Hastings' Jerwood Gallery divides community

Jerwood Gallery
Image caption The £4m Jerwood Gallery has divided opinion in the seaside town

Opposition became so fierce it prompted a bonfire protest.

Residents fashioned a model which was cast into the flames as they vented their anger at the plan.

Graffiti has been scrawled on walls, voices have been raised in protest - and the subject of this vitriol?

A £4m art gallery overlooking the Hastings waterfront.

More used to genteel musings on form and function, the team behind the attraction have had to contend with outrage at the plan.

But on Saturday the shiny black Jerwood Gallery will throw open its doors - after a four-year conflict over whether it is right for Hastings Old Town.

Opponents argue the small shingle beach - home to a fleet of fishing boats - was not the best place for the development.

Spoiled the view

But supporters hope it will have similar success to other art projects that have popped up along the south-east's coastline.

Margate's Turner Contemporary saw 300,000 people come through its doors in its first seven months, double the number expected for the whole year.

Eastbourne boasts the Towner and Bexhill has the De La Warr Pavilion. They have attracted visitors and boosted the towns' images.

Image caption Mr Adams said he thought the Jerwood had been built in the wrong place

So why has the Jerwood, which will house a collection of paintings not previously seen by the public, provoked such controversy?

Opponents from theSay No to Jerwoodcampaign think the gallery has been foisted on the area, known as the Stade, and would be better placed elsewhere.

There is also anger the Jerwood plans to charge for entry (£2 for residents / £7 for non-residents) whereas other galleries, including the Turner, are free.

Many locals are unhappy the building, which is clad in black ceramic tiles, replaced a coach park that brought tourists to the town.

It is this resentment that culminated in the bonfire protest in 2008. Other anti-hero figures who have featured in the town's display include Katie Price, traffic wardens and a bus company for putting up fares.

'Sore point'

Dean Adams, whose family has fished from the beach for generations, said the building was an eyesore that spoiled the view of the Old Town from the beach.

He said: "The Jerwood has been a sore point since its conception ... A lot of people have labelled it the Berlin wall, it's dreadful."

Image caption There has been public opposition in Hastings at plans to open a gallery on the seafront

Mr Adams believes the east of the town towards St Leonards is in need of regeneration.

He said: "Everything about the Old Town is a success and of course anybody wanting to bring a business would be stupid not to be right in the middle of it

"But as a town and a community, we should have asked us them to go where we need it. There's some fantastic sites where it could have been put to the benefit of everybody.

"Unfortunately, it's absolutely spilt the Old Town community to pieces. I feel very strongly about that, it shouldn't have been allowed to happen."

Not all fishermen are against the plans.

Alongside the gallery, the borough council is funding a performance space, café and community education facilities.

Paul Joy, who chairs the Hastings Fishermen's Protection Society, said: "We are looking at the long-term benefits of having Jerwood here.

"We've got market improvements that are linked to the Jerwood project, we've also got the Stade open space, the community centre that's been built on the back of Jerwood.

"We've got a training school and kitchen which wouldn't be built without the Jerwood.

"We've got to look at the bigger picture. There's no point saying you don't want change, because change happens."

'Very lucky indeed'

Alan Grieve, who chairs the Jerwood Foundation, said: "I believe Hastings is very lucky indeed to get a building of this kind put up.

Image caption Mr Grieve said he thought Hastings was lucky to host the Jerwood Collection

"I think they are very privileged to have a collection like this. I don't think I would have any difficulty in saying to another city, another town, or another gallery: 'Would you like to have the Jerwood collection?'

"As they say in the pubs, they would bite my hand off."

The foundation has said the development of the Jerwood and the Stade will boost the local economy by an estimated £9m annually and create 90 jobs.

The gallery is home to 20th and 21st Century paintings by British artists including Sir Stanley Spencer, Lawrence Stephen Lowry and Augustus John.

Mr Grieve said he believed the gallery would prove to be a success. "I believe that after a little bit of time, people will like, and maybe love it," he said.

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