North-east Hastings is not an obviously distinct neighbourhood. With a population of around 8,000 residents, it ranges from Down Farm and Red Lake at the north end to the streets around Priory Road on West Hill to the south. Educationally it provides a catchment for four schools: Sandown and Ore Village Academy at primary level, Hastings Academy and Ark Helenswood at secondary, though the site of Helenswood and the Ore Valley Campus of East Sussex College are each located just beyond its borders. There are four community centres within it – The Bridge, Broomgrove, Ore and Downs Farm – which provide focal points for local activities. In 2012 it was identified as one of the 150 ‘most deprived and neglected areas of the country’, according to official statistics of poverty, unemployment, health needs and other indices of deprivation.

An award of £1 million was made by the Lottery Fund to be spent over ten years between 2014 and 2024 to improve the lives of people resident in this neighbourhood, working out at an average of £100,000 a year. Distribution of the funding is administered by the Big Local North East Hastings (BLNEH) committee, termed and functioning as a ‘resident-led partnership’. But it is not a legal entity. Money is drawn down for specific projects determined by BNLEH, but banked and dispensed by Hastings Voluntary Action (HVA). Its principal paid employee, Jan Papworth, who works three days per week as ‘community development officer’ –administrator and hands-on organiser – is technically on the HVA payroll.

The Chair and other officers of BLNEH are democratically elected by the residents and trusted to make funding decisions in their best interests with little supervisory control from above. There are no rules requiring expenditure on capital projects or on infrastructure rather than on day-to-day funding for an ongoing project if the latter is judged to be of most use. Support for local youngsters to attend Albion in the Community football sessions at Hastings Academy, for instance, may not come into most people’s idea of what a charitable enterprise might fund. But why not if it serves a need that cannot otherwise be afforded? 

There are no local councillors as placeholder in the partnership, though one partner, Tania Charman, is a serving councillor at both borough and county level. Current Chair Richard Street was also a Labour councillor for Ore up to the most recent election, but only took this role after his retirement.

Whether provision is for the old or the young, or in between, BLNEH expect the enterprises that they fund to be supported by volunteers and to engage fully with local residents. The ten-year programme is already four years in and there’s no reason to assume that it will be renewed beyond the 2024 end-stop, so the aim must be to make a game-changing difference by then.

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