When the Tamarisk Centre in Littlehampton closed its doors at the end of 2016, it was a sad day for the town.
But the Beach Road building has a bright future thanks to two teachers from Littlehampton, who wanted to transform the languishing site into a community hub and café.
Claire Jones and Felicity Jay set up Creative Heart – a not-for-profit, community interest company – to run the enterprise, which they hoped to have open by October.
Last week, the duo launched an online crowdfunding campaign to raise £20,000 and have since reached 10 per cent of the target.
"It is all about creating a place where people can belong"
Felicity said: “We are really excited about bringing the community together and making a change in Littlehampton.”
Having just adopted six-year-old twins and an eight-year-old girl she had been caring for, Claire will be spending much of her adoption leave getting the project off the ground.
The special needs teacher said inclusivity for all ages, abilities and backgrounds was important.
She said: “It is all about creating a place where people can belong, feel loved, make friends and have fun.”
James Walsh, leader of Arun District Council, praised the plans. He said: “This is a fantastic idea and project. The former Tamarisk Centre was a lifeline for so many people in our local community, and it was a tragedy when it closed.
"This new crowdfunded project could see it re-opening, and provide an even better service locally. The worry will always be ongoing revenue funding, but I wish the project every success.”
Plans to transform the site revealed
The first phase of the project was to turn the ground floor into a café and space where Claire and Felicity could run creative workshops.
As and when they had the funds, Claire said they would turn the first floor into studios for artists, a hairdressing salon, offices, space where therapists could run sessions and a sensory room for disabled people which was ‘much-needed in the town’.
Ideas for events the pair wanted to run included inter-generational cream teas and tea dances, where older people and young children would mingle.
Age UK, which formerly operated out of the building, was one of several groups that had expressed an interest in moving in, Claire said.
Repairs have begun
But there is a lot of work to do before that stage.
As the building fell into disrepair, the roof leaked leading to extensive mould and water damage.
Working with the landlord, the installation of a new roof began this week, and Claire said they hoped to begin redecorating at the end of the month. The next challenge was fixing the lift, which was currently overrun with pigeons.
They planned to furnish the café with upcycled tables and chairs once the building was back up to scratch.
The donations will go towards redecorating, installing safety flooring, sensory equipment and paying their initial rent.
Claire said they would ‘create a work of art celebrating everyone who is part of our story’ including the names of all the donors. They were also applying for grants, she said.
While they had found a chef to run the café, Claire said they needed more volunteers to redecorate and run the hub until the income from the café and renting rooms out meant they could hire staff
She said: “We want people to take ownership of this hub. Hopefully the community will get behind it.”
To donate, visit gofundme.com/f/creative-heart-cic-littlehampton.