National treasure and long-standing Ditchling resident Dame Vera Lynn has said the closure of Martlets Hall is a ‘great loss to the community’.
A statement issued this week on behalf of Dame Vera said: “News that the Burgess Hill Martlets Hall has been closed down and is to be demolished is a saddening one for the Forces Sweetheart and her family.
“Having been built in 1972, the Martlets has contributed significantly to the live arts scene and community spirit in Burgess Hill for almost fifty years.
“Its closure comes as part of the £65 million project to redevelop the town centre. However, with no official plans for its replacement, Dame Vera and her family have said that they believe the council’s decision could deprive the town of its cultural core.”
Despite a public campaign to keep the Martlets Hall, developer NewRiver deemed that retaining or replacing the venue within their redevelopment was not a viable option.
The final performance was held at the venue on Saturday, June 30, with band Wilbury Jam attracting a full house for what proved to be an emotional farewell.
“The Martlets Hall is a significant part of the town’s cultural centre and has touched the lives of numerous Burgess Hill residents,” says Virginia Lewis-Jones, Dame Vera’s daughter.
“It is in small theatres such as Martlets that many of today’s stars have learnt their trade and began their careers.
“My mother is incredibly upset at the news of its closure and believes that it will be a great loss to the community.”
She said Dame Vera very much hopes a new versatile performing arts space will be built for the benefit of all the residents in the local area.
The hall has provided space for fundraising events, exhibitions, musicals and performances of all kinds. It has raised thousands of pounds for countless charities over the course of its 46 years. Hosting organisations such as the Burgess Hill Theatre Club, and showcasing local musical talent such as Drusilla Duffill Theatre School, it is safe to say that the hall will be greatly missed by many.
Initial proposals for a replacement venue hit problems when a public vote rejected plans to fund the £6.9million project with an increase to the council tax. A revised plan for a £3million loan from the Public Works Loan Board and the rest paid for through public fundraising and sponsorship is due to be considered by the town council.