‘Science-on-Sea’ – is Hastings brave enough to seize the opportunities its history and location provides?

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. 

  1. Chichester Diocese has already given its support for the idea by agreeing to donate the church building and land.
  2. The Science Museum has also shown strong interest in possible use of their mothballed maritime gallery.
  3. The Burtons’ St Leonards Society and the Nautical Maritime Trust (the Shipwreck Museum) are also on board. 
  4. 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?”

The old church that would become the focal point of the whole plan.

Project Aim

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.   

Project Summary

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.

The proposals – if they win support – would see building work completed on this abandoned site.


  1. A physically stable and useful future for the Grade 2 listed church and environs.
  2. A regional gallery of maritime exhibits (possibly a Science-on-Sea Museum). 
  3. A maritime themed craft workshop and gallery and in-door performance venue.
  4. A community room. 
  5. A permanent Burtons’ and Gilbert-Scotts’ exhibition space and archive room.
  6. A seaward-facing pedestrian plaza for performance and sculpture.
  7. A stable and upgraded flight of steps between the seafront and residential area.
  8. An upgrading of the visual and wildlife interest of land around the Church.
  9. Completion of the Undercliff development site for housing.
  10. A Community Land Trust or Community Interest Company to take the project forward and then manage the housing and the refurbished building and land. 


  1. Increased community engagement opportunities. 
  2. Improved pedestrian access to seafront.  
  3. New seafront visitor attraction 
  4. Potential regional base for Science Museum. 
  5. Retention of Grade 2 Church. 
  6. Visual enhancement of local area.  
  7. Presentation of architecturally notable families. 
  8. Housing.  
  9. Indoor and outdoor performance spaces.  
  10. Craft training in e.g., museum conservation and archivism.   
The church’s nautical theme extends to a boat shaped pulpit.

Outcome Indicators

  1. Visitor satisfaction and numbers.  
  2. Use of community room and performance spaces. 
  3. Use of steps. 
  4. Housing satisfaction.

Project fit with town deal priorities

  1. Local transport
  2. Digital connectivity
  3. Urban regeneration, planning and land use
  4. Arts, culture and heritage
  5. Skills infrastructure
  6. Enterprise infrastructure

Potential matching funding other than that of Town Deal 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. The Crown Estates to contribute the land underlying the partially built structure at the Undercliff.
  5. 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.
  6. The Science Museum to contribute their (moth-balled) maritime collection with curation supervision by the Hastings Museum and Art Gallery.    
  7. Funding sought from the Burtons’ and Gilbert Scotts’ Societies to obtain relevant materials and create display space. 
  8. 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.
  9. Homes England to support the funding of the housing component. 
  10. 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.
  11. 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…



18 thoughts on “‘Science-on-Sea’ – is Hastings brave enough to seize the opportunities its history and location provides?

  1. The Science Museum idea is fantastic.

    A retired church being gifted to a science museum is a beautiful idea.

    So many positives and no negatives.

    So exciting.

    1. Superb idea.. I remember when the ‘new’ church opened in 1961 and it was beautiful and with a large congregation, outreach and was a vital part of St Leonards. Marvellous if it can come back to life and benefit our town again, albeit with a different purpose.

      1. I would so love to see this marvellous church used for “science-on-sea”. I lived very close to it in the late 60’s to late 70’s and I had my son christened there (he died in his very early 20’s) and so of course not only I, but he, would have loved it to be used in this way. I can’t think of a better way to use such a super site which really can’t be much closer to the sea!, lovely idea.

    2. Sounds a brilliant project in every way! Would be such a unique asset for the area, and seems very well thought through. Good luck. ?

  2. This surely has to be putsued. The church itself is quickly falling into disrepair, the pathway down to the seafront is badly maintained and wouldn’t survive many severely weather events without further slippage and the areas surrounding the church are completely wasted. It’s such an amazing idea, I sincerely hope this opportunity is grasped and run with.

  3. Lovely idea and what is more it is another step linking the Town and the proposed projects for West St Leonards. Bite the bullet Town Deal board and allow us to regenerate!

  4. Amazing! The building is perfect for a venture like this! Brutal but beautiful! And landscaping would benefit visitors and the local community!

  5. I could not agree more! Great idea to put this fine building to so constructive use for the good of the community. Just hope the work required to stabilise it is feasible – costs is what i am thinking.
    As for the Undercliff site. Well I have to say is it worth sorting out again from a cost of the problems here. The serious subsidence at the rear would mean new shuttering a major civil engineering task The current shuttering is totally buckled. And the skeleton structure surely cannot be in a great condition. This is where the fault line that extends across to Caves Road and the church is a victim of this too.
    It was abandoned in the early 70’s by developers due to subsidence then. But HBC gave it new planning permission in around 2004 that was a serious mistake. A case of history repeating itself.

  6. I would just like to add further to my comment, I did not include referring to the abandoned Undercliff site. Now about 14 years since the developer walked away after the collapse of the old shuttering. since then it has been declared a Bona Vacantia site – as it became owner less. When the developer went into liquidation the receiver(s) could not sell the site due to the collapse and cost to sort it out. The council spent around £4,000 with a Geo Technic company. Their report indicated it would not be economically viable and that was around 2010.
    The site was fine as an empty piece of land from the 70’s when the first slip happened. Then when this repeat attempt to develop it got underway – it collapsed again.
    Several of us locals objected to it on the one issue – land stability but of course HBC knew better than us dumb members of the public.

    1. This is very interesting. I’d like to know more about the stability of the area above the abandoned site i.e. the houses in West Hill Road. Is there danger of a further landslip, and how do I find out more?

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