A community centre destined to be the heart of Rustington has opened – and you have the power to shape its future.
The Samuel Wickens Centre’s opening ceremony was on Thursday, attended by MPs, mayors and dignitaries from the village and beyond.
And on Saturday, an open day was held for the public to see the former WRVS base in the car park behind Waitrose in Broadmark Lane, and have their say on how it is used.
A plaque was unveiled at Thursday’s launch by Samuel’s son Roger. He said: “It’s lovely to be here. We’re very proud of Rustington and let’s open this building.”
It is the new home of the village information centre, Rustington Museum and the Garden Room, which are being sold by Rustington Parish Council.
The new centre has a hall and kitchen which can be used by community groups.
It has been 16 months in the planning, after the building was handed to the council on a ten-year lease by Store Property, a company run by the Wickens family.
In her speech, Ali Cooper, a parish councillor instrumental in realising the project, praised Store Property for absorbing increasing costs to make sure it was built. She said: “We are very grateful and count ourselves extremely lucky to be dealing with a company who hold Rustington at its heart.”
The museum will move in once the council hears the outcome of a bid for a Heritage Lottery Fund grant, which would pay for improvements like movable walls to cater for different-sized exhibitions.
Different ideas were put forward to the public on the open day, including volunteers recording voices to build an oral history of the village, and getting resources to teach school pupils.
Ali said: “Museums are constantly evolving and we have the opportunity here to make something truly special, to tell a story through a timeline and to build on the connection we all feel to this wonderful village and the people that have shaped its history.”
Speaking on Friday, parish council chairman Jamie Bennett said the opening went ‘amazingly’ and the building was ‘an asset the community will be proud of’.
He asked for people to be honest in the museum consultation: “We want to bring out Rustington’s heritage in a way that makes people want to come back again and again.”
The consultation runs until Saturday.
Who is Samuel Wickens?
Samuel Wickens was a property developer who built Rustington Shopping Centre and changed the face of the village.
The parish council cemented his legacy by naming the centre after him – a pleasant surprise according to his granddaughter Sarah Wickens, who now runs his business. She said: “He would be very proud indeed, as his original wish was for that piece of land to be used as a community building.”
Born in 1907, Samuel served in the RAF and worked in Barclays Bank until 1952, when he started his development company with his wife Betty, acquiring a building company to ensure the quality of the finished developments.
Samuel started developing in Rustington in the 1950’s, building retirement bungalows on what became the Broadmark Estate.
In 1955, his company bought a field on the corner of The Street and Ash Lane. It had planning permission for a cinema, but instead he built a parade of shops with car parking along the frontage – an unusual feature at the time.
In 1960, he bought pony paddock land opposite at auction and developed the south side of The Street’s parade of shops with flats above, again with car parking.
Soon afterwards, he turned four large houses fronting The Street into the Churchill Parade shopping development and a car park.
By 1970, with help from his son Roger, he turned Marters Nursery behind Broadmark Parade into car parking – the eventual site of the new community centre.
Samuel lived in Rustington with his wife and three children, but died unexpectedly in 1972 aged 65. Both he and Betty are buried in the St Peter and St Paul churchyard in the village.