The Hub on Rye Hill opens

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The entrance, showing key architectural elements

We were invited, my wife and I, to make a tour of the Hub on Rye Hill last Wednesday (September 9). Barry Nealon, the retired chairman of the Rye and Winchelsea Hospital Trust met us at the door and over coffee in the entrance lobby outlined what was on offer with the new facilities. First though, he explained the rationale behind this wider building programme, which will see a 60 bed care home to complete the project, opening sometime next year.

My mind went back to when we joined what seemed like the whole of Rye accompanied by Paul and Linda McCartney on the protest march up Rye Hill. That was back in 1990, when the then Hastings Health Authority was planning to close Rye Hospital.

That threat has remained for over 20 years, until the negotiations with the NHS led by Barry Nealon eventually resulted in the acceptance of this present development as a fully integrated community health hub. People of Rye and Winchelsea can now be reasonably assured that their hospital is safeguarded in the foreseeable future against arbitrary closure.

These discussions and negotiations were ‘evidence led’ in the current jargon. The hospital trustees had commissioned a study by Dr Helen Tucker, president of the Community Hospitals Association and an independent management consultant with a special interest in integrated health and social care. Her brief was to assess and advise what care provision would be necessary to establish the hospital as a fully and sustainable resource, to retain critical NHS support and funding. Her report formed the basis of the plan to create this community health complex at the top of Rye Hill.

Starting the tour, our attention was drawn to the quality of materials used in the construction. The entrance lobby floor is polished concrete, modern-looking and hygienic. Natural oak has been used throughout the building and the walls are of specially sourced Belgian brick. Heating is provided by ecologically advanced ground source heat pump, achieved by six boreholes drilled 150 metres deep. The installation qualified for government subsidy and keeps the whole building at a constant temperature, without need for radiators. This was to the design of Jonathan Dunn Architects and realised by Jenner Construction Ltd of Folkestone.

The multi-use meeting room

There are four interconnecting zones inside the building all available for hire at reasonable rates: first, a large activity area, which can serve as a 60 seat cinema or be divided by sound-proof screens into three rooms for separate hire; second, a socialising area; third, consulting and treatment rooms, for therapy, counselling, even hair-dressing; and fourth, a suite of offices on the first floor.

The underlying principle for letting out space and use of the building is the ideal of community value. Already, one month from first opening, the Hub is proving its worth by attracting valuable clients; the Sarah Lee Trust has a presence; St Michael’s Hospice outreach team seeks to provide not just terminal caring but an earlier counselling service and physiotherapy guidance; Rye Day Care has found more activity space here for its Ferry Road clients; and Action in Rural Sussex provides community and neighbourhood support.

A catering service is run with the help of volunteers by Clare Gladwitch the chef at the hospital. Forty or so lunch meals are served daily, predominantly to people working or living nearby. In overall charge is Martin Phillips, the chief operations manager, who has retired recently after a career in construction and facilities management. Paula Riley, chair of the hospital Friends organisation is also actively engaged.

Rebekah Gilbert, Andi Rivett and Barry Nealon

Earlier this the month, Rye’s mayor and deputy mayor Councillors Rebekah Gilbert & Andi Rivett were also invited to the Hub. They were shown around the building and its multi-functional spaces including an excellent cafe, which is open to the public.

Councillor Gilbert said: “I was really interested to learn how the space, that was obviously designed pre-Covid, is being utilised now and how it can be adapted to the needs of a variety of users. I hope that many residents are able to enjoy coming to the hub, which will serve as a wellbeing centre for the town, plus has networking, conference and hot desking space. The trust is to be congratulated on developing a high spec building, constructed with good quality materials that will be enjoyed by many.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has cast its shadow as on all voluntary organisations, and there will be no official opening ceremony. With its emphasis on community benefit, the Hub’s success will not be measured by its financial return, for it is budgeted to make an annual shortfall, which will be more than offset by the trust’s income from other sources. This allows the Hub to offer accommodation and catering at competitive prices. The yard-stick for success will be rather through its take-up by the community. To this end, a key contributor will be the Rye Community Bus and its Dial-a-ride service which will bring people to the door.

A good start has been made and first impressions are promising. The surroundings are light and airy, with well designed furnishings making for comfort. The atmosphere is friendly and the volunteer staff welcoming. I intend to be paying a return visit shortly.

Image Credits: Kenneth Bird , Rye News library .

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