By Claire Cooper
The well-loved youth club and playgroup building in Cuckfield looks set to welcome village children and young people for many more years, if a sale can be agreed with West Sussex County Council. The Parish Council has taken the first steps to secure its future by agreeing at an extraordinary meeting to negotiate with West Sussex to acquire the freehold for the site.
The little building in London Lane was originally built as part of Warden Park’s outbuildings, but was transferred by West Sussex and became a base for the youth club and playgroup. It has evolved over the years and is now home to several groups offering activities for a range of children and young adults. West Sussex now wishes to dispose of the site to raise funds and notified the Parish Council they wish to sell it as quickly as possible.
The Parish Council took the first steps towards protecting the building just before Christmas, registering it as a community asset. The Parish council now has six months to put forward a bid to buy the land and building and preserve it for future generations, with the risk that West Sussex County Council will sell it off for development if they don’t get their asking price of £200,000.
Parish Council Chairman Nigel Page explained: “This important community facility is key to the social fabric of the village, due to the playgroup and other activities which run out of it and its proximity to other services in the village, such as the Medical Practice and Holy Trinity Primary School.”
The Cuckfield Pre-School Playgroup has been based in the building for more than 20 years. The group, which is rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, is run by a management committee made up of local parents and a team of experienced staff and meets every weekday morning and on two afternoons each week.
The playgroup has invested in the property over the years, obtaining a capital grant to build a patio area. The patio was built on the site of an old portacabin and has provided a well-used outdoor space both for pre-school children and young people.
Although old and in need of replacing, the building is accessible and ideal for wheelchair users, which has made it a popular meeting place for members of Orchard House who use the building on two evenings each week and for day care sessions during the school holidays.
A karate club meets on Saturday mornings and the Baptist Chapel is currently using the building as a temporary base for its Friday night youth club. A local tutor also runs Maths and English classes there twice a week.
In addition, the building is a popular venue for private parties and other events and is regularly rented.
The Parish Council proposals have the backing of local residents. “Our recent Neighbourhood Plan consultation showed that more than 80% of residents were in favour of retaining the building for youth purposes,“ said Nigel.
If the bid is successful, the Parish Council will have to begin raising funds to replace the building. “A survey has estimated that it will cost a further £250,000 to replace the building,” added Nigel. “That will be hard given what West Sussex is demanding but at least then the community will be able to control its own future.”