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New Year’s resolution for HBC: Save St Mary in the Castle

December 31, 2008

column-picture2I was interested to see, when I looked at the Observer website on Sunday, that in the poll about New Year’s resolutions, 60% of those responding said they had never managed to keep one!

Last year in this column, I strove to keep my personal resolutions to myself, and wrote instead about a political priority – to encourage as many people as possible to register to vote.

I am pleased to say that, throughout the year, and particularly in the May elections, I was able to do that. I don’t know how many people finally did sign up to vote because of our discussions, but it was not for the want of trying.

This remains a crucial issue for a constituency like ours, where there is much deprivation, and where those who are experiencing the most hardship are also the least likely to have a say in who governs them, because they are not registered to vote.

This year, and because of the urgency of the situation, I would rather make a resolution on behalf of Hastings Borough Council. I hope very much that it will commit to it.

On 15 December, as reported by this newspaper, a group of 50 or more residents gathered for a public meeting to discuss the future of St Mary in the Castle.

This meeting, called by Lib Dem Councillor Peter Armstrong, was a response to the timetable for expressions of interest set by HBC, who want a tenant in place when Sonrise Church leaves its tenancy at the end of January. The deadline set was noon on 23 December.

There was much anger expressed at the meeting about the Conservative Council’s lack of financial commitment to, and perceived lack of interest in, the future of this beautiful asset in the centre of Hastings. There were hopes expressed that HBC could be relied upon to step in, and ensure that the building is maintained in the good order that it has been by the current tenants. And that the community, and the (local and regional) groups that use the facility, will be able to take part in a discussion and an action plan to safeguard its future.

As Erica Smith wrote in an open letter, on behalf of us attendees – “It would not be in the interests of St Mary-in-the-Castle or the community to ‘mothball’ the building in the hope that a future tenant will come along.

“We would like the Council to allow time to explore a community involvement in the future of St Mary-in-the-Castle, for example, as a social enterprise charged with the responsibility of managing the facility.”

I was surprised and disappointed that neither my Labour nor Conservative parliamentary counterparts, nor any Labour or Conservative Councillors, attended the public meeting on 15 December.

It is desirable that there is cross-party consensus both to preserve this beautiful building and to support the organisations that have expressed their views at and by the public meeting.

I have written to Michael and Amber to ask for their assurance that they will join the fight to safeguard St Mary in the Castle.

It is important not only to preserve the building for the use of the community and for future generations, but also because of the important role that the arts and culture play in the ongoing imperative of tackling poverty and exclusion in our area.

I hope you will join the fight too!

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