St Mary’s Social Centre in Lewes just wants to be left alone by district council

St Mary's social centre development.'David Hackett, Colin Reynolds, Les Langston with children and staff from nursery school.
St Mary's social centre development.'David Hackett, Colin Reynolds, Les Langston with children and staff from nursery school.

“We don’t want them to do anything. We just want them to leave us alone,” said the chairman of the trustees of St Mary’s Social Centre in Lewes, as the community centre waits to hear more details about the 49 sites earmarked for housing in Lewes District.

News emerged about the 49 sites last week as the district council said it had lined up developers to build housing on land it was making available for homes, 40 per cent of which will be affordable.

But chairman of the trustees Colin Reynolds argued the social centre should never have been on the list and says the lack of information from the council is making it difficult to fight the proposal.

The Sussex Express asked the district council for a list of the 49 sites last week but it said it was unable to release the sites due to legal and contractual matters which needed to be concluded. But it said it would announce the sites as soon as possible.

Volunteers at St Mary’s Social Centre believe the building is on the list, but have been unable to find out from the district council how much the building would cost if they were to try and buy it.

Mr Reynolds said: “As far as we know we are still on the list. What can we do until they produce some plans?

“They keep telling us that they are going to produce some community facilities but the area won’t be the same as our square footage area. It’s all unofficial and it’s all secret.”

The district council plans to work with Karis Developments in Brighton to build around 450 homes on sites around the district.

A spokesperson for the district council said: “Throughout this process Lewes District Council has worked on the basis that St Mary’s Social Centre will be retained or enhanced as a community facility.

“Our discussions with potential property partners have been based on this position and that remains the case.”

Volunteers at the St Mary’s Social Centre found out the building was on the list of 49 sites in January 2013.

Mr Reynolds added: “We were absolutely shocked. This list of 49 sites was all put together about six months before we found out.

“It’s a really well established community centre. We were up in arms about it when we found out in January 2013.

“It should never have been put on that list at all. The other sites are car parks or buildings that are not being used.”

The plan includes demolishing St Mary’s, building a new social centre and ten to 14 homes. A petition of more than 4,000 signatures was presented to the district council 18 months ago asking for the social centre to be saved.

The buildings on the site which form St Mary’s Social Centre in Lewes were built around 1860 as an isolation hospital.

The social centre is run by volunteers on a non profit basis, with more than 25 groups using it, including a pre school, brownies, sports club, gardening club, Lewes Concert Orchestra and an annual pantomime.

The supporters club which runs the bar, boasting the longest bar in Sussex, has more than 400 members. Last year the trustees successfully applied to list the building as a community asset which gives them the right to bid if the council decides to sell and six months to find the money.