For the last few years, there has been significant discussion about the fate of Clair Hall among the residents of Haywards Heath. Now, dedicated locals are gathering support in a heartfelt endeavour to rescue their sole community theatre. The Save Clair Hall group want to put forward a plan for the community organisation to take lease of the site, refurbish it, and then operate the multiuse venue. If adopted by Mid Sussex District Council (MSDC), this scheme would enable them to evaluate and carry out essential renovations for a swift re-opening of this vital community resource.
This suggestion follows the venue being placed on the Theatre Trust’s ‘Theatres at Risk Register’ in 2022 and, more recently, a report and public consultation being carried out by BOP Consulting, a company appointed by MSDC. The report highlighted that 65% of residents said they would like Clair Hall to remain but be “refurbished”, with an additional 5% stating they would like it to return to immediate use.
The Save Clair Hall community group wants to be involved in the consulting process with the Council’s appointed commercial agents, Montague Evans, in the hope of retaining the beating heart of their community. Whilst MSDC has suggested alternative venues that the community groups can use, these sites are either already at capacity or not able to offer the same facilities, and one suggested site is not even open for public use.
The community group’s plans will only be possible if the Council ceases its current rhetoric of leasing out the site for redevelopment, which disregards the advice from independent consultants, BOP Consulting, to explore a refurbishment option. The rationale behind the Council not following the refurbishment route is that the level of investment required to convert the site is outweighed by the financial and logistical benefits of entrusting the venue to a private company.
According to MSDC, the estimated cost of a refurbished provision would be around £2.9 million, whereas the community proposal is calculated at £1 million below this. The suggested community project involves initially refurbishing the venue to open at the earliest opportunity, and then funding a modernised community facility to accommodate the theatre and all local community groups.
Marion Wilcock, a Save Clair Hall campaigner and Haywards Heath Community CIC director, talks about the impact of the Council’s actions and what it means for the community:
“With the site now assigned to a developer, and no promise of providing anything like the facilities currently on the site, there’s a genuine concern that Clair Hall will be demolished just like Martlets Hall in Burgess Hill.
“Although the Council has said that it will not be ‘selling’ the site, we feel that the Council is misleading the public. It intends to grant a long lease (120-year +) to a commercial developer just like The Martlets, which is most certainly a ‘Disposal’.
“It is inexplicable that the Council has steadfastly refused to engage with any Community Groups about what is a community asset, despite being recommended to do so in the BOP Report”.
Tim French MBE, Save Clair Hall group member and director of It’s Magic Events, added:
“The need for a space where the community come together is more important post-pandemic than ever, so it’s crucial the real public opinion is honoured, and the community theatre is saved.”
Prior to its closure in 2020, Clair Hall served as the only facility available for what was a thriving theatre community. Without this asset, the theatre group and multiple community groups, which relied on the venue and have already been displaced by its closure, may have to cease entirely.
Before MSDC voted to close Clair Hall, many letters of opposition, a petition signed by 4,000 people and Save Clair Hall’s own public option survey all went unanswered. The only hope the town has to save this much-needed space is to galvanise support from the Haywards Heath community. However, the group can’t proceed without the Council considering this option.
To learn more about this project and receive updates on the decisions being made, please join the Save Clair Hall group on Facebook.