Planning application submitted for £11 million arts, education and cultural hub

Plans to develop a world-class culture and education centre at Black Robin Farm on the downland above Eastbourne will soon be considered by the South Downs National Park Authority. 

Set in the unique landscape of the South Downs, visitors will engage in the cultural heritage of the rolling chalk downland through public artworks in the landscape, exhibitions, creative activities and courses, artist and maker events and a high quality, locally sourced food and drink offer.

The submission of a planning application follows Eastbourne Borough Council’s successful £19.8 million bid to the government’s Levelling Up Fund.

An £11 million investment from these funds will realise the council’s vision to transform the former dairy farm into a new eastern gateway to the South Downs, connecting the iconic landmarks of Beachy Head, Birling Gap, Seven Sisters and Cuckmere Haven. Allied to new walking, cycling and sustainable transport routes between the sites, it will provide a coherent visitor offer for the one million national and international visitors to the region each year.

Councillor Stephen Holt, Leader of Eastbourne Borough Council, said:

“The government quickly identified the incredible opportunities within the council’s bid and so to now see that ambition translated into stunning images of what could follow, is hugely exciting for me.

“I would also like to thank Joe Hill and his team at Towner Eastbourne for helping to spearhead this project.  We are incredibly fortunate to have such a brilliant team providing the future heartbeat of what Black Robin Farm is set to become.

“I feel like we are within touching distance of something really momentous for Eastbourne.”

East Sussex College is a key partner in this project and will deliver qualifications and skills training for young adults to support career development in the creative, leisure and tourism sectors. Towner will also provide artists opportunities through commissions, residencies, showcasing and workspace.

Joe Hill, CEO and Director, Towner Eastbourne, said:

“We are delighted to be leading on this project with Eastbourne Council – it will allow us to deliver an ambitious 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 ambition is to ensure genuinely inclusive access to art and culture through artist commissions and other professional development opportunities, skills development initiatives and creative engagement programmes for children and adults; especially those from Eastbourne’s most disadvantaged communities. Our vision is to change lives through high quality creative and cultural experiences that raise aspirations, change career directions and improve life outcomes.

Rebecca Conroy, Principal and CEO of East Sussex College, said:

“East Sussex College is delighted to be part of this project that will transform Black Robin Farm into a truly spectacular and inspiring learning venue. 

“We are particularly pleased that all partners are committed to promoting environmental sustainability through the design and build elements of this new arts and culture centre as this really chimes with the College’s values and development of green technology.” 

Caroline Ansell, MP for Eastbourne, added:

“This little known disused dairy farm in Eastbourne, nestled in the most downland glorious setting, is about to be transformed thanks to the Government’s Levelling Up Fund. Part of a successful £20 million pound bid to the fund, Black Robin Farm has been re-imagined as a top attraction to energise our visitor economy and to act as a place of learning and training for our children and young people.It will bring new apprenticeships, new jobs, new visitors, new recognition and new prosperity for our town.”

Black Robin Farm is being designed and built with a commitment to achieve a Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) Excellent rating, with an ambition to reach carbon neutrality by 2030, whilst also achieving biodiversity net gain across the site. 

Fergus Feilden, Director, Feilden Fowles, said: 

“The location of the new arts centre within the South Downs is breathtaking. We have taken a retrofit approach to preserve the character and distinctiveness of the Sussex landscape. It is our ambition to create a world-class centre for education, culture, heritage and the environment, and to make a building of lasting value which is rooted in its place.”