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New Home For Eastbourne Community Sports Group

Saturday, 2 March 2024 06:00

By Huw Oxburgh, Local Democracy Reporter

Stephen Holt And Loretta Lock

A sports inclusivity group has secured a new home after reaching a lease agreement with Eastbourne Borough Council. 

The new agreement has seen Defiant Sports, a community interest company, sign a 25-year lease at the Archery youth and sports venue in Willoughby Crescent. 

The deal was announced on Wednesday (February 28), as the council considered a petition calling on the authority to compensate the group for the collapse of a previous agreement to lease part of the Fort Fun site in Royal Parade.

While welcoming of the new deal, the group took the opportunity to raise its concerns about what had gone wrong with the previous agreement. 

Introducing the petition, the group’s managing director Loretta Lock said:

“The management of the site previously used as Fort Fun has been completely inadequate. Intertwined with this situation is the attitude towards Defiant Sports and the underserved community we represent.

“With the support of nearly 2,000 community members, who have signed the petition, we would like to request answers to some areas of concern. 

“The following queries are of particular concerns and require response: Why has [the Fort Fun site] been left as a public eyesore for so long?  Why were offers from organisations such as Drusilla’s not seriously considered? Why were several good causes and local enterprises put through a lengthy and overextended application process with poor communication and ever-changing timelines? 

“Why did the council award the minor lease to Defiant Sports then fail to provide utilities as initially agreed? Why did they consistently change demands and ignore requests regarding planning permission and fail to communicate any change in decision to Defiant Sports in a timely and reasonable manner? 

“What changed during that time to justify removing Defiant Sports from the site causing financial harm and putting this community organisation’s sustainability at risk?”

The petition — signed by 1,983 at time of its publication as part of the meeting’s agenda — called on the council to hold a public meeting to go through the details of the case, including rumours about the site’s possible connection to the Eden Project.

It also called on the council to provide compensation to Defiant Sports for its work to clear part of the site before a lease agreement fell through. The group said this work was worth around £75,000.

Responding to Ms Lock, council leader Stephen Holt (Lib Dem) confirmed that the council would be offering a “small” community grant and free rent in recognition of the volunteer time spent on the Fort Fun site.

He said:

“The Archery has a very long history of community sports development and I am delighted that Defiant will build on that legacy. 

“My hope is that by offering the 25-year lease, this will allow Defiant Sports to work with your funders with what we have collectively dubbed a ‘settled home’. I honestly believe that this solution is the best solution for all parties.

“The site does need some tender love and care, but I know Loretta and I am sure her supporters who are here tonight can do it. Given the support here in the room I am absolutely confident that they will do so and you can sign me up for a paintbrush as well.

“We have also committed a dedicated officer to assist with the development, acting as a single point of contact for Defiant Sports and I will also commit to continue to meet with you Loretta for as long as necessary to assist in that process.

“In recognition to the volunteer hours, which I do appreciate were spent on Fort Fun, I am pleased to be able to grant this for a free period of time, along with the tennis court sites at Fisherman’s Green and a small community grant to enable works to begin.”

Cllr Holt did go as far as to support the calls for a public meeting on the details of the Fort Fun site, but did speak about an upcoming consultation on the council’s seafront strategy.

He said this process would see interested parties asked to share their views on the future of the town’s seafront.

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