Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

A gift back to the community: Pam Brown, OBE, President of Hastings and St Leonards Seniors’ Forum, receiving the deeds of the Isabel Blackman Centre from HOTRA Chairman Dick Edwards.

Saved at last

The Old Town’s much-loved Isabel Blackman Centre is being bought by a consortium of community groups. Emma Harwood brings us up to date on this good news.

For over four decades, the Isabel Blackman Centre in Winding Street in the Old Town offered a range of daytime social care services to older residents – many with complex health needs – until its closure in March 2019.

When owner East Sussex County Council then decided to sell the building, community and voluntary organisations launched a campaign to buy it back.

Now that campaign has raised almost the required £450,000 to buy the building, with donations from businesses, trusts and residents, including a painting by Sir Quentin Blake auctioned in aid of the appeal. But whilst negotiations are at a late stage, completion of the sale is facing delays due to Covid restrictions.

However, the partnership between Hastings Old Town Residents’ Association, Hastings Voluntary Action, Age UK East Sussex and Hastings and St Leonards Seniors’ Forum has formed the charity IBC-in Perpetuity to hold, develop and manage the centre on behalf of the community.

The next aim is to make it Covid-secure so activities such as lunches can be resumed. Further plans include refurbishing an upstairs two-bedroom flat which will be rented out to fund running costs while the downstairs space – which has full disabled access – will be available for hire to community groups.

An original watercolour by Sir Quentin Blake, The Green Man, was auctioned in aid of the IBC appeal

“A remarkable achievement”

Until its closure, the centre provided year-round social care for up to 100 people a week, many of whom suffered from the effects of Alzheimer’s, stroke and other long-term conditions. It offered opportunities for social interaction whilst providing respite for carers and families. Hastings resident Michael Plumbe, 90, celebrated his 80th birthday there.

“Having the place available locally, within ‘staggering distance’ for a lot of folk, was a much-appreciated community service.”

But in 2018-19 ESCC needed to save £10 million from its Adult Social Care budget and ended services provided there by the Sussex Community Development Association. In June 2019 it decided to sell the building, citing ‘low occupancy’ and ‘high running costs.’

But the centre was given Asset of Community Value status by Hastings Borough Council which prevented its sale on the open market for six months. This gave campaigners until December 2019 to launch a fundraising drive and prepare a bid.

Steve Manwaring, director of HVA, said the campaign’s success highlighted the importance of the voluntary sector in preserving community assets and services  when many have been stripped back due to austerity.

“It’s quite remarkable that people have really recognised how important that building is for older people, and for Hastings and the Old Town, and have come together around a campaign which wanted nothing more than to carry on providing a service locally which could put something back.”

“A rising level of need”

One in five people over 60 in Hastings and St Leonards is affected by income deprivation, the highest proportion in the county, and higher than the national average of one in seven, according to the Indices of Deprivation, 2019. Meanwhile, services for older people have seen a ‘slow decline’ in the face of rising need, according to Steve Hare, Chief Executive of Age UK East Sussex.

“Life experiences are less favourable for older people in Hastings than other parts of the county.

“We’ve seen a significant reduction in care packages they’ve received and services available locally.

“There have been some high profile closures of day services over the last ten years and that’s reduced the accessible buildings at which services are provided.”

Looking down East Bourne Street towards the Bourne Street baths and wash house. Hastings Town Council closed them in 1966 and they were later demolished. (photo-1930s)

A history of charitable purpose

The IBC first opened in September 1977, funded partly by the Isabel Blackman Foundation, which gave £50,000 towards its £130,000 construction cost. The foundation donated a further £77,000 towards alterations, development costs and equipment between 1980 and 2014. Part of the centre was built on the site of the former bath and wash house, donated to the community in 1865 by Countess Waldegrave.

Initially, it was hoped that ESCC would work in partnership with the voluntary sector and transfer ownership of the centre to them, but this request was rejected, according to Steve Manwaring, who was involved in negotiations with ESCC.

“Whilst we’re pleased to have bought it, the question that needs to be asked is why the community had to buy back a building it was given in the first place.

“In essence we’ve been treated no differently to any other developer who would have bought it and turned it into flats. We would have preferred a partnership approach which could have invested more resources in the service delivery, rather than in the buying of the building.”

Buying the IBC is part of a wider vision held by Age UK East Sussex and HVA to address inequalities experienced by many local people in later life, such as chronic social isolation, health issues and poverty, and improve their future experiences and opportunities.

Further plans afoot include the creation of an ‘older people’s hub’ at Central Hall in the town centre, and a long-term goal of turning Hastings and St Leonards into an ‘age-friendly’ town.

To become involved or make a donation contact: or

Visit Hastings Voluntary Action and AgeUK East Sussex to find out more.

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Posted 12:27 Thursday, Nov 26, 2020 In: Campaigns

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