Protesters denied access to former Lewes school site

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FORMER protesters attempted to enter the St Anne’s School site in Lewes week - but were thwarted by security staff.

Police were called and nine members of the St Anne’s Diggers were turned away at the locked gates of the Rotten Row entrance.

They had arrived pushing a wheelbarrow and armed with gardening tools to tend the vegetables planted in the grounds of the former special needs school during a six-week occupation.

It ended earlier this month when bailiffs evicted the protesters in a dawn raid.

A spokesperson for East Sussex County Council, owner of the site which has stood vacant since the school closed in 2005, said: “We are pleased that the protesters are keeping an interest in the maintenance of the grounds.

“However, the site has been secured following the illegal occupation and will remain so while the community and county council decide on its use.”

Marina Pepper, one of the Diggers involved in the incident, said they later went to nearby County Hall to confront Sean Nolan, Director of Corporate Resources at the council.

She said: “Council officers seem capable of the sort of behaviour one expects to grow out of in the playground. Taxpayers’ money is being wasted on security - as well as absolutely unnecessary levels of policing.

“Our salad and veg need harvesting and weeding now. The spuds need earthing up, the root crops thinning. Mr Nolan’s insistence that no one can harvest for the forseeable future suggests complete ignorance about where vegetables come from, how and when.

“No wonder the council’s food partnership failed. Clueless is the word that springs to mind.”

Meanwhile, Mr Nolan has sent a letter to local residents and community leaders updating them on the process of finding interim uses for St Anne’s.

It follows an initial public meeting, held three days after bailiffs moved in, to discuss ideas.

Mr Nolan said: “It is important that local people take a leading role in driving the project forward and agree the process for evaluating and prioritising ideas, deciding interim uses and in making them happen.

“Although some at the first meeting felt they could handle the initial coordination on behalf of the whole community, others felt a degree of independence would be very important at the beginning of the process. It is for this reason and also for their experience elsewhere that, in these early stages, I have asked for the support of Meanwhile Space, an organisation that works with communities and landowners to develop temporary use of vacant land and buildings.

“Meanwhile Space will only work with us until everyone in the community is comfortable with the way forward.”

A further public meeting will take place at Lewes Town Hall on Wednesday, July 27 (7.30pm), and an open day is planned at St Anne’s on August 13 (10am to 4pm).

A display has been set up in the entrance of the Town Hall. Suggestions can be put there or via a link on the council website at www.eastsussex.gov.uk/stannes