AN ANCIENT Old Town church is about to be transformed by a £1million pound legacy.
Exhibition spaces, a cafe area, and three new meeting rooms will be built inside St Clement’s Church, High Street, in a bid to turn the church into a central hub for all community activities in the area.
Father Robert Featherstone, Old Town parish priest, said: “It’s a thrilling thing, and I’m so delighted to be here to oversee it.
“For centuries there were two places the Old Town community met. One was the Swan Inn, one was St Clement’s. I want to make sure this place stays the one where the community meet.”
St Clement’s is one of the oldest buildings in an historic part of Hastings. It was built in 1380, on the site of an earlier St Clement’s Church, burned down by the French in 1377.
Now, thanks to a huge legacy from Barbara Jordan, a former chairman of the Old Hastings Preservation Society (OHPS), the parish has embarked on a series of major capital overhauls.
Kitchens, toilets and central heating were recently added to All Saints, the second medieval church belonging to the Old Town parish, at a cost of £250,000.
And now attention has turned to St Clement’s. Work begins this December and will take around a year to complete, during which time Old Town worshippers will move to All Saints.
As well as the new rooms and exhibition spaces, bellringers at the church are also due an upgrade. A new, higher ringing platform, on top of the cafe area, means less heft per peal.
Organ aficionados will have to make do with All Saints’ famed 1878 Father Willis organ, as the St Clement’s instrument is set to be replaced with an electric organ to allow more light and space in the main knave.
The total cost of the internal refurbishment is expected to top £1million, and when finished, the external stonework will also get some attention from conservators.
Father Robert, who joined the parish in February 2009, said: “This legacy is a huge opportunity for the church to do something to actually welcome people in.
“It’s not about ramming bibles down people’s throats, it’s about making them feel welcome.
“It will remain a sacred space, first and last, but we hope this will open our church up even more to the wider community, for clubs, meetings and exhibitions.”
Clive Morris, a churchwarden in Old Town parish for 40 years, welcomed the changes and noted that the work, which will involve drilling into the foundations, would provide archaeologists with plenty of interest.
Anne Scott, OHPS chairman, said her group had not yet discussed the internal works, but that she personally was “delighted” the plans were going ahead.
“I think it’s important the church should remain open and fulfil new uses for the community where it can. It’s a hugely important building in Hastings, and we hope it survives for hundreds of years to come.”