IN reply to Jeremy Birch’s letter about St Mary-in-the Castle, the key to running an arts and community programme here is continuity.
Hirers, especially the really important ones like the Philharmonic Choir, the East Sussex youth music service, promoters of music or comedy events, organisers of wedding fairs and the like, need to book ahead.
They often ask for assurances not only of the next booking, but being able to use this as a regular venue.
We have been working for three years under the extreme difficulty of short-term licences, and last summer I was forced to turn away far too many important booking enquiries for the autumn and 2012.
We are not going to go through that again, so we will wind up at the end of August as already agreed.
The problem is not that the council is offering the place for open tender – it arguably has to do that.
The difficulty is that it does not understand or appreciate what we have achieved, has not shown any commitment to keeping this as an arts centre, and seems to imagine that a big business is always better than a small enterprise. Most damaging of all, the council has delayed six months between deciding to advertise it and actually doing it, which has wrecked our bookings process.
It has also failed to specify any of the conditions we consider important.
We don’t take nightclub-type bookings or teenage parties, for instance, because of the potential damage to the building and late-night noise nuisance. If we opened the doors to anyone with the cash, we too could make a commercial bid. Is that really what Hastings needs?
We do pay rent in kind, saving the council a great deal of money. We keep a close watch on the building, mop up the floods, get out of bed when there is another false fire alarm, report in detail to the council on any problems, provide access for their contractors, pay for public liability and employee insurance, and carry out improvement and maintenance works at our own expense.
We do not necessarily want to run St Mary’s indefinitely, and it would be nice to discuss a responsible enlargement or handover.
At the moment, due to the council’s delays, there is no knowing who if anyone would take it or what their intentions would be, so there can be no such conversation.