Priority for arts and performance is a must

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FOLLOWING the long-awaited announcement of the decision to turn down the application for funding to convert St Mary-in-the-Castle (SMIC) into a youth hub, we echo Barbara Rogers’ comment that the ‘...the council needs to do a very rapid rethink’.

Councillor Birch’s statement that the process to choose a new tenant will be ‘open and transparent’ is welcome but the council must consider very carefully the terms of any invitation to tender to run this iconic building.

In the crypt at SMIC there is a commemorative board recording the names of those who contributed to the previous rescue of the building.

The exact wording is ‘The restoration and regeneration of St Mary-in-the-Castle as a centre for the arts was supported by...’

A list of worthy organisations follows but, proudly leading all the rest is the name Hastings Borough Council (HBC).

We contend that the most suitable use for SMIC is as a centre for arts and performance and that this would provide the greatest benefit to the people of Hastings and St Leonards.

The best way for HBC to live up to its past commitment is to make clear in any tender document that this is where the focus must remain.

This does not mean that income should not be generated by hiring out the venue for other activities; only that arts and performance must remain the priority. The lease must also be long enough to allow bookings some distance ahead. In this way a tenant can build an income stream from events such as weddings, degree ceremonies or Jack-in-the-Green and Old Town and Hastings Weeks.

Barbara Rogers has shown that SMIC can be run as an arts venue and would have done more but for the current stalemate.

The council should listen to her advice before deciding the future of one of the most important buildings in Hastings and St Leonards.

CHRIS SHOREMAN

Chairman

St Mary-in-the-Castle Friends

Castle Hill Road