Council gives blessing to youth centre project

PLANS to overhaul an abandoned church and transform it into a thriving youth centre with a cinema, theatre and games room, have been given an official blessing.

Rother District Council (RDC) approved local councillor Michael Ensor's application to change the use of St John's Church, Victoria Road, from a place of worship to a centre for leisure activities last Thursday.

Cllr Ensor, also an East Sussex County Councillor, told the Observer of his delight at the news, and of the work ahead.

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Inheriting the building, abandoned by its United Reform congregation around three years ago, has been an "unusal" experience, Cllr Ensor said, adding: "I described it to somebody as a bit like the Marie Celeste.

"It's almost as if one day it was a functional church, and they walked out and locked it up. Years later I come back in again and everything is still there. The cutlery still in the kitchen drawers, and the accident book is open."

Taking over has not been entirely straightforward. Asbestos had to be removed before Cllr Ensor, who is funding the project privately at an unknown cost, could begin cleaning the with a small team of helpers.

Bucketfuls of dust were collected from behind radiators in The Victoria Hall, to which the church is attached. Fourteen shuttlecocks and various balls were found on the high sill running around the room.

Following their efforts, however, the hall was recently used for the first time in years, by young people on a sports training course.

In the church itself the pulpit and some of the pews have been ripped out, creating a large stage area for theatre, dance, music and cinema screenings.

A side room is mid-way to becoming a games lounge, with table tennis tables and a piano already installed. St Peter's Church has donated a pool table and St Michael's Church a table football.

Cllr Ensor, who last week took over charity The Bexhill Community Partnership to help run the building, said: "It will be a drop-in centre specifically for older teenagers to be able to come and enjoy in the evenings.

"I've got the lease for 10 years, and I'm just hoping that within that time I'll be able to get it up and running self-sufficiently."