Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Entering the transformed Stables.

Curtains open on new-look Stables

To walk into the new, light, open and airy contemporary space that is the foyer of the newly refurbished Stables Theatre and Arts Centre is like taking a breath of fresh air, writes Siobhan O’Hanlon. With its stylish lines and consideration for its public and thespians flowing effortlessly through the building, it is a beautiful sight with a wow factor on a par with the Jerwood Gallery.

A group of dedicated, talented volunteers have finally seen their dream become reality. Chairman Chris Lacey explained how the initial plans were drawn up over two years ago under Tim Pearce’s chairmanship, led by Jonathan Pitts. All the targets have been achieved a year in advance. The architect, Martin Robinson, put an enormous amount of time into the plans and designs, and was willing to consult, listen, adapt and create the vision using the input of his fellow participants over an

Rebuilding the foyer.

18-month period while planning permission was sought for what is a Grade Two listed building. The original Georgian structure was created in 1743 by John Collier, six times mayor of Hastings, as a working stables. Previous improvements saw the front extension and art gallery created in 1978, the back stage improved in 2000 and the auditorium updated in 2006.

The Glen Watford Gallery upstairs has just received the final sign-off, with beautiful new windows helping to make the interior a truly outstanding piece of 21st century architecture, from the subtleties of  seamless bespoke shelving and floating magnetic poster boards to unique storage solutions with a mind on the functionality and comfort of all those who man the front desk. A unique modern hanging lighting system of light wood defies gravity. The whole is complemented by a sleek wood finish throughout, from the ergonomic desk of the box office to the flooring. Everywhere attention has been paid to detail to make it easy for all to move around the building and use the space.

The main gallery has undergone refurbishment.

The physical work began at the end of December 2013, with ceilings pulled down and walls moved to allow the reconstruction to begin. Many members responded to the appeal by Chris for volunteer help – he was surprised and humbled, he says, by all those who turned out and the way people kept returning for more sessions of back-breaking work. He particularly wants to mention Calvin Gander, Paul Roberts, Jonathan Reed, John and Kate Tudgay, Linda Willard, Tim Pearce, Sylvia Wathey, June Hills, Veronica Sceal, Cassandra Gough, Ian Morson, Lita Brooker, Penny Beale, Liz Hoffman, Tim the builder, Sid the plasterer, Marcus Croft for the electrics, Andy Bissenden for all the work of installing new computers and programmes, and not least their patrons at Kileys Carpets for the new flooring and carpets.

Mike Willard was made project manager. As a carpenter, his practical skills, expertise, patience and indefatigable energy were much in evidence, bringing out the best skills from all involved.

When help was needed, people answered the call. To quote from Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come,” or to be more accurate, they will come if you build it!

A new lighting board (above) and a new sound board have been installed.

Whilst all the work was going on front of house, others were renewing and refurbishing the backstage and technical spaces under the leadership of Frank Jenks and Ian Stevens. The Stables now has a new control box with space for more than two people, so they can train apprentices to work with experienced technicians on the job. A new lighting control panel now sits alongside the new sound desk. Frank, Ian and their team have also installed energy-saving LED stage lights. The stage manager’s corner has been refurbished, the props and scenery stores reorganised and refurbished. Gill Jenks led a team reorganising the wardrobe.

Volunteer June Hills knew what was needed for the box office to function efficiently with respect to the size, comfort, and security of all. The only thing that awaits now in this area is state-of-the-art acoustic tiles to quieten the box office and foyer area. Marcus Croft, director of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest but for this purpose electrician, has opened up the space with newly installed lighting systems, in addition to new lighting and controls for the theatre from upstairs. Cliff Brooker, who creates the marketing brochures, invitations and posters for the Stables, is now putting the last touches to the new lettering design for the façade of the building.

What is amazing is that all this has happened without any outside funding. This is about the time and attention given by such as Andy Bissenden, IT consultant in the NHS but also front-of-house man and volunteer. Without these people this wouldn’t have happened – and it makes the Stables a truly unique resource which Hastings can be proud of and continue to support by attending the shows, events and exhibitions put on by this selfless group of people.

Visitors have already commented on the smart concept and the cleanliness, which does indeed have a Scandinavian feel and yet still fits in with the rest of the building.

To celebrate this achievement there will be a grand gala opening on 19 October to thank all those who have contributed, all the patrons and their support, followed by an afternoon matinée performance of Dion Boucicault’s comedy London Assurance. The changes are already bringing in new and younger audiences and volunteers keen to experience the new beginning. This will be celebrated by a fringe festival in September 2015, during Coastal Currents, to acknowledge the lasting impact the changes have wrought.

So the Stables continues to fulfil its mission of leaving an artistic, social and financial legacy for the benefit of generations to come. Come along and see for yourselves.


All photos by Peter Mould – see also his photographic record of the born-again Stables.

A full list of productions and events is available on the Stables website.

Posted 12:16 Monday, Sep 8, 2014 In: Community Arts

Also in: Community Arts

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