Fears of closure after hub bid fails for St Mary-in-the-Castle

St Mary In The Castle
St Mary In The Castle

THE future of St Mary-in-the-Castle has been thrown into doubt this week after ambitious £4.25million plans to transform the iconic building into a youth hub failed.

Hastings Trust wanted the multi-million pound bid from the Government as part of an attempt to keep the seafront concert hall open.

But the charity was dealt a blow on Wednesday when it was told by letter that the Myplace bid had been unsuccessful.

The Government said the trust had not given sufficient evidence to prove the proposals would be economically sound in the long-term.

Barbara Rogers, pictured right, is the businesswoman currently keeping St Mary-in-the-Castle open with a café and management of event bookings.

She fears the building will close as her contract to run it expires on August 31.

She said: “There are no bookings for the autumn and I am here only to the end of next month. The council needs to do a very rapid rethink.

“We have run this place for two-and-a-half years on practically nothing and have proven it can work.

“There needs to be an interim solution and a long-term one. There has been a lot of unnecessary uncertainty.

“The council is subsidising the White Rock Theatre to the tune of £500,000 a year so no wonder there is no arts budget or nothing to speak of.

“The council needs to answer the question on whether it wants St Mary-in-the-Castle to remain as an arts centre or not.”

A verdict on the bid was promised in May by the Government but it was delayed.

An initial verdict was reached earlier this year, with rumours suggesting the Myplace bid had failed.

Applicants had a month to appeal that decision before the successful schemes were officially announced.

Hastings Trust first submitted the bid back in early 2009 to turn St Mary-in-the-Castle into a youth hub.

There were plans for a workshop, a sexual health advice centre and training facilities to help youngsters get jobs, as well as a live performance area, digital media suite and music studio.

Mel Bonney-Kane, executive director of Hastings Trust, said she was ‘very disappointed’ with this week’s decision.

She said: “We assumed the change in Government in May last year meant a withdrawal of funding. But it was still available so we resubmitted the bid.

“We had only been going through an appeals process since April following a resubmission at the beginning of this year.

“The Government wanted us to re-evaluate the business case earlier this year because of the change in the economic climate.

“We will happily support the council in finding a suitable alternative.”

Councillor Jeremy Birch, leader of Hastings Borough Council, said: “All parties on the council unamimously supported the bid because it was an opportunity to get substantial investment into St Mary-in-the-Castle.”

He said the council plans to invite interested parties to submit business plans for the building and its decision-making process would be ‘open and transparent’.

Cllr Birch added that this would not be the case for at least a few months.

He said he would be ‘very happy’ to meet with Mrs Rogers to discuss an interim solution.

Oli Fawcett, spokesman and former chairman of Hastings Youth Council, said: “The Government and the Department of Education has not done us justice and have let the town’s young people down. If something is not done soon things for St Mary-in-the-Castle will only get worse.”

Hastings MP Amber Rudd said: “It’s very disappointing but the important thing is to focus on the future of St Mary-in-the-Castle.”