Sunday, 11 February 2018

Bexhill Community: A Resident's View

I am a great believer in freedom of speech. It is an essential ingredient of a civilised society. It is perfectly possible for people to express differing views, argue even, without resorting to personal attacks, insults or abuse. Nevertheless, anyone who engages in social media, will almost certainly have witnessed examples of people posting language and opinions which are frankly unacceptable in a civilised society. Social media has galloped ahead of normal conversation, and common courtesy has not yet caught up.
So what has this got to do with my home town of Bexhill?
The connection is this; that despite its appearance as a sleepy rather old fashioned seaside town with an above average proportion of retired residents, Bexhill is full of social media users. There are many thriving facebook groups with thousands of members, who tease out topics of local interest. Even some of our local councillors join in the discussion. Popular subjects such as pot holes, parking, and dog poo, are probably similar to those discussed in other towns and villages, but, at present, there is something extra afoot in the sleepy town of Bexhill. We have a lot to talk about, not always with as much courtesy as I would like, but emotions are running high.
At this point, I suppose I should add a disclaimer. What follows is my personal opinion. If readers disagree or agree, I would welcome your comments, particularly if you can manage to do so without insulting me, or for that matter anyone else.
In Bexhill we have a strong sense of community. The centre is quite self-contained geographically, and the seafront with the Colonnade and De La Warr Pavilion pulls the town together. If you take a walk along the promenade on one of our very many sunny days, you are likely to meet people you know.
                                    The De La Warr Pavilion which overlooks the Colonnade

Added to this we have been very privileged with a number of events and entertainment venues. These have lifted Bexhill above more humdrum areas. There are far too many to name, so I am just going to give a few examples, chosen to illustrate my concerns for the developing future community of our lovely town.

Firstly, I will mention the Colonnade, a beautiful semi-circular building, grade 2 listed as an unusual example of a seafront performance space. For the past few years, its enterprising leaseholder has returned it to its listed purpose, by providing refreshments and live music on most sunny weekends. Residents and visitors loved it, and we flocked there in our hundreds. It became a very special meeting place for the community. In fact I know several people who moved to Bexhill specifically, because they were so enchanted by the live entertainment afternoons at the Colonnade.

                                  A sunny afternoon listening to live music at the Colonnade

     The Domes above the Colonnade

Secondly, we have a number of really spectacular community events, mainly funded through local donations, stallholders and sponsorship, and run entirely by volunteers. These events have also received small grants from the local council, but only guaranteed for the first three years, due to a policy known as pump priming. Once year four arrives, most events are only eligible to bid for a share of the community events fund. The amounts involved are much smaller with decisions often made too late for the organisers to take full account of in their long-term planning. I am enormously grateful to the local volunteers who run these events, and help to make our town both unique and prosperous.

Festival of the Sea, a weekend event organised by volunteers 

Bexhill Christmas Tree 2017 funded by the community event Shining Lights 

One of the many Charleston sessions which prepared the town to break a world record! 

This was why I set up the 'Three Events Bexhill' fundraising group six months ago .... to
raise money towards the continuation of three much loved community events, namely Festival of the Sea, Shining Lights and The Roaring Twenties. The funds raised will never be sufficient to keep these events going without other substantial support, but I wanted to do what I could. And the people of Bexhill have been generous. They have donated to our justgiving page, purchased our raffle tickets, and promised to support our quizzes and discos. We are truly grateful.
If you are not a resident of Bexhill, or have not kept up with recent developments, then you are probably wondering why I have chosen this time to write about such a topic. My reason is this:
The Colonnade was closed by our local council a few months ago, and the previous leaseholder and tenants were instructed to leave. Our local council were subsequently unable to find a suitable new leaseholder, so has since earmarked £260,000 for damp-proofing, refurbishment and salaries. They are now planning to run the Colonnade 'inhouse'. Several people have expressed concerns about the council's capacity to run a catering business, but the council are currently advertising for someone to manage it. Although the damp had been frequently reported in previous years, nothing was done until now. We are told that the newly refurbished cafe/restaurant will be open in time for the 'busy period' in 2018. I sincerely hope it will be, and that we get our live entertainment afternoons back, so that the Colonnade returns to its grade 2 listed designation.
Even more recently came the announcement that one of the Three Events I mentioned earlier has been cancelled for 2018 due to concerns about future funding from the council. Without a change to the Council's 'pump-priming' policy, I am worried whether we will see the 'Roaring Twenties Day' return, or get another chance to take part in another Charleston World Record of which our town is so proud.
So what will happen now? The situation is very uncertain, but here are three important dates.
This week I believe that the council will be discussing their proposed  allocation of £10,000 for people to bid from to celebrate the wedding of Harry and Megham. I'm all for this wonderful couple, but surely we can celebrate their wedding without dipping into the diminishing pot of council money? It seems to me that the council has more pressing priorities.
On 1st March there will be a discussion at our local Town Forum about events funding. As representatives of our local council will be speaking, I do hope that they take the opportunity to sincerely thank and offer encouragement to the volunteer organisers of all our community events for the massive contribution they have made to our lovely town.
Finally, please note that our local council represents all of Rother and not just Bexhill. Despite an overwhelming response from everyone who took part in the recent consultation in favour of establishing a Bexhill Town Council, this was refused by our council. Nobody is suggesting that a Town Council would have major powers, but it would have been a very inexpensive start towards more local decision making.
So my last important date is in May 2019, when I presume Bexhill will have local elections. If you are interested in the continued prosperity of our lovely town, then please put party politics aside and vote for the candidates who you feel will be willing to support the prosperity of our lovely town and the rights of Bexhill residents to have a council which genuinely takes account of their views.
I'm sure this topic will continue to be thrashed out on social media for some time to come. I just wanted to have my say.