Turning disused Hastings football ground into learning hub

Education Futures Trust was given the lease for The Firs by the council
Education Futures Trust was given the lease for The Firs by the council

A charity is a step closer to turning a disused Hastings football ground into a purpose-built outdoor learning centre for vulnerable people.

Hastings Borough Council’s cabinet unanimously agreed to lease the Firs to Education Futures Trust at its meeting last night (Monday, February 7).

The charity has used the former clubhouse since 2012 and will now press on with turning the site into a mixed use ‘village’ complete with a forest school, log cabins and theatre.

Chief executive Carole Dixon was ‘delighted’ they were over the first hurdle after 18 months of developing the project behind the scenes.

“We’ve been working with staff and a lot of the residents to try to identify what is needed to meet the needs of the area,” she said.

“The aim now is to work with people who have offered support – we’ve had a lot of support from the business sector – to get on with it.

“The support we’ve received has been incredible, not just from local people but from firms that have offered their support.

“It seems to have captured everyone’s imagination as it’s fairly unique as a well-being and therapeutic centre with an outdoor centre plus access for residents to use the walkways.”

Situated in Elphinstone Road, the council-owned football ground has not been used since St Leonards FC folded in 2004 and the majority of the structures have been demolished with access only for parking and the multi-use games area.

The Education Futures Trust has been using the former clubhouse for educational purposes, providing support and learning to children, families and vulnerable adults in Hastings and the surrounding area.

In its business plan, the charity says it will create ‘a therapeutic and outdoor learning facility, combined with an area for community access and use, which contributes to the well-being of borough residents, and enables improved life chances for the most vulnerable’.

Now the lease has been agreed, the trust can look to get planning permission for the ambitious project, which they say will ‘provide a space to enhance the life chances of children, families and vulnerable adults in Hastings’.

Around half a million pounds is needed for the centre but around half has been met through the charities reserves, Ms Dixon said.

Council leader and lead member for finance Peter Chowney said: “I’ve long been an admirer of the work of the Education Futures Trust, and all they’ve achieved through their innovative education support schemes in Hastings and Rye.

“They approached the council with a proposal to take on the old Firs football ground, and use it to expand their activities there.

“Their proposal is to create a space for outdoor learning and educational support, combined with an area for community access for local residents.

“I’m very pleased that we were able to help them, and that the proposal was approved unanimously at the council’s cabinet meeting.

“I’m looking forward to seeing their plans develop and to bringing this neglected area back in to use.”

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