Old Bognor church hall to be used for arts

Jenny and Barry Jones, buyers of the former United Reformed Church. ''C120217-2 Bog Feb16 Church  Photo Louise Adams
Jenny and Barry Jones, buyers of the former United Reformed Church. ''C120217-2 Bog Feb16 Church Photo Louise Adams

Barry and Jenny Jones have become the saviours of the arts in Bognor Regis.

The couple have bought a former church to turn it into a centre for drama, music, dancing and other social pursuits.

They hope the one-time United Reformed Church in Linden Road will be open around Easter.

Mr Jones, 77, said: “We are very pleased to provide what we feel is an exciting future for this redundant church complex.

“We hope the residents of Bognor will share in our excitement and make the complex a vibrant centre for the community far into the future.

“We want there to be particular emphasis on encouraging the skills and ambitions of the young and, at the same time, allowing older members of the community to pass on their knowledge to the young.

“Some improvements and development will be needed on the property.

“But we are sure that, with the aid of volunteers, and the goodwill of local businesses and organisations, we will soon bring the property to a good standard of repair and a credit to the people of Bognor.”

Mr and Mrs Jones, of Victoria Drive, have used some of their personal savings to fund the building’s purchase.

It was on sale for £600,000 but Mrs Jones, 74, declined to reveal the exact sum they had paid.

The news of the arts centre’s creation was greeted with enthusiastic applause and a few cheers from some 70 people when it was revealed by Mr Jones at last Friday’s civic society meeting.

Civic society chairman Laurie Barnes said: “Barry and Jenny are a wonderful couple in terms of support for the community.

“This is the sort of thing we would like to see – community involvement – in the regeneration of the town.”

The arts centre is the third initiative with which Mr and Mrs Jones have boosted Bognor. They played a leading role in restoring the Birdman event to its rightful home and they also bought the former Berkeley Arms to become the new museum.

The church had been for sale since its last service in July 2010. Mr and Mrs Jones have been working since last October to complete the deal.

They intend to work with groups such as Rox, Community Arts Bognor Regis and Big Love to ensure the new arts centre meets as many people’s artistic wishes as possible.

An open weekend will be held in about six weeks to enable people to view the building and state their ideas and views.

Two flats on the upper floor of the church buildings will be kept. Their rental income will help to pay the centre’s running costs.

Mr and Mrs Jones – with more than 40 years of property management experience – will own the site, but they are likely to set up a trust to oversee the running of the centre.

They will also ensure a premium is imposed on the land’s value if it is to be used commercially to keep it for community use.

n Three squatters were evicted last Friday from the former United Reformed Church. Police arrived in the early morning to escort the Eastern Europeans off the site. They left peacefully.

They had been living there since well before Christmas in three shelters.

Jenny Jones said: “They tidied the site up for us when we told them we were buying it and did a beautiful job.”

Security fencing has been placed across the church entrance to stop further intrusions before it reopens as a community arts centre.