The future of St Mary in the Castle is still very uncertain, although there will be a few events in the next few weeks. Hastings Council, which owns it, are accepting only short-term bookings.
All enquiries should be directed to Aaron Woods at Hastings Council.
Our own view on the situation:
So, Hastings Council's Cabinet has decided to grant a lease for St Mary in the Castle to a charitable trust formed by Buckswood School to turn it into a cultural centre, offering facilities for local schools and the community. Yay! Labour councillors lined up to echo Jeremy Birch in praising the deal to the skies (though there were no financial or other details, and no questions asked). John Hodges delivered an oration about the wonders of private schools that even the Tories thought was odd. What could possibly go wrong?
The charity does not actually exist but is a proposal from a private business (not a registered charity), Buckswood. Unfortunately charities are not supposed to be set up by businesses (the tax avoidance element is obvious) and this one does not appear to meet the strict criteria of the Charity Commission. Buckswood propose to recruit some trustees who would be assigned "portfolios" and pretend to manage the business, although Buckswood would employ the staff and tell them what to do.
Is it really a charity or is it Buckswood for its own advantage? Although the Cabinet did not agree a lease for Buckswood itself they are already assuming ownership of the building, putting "Buckswood St Marys" [no apostrophes please, we're a skool] on its website alongside the existing "Buckswood St Georges" site [that skool again] and offering the facilities for hire. They propose their own "Youth and Language School" on a fee-paying basis, as well as a "Cellar Area" (the art gallery and crypt) and a "Restaurant" (previously the cafe). Dressing rooms become "Conference Room". No prices have yet been posted but will be reassuringly expensive.
Oh, and the Council is spending our money - lots of it - repairing and fitting out the building to Buckswood's commercial specifications. In return for what commercial premium, and what rent exactly? Er - none. The rent will be 1 pound "if demanded". No rates because it's supposedly a charity. But then there's a nice little subsidy, amount unspecified, as a sweetener. No wonder the school's owner, Giles Sutton, has "fallen in love" with the building. Wouldn't you?
All this is to save Jeremy Birch's blushes after the hash he made of the tendering process (helped by the chaotic decision process among officers) and the massive expense he has since incurred on the building. This got rid of a much cheaper deal when we were there, operating (oops) a cultural centre at St Mary in the Castle.