Mystery donor pledges £40,000 but community told a viable ‘sustainable’ solution is needed by end of June. By Emma Harwood

A mystery benefactor has offered to donate £40,000 to help save the Isabel Blackman Centre in St Leonards from closure.

Isabel Blackman Centre in St Leonards

But the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS), which owns the building and has been running the centre at a loss for a number of years, says that even if enough cash is raised for vital repairs, amounting to £67,000, it cannot afford to keep funding the £34,000 per year annual running costs.

 It says a viable ‘cost-neutral’ solution for running the centre, which closed unexpectedly last month following the results of a building survey, must be found by the end of June or else it will remain permanently closed.

In a document sent to staff, volunteers and service users following a meeting on 22nd May, the RVS said its staff team had researched local and national grant funding but “unfortunately none of this work has resulted in the funds required by this centre.” 

Mixed Messages

The charity also indicated in the document, seen by this newspaper, that if funds could be raised to pay for the repairs to make the building safe to use, it might consider the option of community volunteers taking over the running of the centre, which previously opened its doors to 200 people per week.

However elderly volunteers and service users told HIP at an informal meeting on Thursday 6th June they would have difficulty drawing up a business plan at such short notice.

A spokesperson for the RVS said, “We will be reviewing all fundraising and income development options at the next volunteer and staff meeting, due to take place on 17th June. We have a fantastic operational and fundraising team able to help local supporters, should advice and guidance be required prior to this meeting and beyond.”

The St Leonards Isabel Blackman Centre was bequeathed to the community by the Isabel Blackman Foundation in 1966. Running of the centre was subsequently taken over by East Sussex County Council, which sold the building for £95,000 to the RVS in 2003.

The RVS also owns a garage and land adjacent to the South Street centre, which it says it is in the process of selling. 

The South Street centre is one of the few local venues which has disabled access and whose facilities include hall, meeting room and kitchen. The RVS has been operating a rota of 15 volunteers and employing two members of staff, who now face redundancy. 

Its sister centre in Winding Street, Hastings Old Town, is still owned by East Sussex County Council, which closed the building at the end of March. ESCC is set to recommend disposal of the building as ‘surplus to County Council operational requirements’ at a meeting on 25th June. 

Hastings Old Town Residents Association (HOTRA) registered it as an Asset of Community Value in May which triggers a six -month moratorium, delaying its sale to another party while it tries to raise funds to buy the building.

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