After reading your disquieting article about the seemingly culpable abandonment of St Mary’s Railway Mission Hall (your report, October 28), I was determined to check out the position myself and found the hall to be a sturdy, substantial, still serviceable building, in quite good nick despite its neglect, but, in my humble opinion, not remarkable in any way.
It is a shame, nevertheless, that the hall has been let go to rot. It is of obvious historical interest: firstly there is the social aspect - the railway mission - and then there is the link to the neighbouring, historic church of St Mary In The Castle. Just down the road lies Jackson Hall, occupied by Hastings Voluntary Action, and formerly the St Mary’s Boys’ and Girls’ School, built only four years after the hall.
The faded inscription on the foundation stone reads (in part): “To the Glory of God and for the benefit of the rising generation of the Parish of St Mary In The Castle.”
Today’s ‘rising generation’ in Hastings and St Leonards (and they are extremely numerous) are far less likely to have a connection with the local church.
This leads me to the point that it is difficult, perhaps impossible (even for the government), to reverse social trends. The hall’s neglect is ultimately a sign of the times, reflecting the general decline in church attendance.
From the legal point of view, what makes the situation problematic is the need to balance the wider, long term ‘heritage’ claims of the whole community against the temporary, proprietorial rights of the freeholder, who often resorts to inertia.
The council has indeed attempted to apply legal sanctions, but these are difficult, lengthy and expensive to enforce. In exoneration of Grotbusters allegedly dragging their feet, the hall is a single building and they have larger scale projects to attend to.
Finally, I would suggest that there is a psychological aspect. Excessive concern over the fate of individual landmarks and buildings may be a symptom of the dread Rip Van Winkle malady, which afflicts most of us in later life.
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