience. “I have always got an open site, people are welcome to come and look round,” he said.