Could there be a future for the abandoned St Leonards Parish Church, closed two years ago as structural problems made it unsafe? Hastings Urban Design Group certainly thinks so and is proposing ambitious plans to make it the centrepiece of ‘Science-on-Sea’.
Hastings’ greatest strength and selling point is its maritime character, reflected in British national history, its fishing fleet and its heritage as one of the earliest seaside resorts.
Even before Covid-19 more people were taking ‘staycations’ in interesting and attractive places on the coast. A Marine Conservation Area has been declared along the Sussex coast which will expand our knowledge about – and interest in – what is in the sea thats on our doorstep. Hastings faces the busiest shipping lanes in the world with sight-seeing cruise ships and many traffic management concerns.
Now one group in town is urging that Hastings should grasp these and other potential opportunities and make the most of them.
The towns’ maritime personality, they say, should underpin and shape the £25m borough-wide investment plan that the Town Deal Board will be submitting to Government in the new year – that’s according to Hastings Urban Design Group (HUDG).
It proposes a £2.5m flagship ‘Science-on-Sea’ to head up a fleet of projects in the Town Deal investment plan.
Included in the scheme is a proposed ‘seaside outpost’ of the internationally renowned Science Museum that would be created in the redundant and maritime themed St Leonards Church, a prominent seafront location.
- Chichester Diocese has already given its support for the idea by agreeing to donate the church building and land.
- The Science Museum has also shown strong interest in possible use of their mothballed maritime gallery.
- The Burtons’ St Leonards Society and the Nautical Maritime Trust (the Shipwreck Museum) are also on board.
- MP Sally-Ann Hart has expressed particular interest in a maritime focus for the Investment Plan and for this project in particular.
A spokesman for HUDG says: “This could work. Does the Town Deal Board have the courage to seize the chance?”
To create, in a key location on the Hastings and St Leonards seafront, a maritime-themed cultural hub and visitor attraction centred on the redundant Grade 2 St Leonards Church.
The project’s proposers will create a management team, possibly a Community Land Trust, to work with former parishioners of St Leonards Church, other local residents, the Burtons’ St Leonards Society and local and national heritage bodies to secure and enhance the future of St Leonards Church and its environs. This will include acquiring the Church and neighbouring land, stabilising the property, restoring the external fabric, landscaping, creating internal exhibition and performance/community spaces, creating an external exhibition and performance space on a plaza between the Church and the seafront, installing exhibits relating to maritime history and science and the Burtons’ and Gilbert-Scotts’ architecture families. Completion of the Undercliff housing development.
- A physically stable and useful future for the Grade 2 listed church and environs.
- A regional gallery of maritime exhibits (possibly a Science-on-Sea Museum).
- A maritime themed craft workshop and gallery and in-door performance venue.
- A community room.
- A permanent Burtons’ and Gilbert-Scotts’ exhibition space and archive room.
- A seaward-facing pedestrian plaza for performance and sculpture.
- A stable and upgraded flight of steps between the seafront and residential area.
- An upgrading of the visual and wildlife interest of land around the Church.
- Completion of the Undercliff development site for housing.
- A Community Land Trust or Community Interest Company to take the project forward and then manage the housing and the refurbished building and land.
- Increased community engagement opportunities.
- Improved pedestrian access to seafront.
- New seafront visitor attraction
- Potential regional base for Science Museum.
- Retention of Grade 2 Church.
- Visual enhancement of local area.
- Presentation of architecturally notable families.
- Indoor and outdoor performance spaces.
- Craft training in e.g., museum conservation and archivism.
- Visitor satisfaction and numbers.
- Use of community room and performance spaces.
- Use of steps.
- Housing satisfaction.
Project fit with town deal priorities
- Local transport
- Digital connectivity
- Urban regeneration, planning and land use
- Arts, culture and heritage
- Skills infrastructure
- Enterprise infrastructure
Potential matching funding other than that of Town Deal
- Heritage Lottery funding could be sought for works related to the stabilisation of the fabric of and presentation of the character of the Church and creation of the plaza.
- The Chichester Diocese to contribute the building and land. Subject to provision of and continuing access to a community room and the maintenance of significant memorabilia in situ in the church.
- Hastings Borough Council to contribute the land west of the Church underlying the steps, land under the verges in front of the Church and land within the seafront car park.
- The Crown Estates to contribute the land underlying the partially built structure at the Undercliff.
- East Sussex County Council to provide funding for the restoring of the St Leonards Steps footpath surfacing, railing etc. perhaps from S106 or DfT funds.
- The Science Museum to contribute their (moth-balled) maritime collection with curation supervision by the Hastings Museum and Art Gallery.
- Funding sought from the Burtons’ and Gilbert Scotts’ Societies to obtain relevant materials and create display space.
- SELEP Coastal Plan and Coastal Communities funding to be sought for the creation of a new visitor attraction including a craft workshop in a key coastal tourism location.
- Homes England to support the funding of the housing component.
- Expert advice and support to be supported by or through the 20th Century Society, the Hastings Shipwreck Museum, the Pirates Museum and the Fisherman’s Museum.
- Environment Agency funding for stabilising the Undercliff.
Tell us what you think of the plans in the comment section below.
To find out more about the history of this abandoned church click the link below…