Councillor Graham Jones says ‘ The objectives of the purchase (of Blake’s cottage) were made very evident to me from the very beginning.’ If he means from the time the cottage was purchased, he shared that knowledge with everybody who read the local and national papers. There was general rejoicing that the cottage had been bought for the nation.
However, he goes on to claim that the objectives have not changed since. If he studies the website of the Blake Cottage Trust and the various hand-outs fed to the press, he will find that the aims have altered considerably.
The first announcement on the website said they were ‘now planning the next stage – the renovation and restoration of the cottage’ and went on to say they intended to ‘remove the later extensions to the cottage… and build a new multifunctional building in its place.’
That was news to us and caused considerable anger in the village, especially among people who had put effort and money into raising funds to buy the cottage in the first place. We certainly didn’t want part of the cottage to be demolished. Nor did we want a new building erected in the grounds.
In a handout to the Bognor Regis Observer published on June 17, 2016, the BCT claimed that the building would act as a ‘study, library and meeting place’ and added that they were waiting for permission to carry out ‘urgent repair work to the roof WITHIN DAYS’. We waited but nothing happened. They also told us that £50K would be spent on architectural plans and drawings for this new building and that the building itself would cost half a million. Bold words for a trust that only had £1,462 in their bank account after they’d bought the cottage
However, a subsequent article on the BCT website talked of the new half a million pound building as ‘intended to have a small space for exhibitions and conferences, another for offices and administration,’ plus ‘alternate space for a second residence.’’
A residence is a very different thing from a study, library and meeting place. If it’s going to be a residence, somebody’s going to live in it. In the meantime the months were passing and the cottage was visibly decaying.
On Saturday, July 16, 2016, I held a meeting in Felpham for local people to decide what they wanted to do about the situation. We considered starting a petition but decided not to do it then, but to watch a little longer to see if the repairs were actually begun. They were not.
By September, the BCT had revealed their plans for visits to the cottage, they said:
1. ‘People’ could visit the cottage on open days.
2. Invited guests could stay and sleep in the cottage for a weekend or a week. (I wonder who they will be and who will choose them?)
3. ‘People’ can elect to become Friends of the Cottage and receive gifts from resident artists who will find refuge in the cottage.
As an exercise in elitism and snobbery, guaranteed to put backs up, it would be hard to equal. It’s hardly a welcome mat to the general public. So on September 7, 2016, I wrote another blog presenting the facts and asking people in the village whether we should start the petition we’d talked about at our meeting. The decision was made and a petition started. The aims of the people of Felpham have never changed. We want Blake’s Cottage repaired. We said so very clearly in that petition.
We the undersigned require immediate action to save this hugely significant building before it’s too later and we lose the birthplace of “Jerusalem”