New arts, education and cultural centre granted permission for South Downs

Eastbourne Borough Council, in partnership with Towner Eastbourne, has today been granted planning permission to create a world-class arts, education and cultural centre in the unique landscape of the South Downs National Park. It is expected work will begin on the centre at Black Robin Farm in 2024.

Black Robin Farm, situated on a site that was formerly a dairy farm, and embedded in the rolling South Downs landscape, will transform lives by connecting communities and visitors with the outstanding nature, landscape and cultural heritage of the Downlands for health, wellbeing and education. It is planned to be a new type of culture centre where art, culture, heritage and ecology will come together as a new eastern gateway to the South Downs. 

Black Robin Farm will offer a new destination for 100,000 visitors annually within five years, revitalising Eastbourne’s visitor economy and bringing sustainable growth to the town and more broadly to East Sussex. Visitors will engage in the cultural heritage of the South Downs through public artworks in the landscape, exhibitions, creative activities, artist and maker events and a high quality, locally sourced and sustainable food and drink offer. Black Robin Farm will be designed with sustainability and site specificity at its core, by Stirling Prize shortlisted architects Feilden Fowles, with a commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.

The landscape-led project will also act as a catalyst to connect the iconic landmarks of Beachy Head, Birling Gap, Seven Sisters and Cuckmere Haven. With new walking, cycling and sustainable and accessible transport routes between the sites, it will provide a coherent visitor offer for the 1 million national and international visitors to the region each year.  

Joe Hill, CEO and Director, Towner Eastbourne, said: “We are delighted that planning has been granted on this significant project for Eastbourne and more broadly for arts, tourism and culture. It will allow us to deliver an ambitious and sustainable artistic and educational programme situated in – and around – the nineteenth century dairy farm set in the stunning and unique landscape of the South Downs National Park. Our vision is to change lives through high quality creative and cultural experiences that raise aspirations, change career directions and improve life outcomes as well as skills and training that enables young people to pursue careers in the creative industries, tourism and leisure. “

Councillor Stephen Holt, Leader of Eastbourne Borough Council, said: “This is clearly an important and most significant step forward in our plans to develop Black Robin Farm. We are on a journey that will see the creation of a hugely exciting new venue within the South Downs National Park, one that will capture the imagination of people from far and wide. I must thank all those who have played a role in this landmark project so far and look forward with immense anticipation to what is still to come.

Eastbourne Borough Council and Towner Eastbourne will now work with key stakeholders and communities to deliver the project’s vision over the next four years. This will allow the local communities to celebrate Eastbourne’s identity, increasing civic pride and raising aspirations, and will convey the unique heritage of the Downland to visitors”. 

Fergus Feilden, Director, Feilden Fowles, said: “The project will deliver unprecedented equal access to the national park whilst preserving and enhancing the beauty and ecology of the site’s remarkable 19thcentury agricultural Downland setting. It will bring over 2000m2 of existing agricultural fabric back into new use, using a palette of natural materials such as reclaimed brick, lime mortar, flint. The new-build gallery reflects the folds of the South Downs and will use flint and chalk excavated from the site. Targeting operational net zero by 2030, the design aims to have minimal impact on the environment drawing visitors into the South Downs and delivering world class arts and cultural experiences.”

In partnership with East Sussex College Group, Towner will deliver qualifications and skills training for young adults to support career development in the creative, leisure and tourism sectors. It will provide artist opportunities through commissions, residencies, showcasing and workspace. With the Coastal Schools Partnership and community partners, it will also deliver creative activities and teacher Continuing Professional Development encompassing natural materials, nature, ecology and food production for children and young people to grow confidence, build skills and improve life outcomes. 

The Black Robin Farm project will demonstrate leadership in the environmental sustainability of new art and culture projects. It aims to achieve Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) excellence status. 

Picture credits: Feilden Fowles

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