Heritage Centre future in doubt

The Heritage Centre, soon to be open for business once more.

At a meeting of the town council on Monday, October 28, and with the public gallery full to overflowing, the principal item on the agenda was the future of the Heritage Centre, which, of course, includes the town model and, upstairs. the wonderful “penny arcade” with its vintage slot machines that always used to be an attraction on many a seaside pier.

The heart of the problem is finance. With cutbacks over recent years resulting in the withdrawal of the Rother District Council subsidy, increases in rates and a drop-off of visitors – particularly overseas school parties – partly as a result of the interminable Brexit problem, the cost to Rye Town Council has risen to a figure in excess of £22,000 a year. The result of this has been to reduce funds available in other areas, and this is unsustainable.

It should be acknowledged that determined efforts have been made by the manager and staff at the centre who have worked hard to keep costs down and increase turnover and this may well have helped prevent an even larger subsidy being required.

The inside of the centre following a facelift in 2017

There was much discussion and concern from the public gallery, and although a potential new home (in Hastings) may have been found for the penny arcade machines, there was a lot of concern expressed both by the effect the closure of the centre would have on neighbouring business who benefit from the footfall, and, in particular, on the future of the town model. The idea of it being dismantled, boxed up and maybe never seen again was clearly an anathema to almost everyone.

On behalf of the council, the mayor promised that all the comments received would be taken into consideration and every effort would be made to find a solution.

The following statement was issued by the town council on Wednesday, October 30:

The future of the Rye Heritage Centre

“At a meeting held on 28 October, Rye Town Council decided that it could no longer delay taking action to address the substantial public subsidy required to support the Heritage Centre, home of the Town Model Sound & Light Show, a visitor information service, audio tours and Old Pier Amusement Machines.

The town model during a recent refurbishment

“Since the loss of visitor information funding from Rother District Council 10 years ago, the Town Council has struggled to run the Centre without placing an excessive burden on Rye Council Tax payers.

“Despite reducing expenditure, re-merchandising and changing the retail offer in order to support local producers, the Centre has continued to be impacted adversely by factors outside of its control. Visitor numbers are affected not only by the weather but also postponed Brexit deadlines, which have resulted in a significant number of overseas students group booking cancellations this year. Additionally, the £12,500 a year business rates payable on the premises has not been helpful.

“The level of subsidy required has continued to rise. Over the last three years it has averaged £22,000pa and, without urgent action, is forecast to reach a similar figure this year.

“At the Council meeting, members of the public voiced their concerns about the possibility of visitors and residents no longer having access to the Town Model, a much-loved visitor attraction for some 40 years, as well as the impact of a closure of the Centre on neighbouring businesses.

“Those present were advised that the Council had explored alternative locations for the Model and different governance structures for the Centre, without success. The need to subsidise the Centre at £22,000pa had depleted the Council’s reserves, which resulted in the suspension of grant giving to community organisations, an asset disposal and two vacant posts being left unfilled.

One suggestion was to put the model in a glazed-in Buttermarket at the town hall

“Members of the public were assured that their comments would be considered before the Town Council made a final decision on the future of the Centre and were advised that the Council’s priority is to ensure the continued provision of a face-to-face visitor information service in the town.

“After careful consideration, the Council reluctantly concluded that, to protect the interests of local Council Tax payers and the Council’s other services, as from April 2020 the visitor information service should be relocated to the Town Hall, the Centre should be let and the Town Model should, if necessary, be placed into storage.

“However, should any members of the community express a desire to work up a proposal to keep the Model at the Centre, the Council would be happy to provide support and guidance. Because a local charity has expressed interest in renting the Centre for another purpose, any such proposal would need to be agreed with the Council no later than December 31.

“Additionally, the Council welcomes any suggestions for alternative locations for the Model, probably as a static exhibit.”

Richard Farhall, Rye Town Clerk

Further moves

Since the town council meeting, a few interested parties have come together and will be holding a further meeting to discuss the future of the Heritage Centre and the town model. They have issued the following statement:

“There will be a meeting at Rye Heritage Centre on Monday, November 4 at 6:30pm. The purpose of the meeting is for interested parties who have any skills or knowledge or experience and time and for those who have an interest in the future of the town model to come together and try to find a way forward. It is likely this will require the formation of some type of charity so anyone with experience in that field will be welcome.

“Please bear in mind that this is not a meeting to discuss past mistakes or express anger at the council’s decision, it is an opportunity to make a real contribution to our town.”

Image Credits: Rye News library , Rye Town Council .


  1. Terrible news. I receive frequent visits by family and friends from overseas, and have always taken them to see the Rye model with its excellent accompanying commentary. It has been greatly admired, and some have gone to see it for a second or third time. Surely this delightful tribute to Rye and its history should not be packed away and stored in a dark cupboard? i have always recommended it to tourists asking about Rye attractions. Maybe it should receive greater publicity? Perhaps a poster in the station’s waiting room on both platforms?

  2. ‘The heart of the problem is finance…. the withdrawal of the Rother District Council subsidy, increases in rates (some of which goes to RDC ……the cost to Rye Town Council has risen to a figure in excess of £22,000 a year.’

    But RDC can find £500,000 plus inflation annually to finance the De La Warr Pavilion, money to revamp Edgerton Park in Bexhill, even pay £65,000 each for wooden seafront shelters and now want to spend a wad of money on the eastern parade.

    Our end of the County and District are completely ignored by both the Councils who have their own local agendas, the further an area is from the source of finance the less it gets.

    Brede wanted money to replace old play equipment on the recreation ground, as any available from RDC? Not a chance.

    If RDC cannot support the Heritage Centre in Rye to the tune of £25,000 pa. then a serious reduction of expenditure in Bexhill is called for.

  3. How about a really wel- illustrated crowdfunding project? With lots of colourful illustrations and good copy, the thousands of visitors who have enjoyed visiting Rye in the past, might well want to support an appeal of this kind. If everyone puts it on their Facebook page with a link to the crowdfunding project, it could bring in a suitable sum that at least may save the Heritage Centre and the model for another year or so.

    • This, along with a number of other very interesting and enterprising ideas, were suggested via Facebook to Richard Farhall before the meeting but nobody other than those at the meeting knows whether they were considered before the decision was taken (behind closed doors). Facebook had to be used as there was little advance notice of the meeting being asked to take this decision. Surely on an issue as important and emotive as this the least that could have been done was to arrange for a public meeting to explore alternatives. This may be very unfair, but the way this has been handled gives the impression that the decision had already been taken and that any attempts at consultation were cosmetic. Councils are not good at running what are essentially commercial enterprises. Let’s hope it is not too late for ideas to emerge that will prevent the closing of the Heritage Centre as well as its contents. The Council has said that the impact of TUPE under which the staff are transferred to any new owner on their existing terms of employment prevents discourages any commercial enterprise to take it over. This ignores that fact that the new owner, under TUPE, can dismiss the staff fairly on grounds of redundancy or change their terms of employment for a business reason. It happens every day in the private sector (and indeed in the public sector too).

  4. Such a true post from Rod Came,what does Rother district council do for Rye and battle, and the surrounding villages, very little in my estimation, and why do we bother with a representative that is supposed to support Rye, who it seems goes awol,once questions are asked, sadly gone are the days when Rye had real representatives, who fought tooth and nail for the town,like Sam Souster.

  5. This is another sad and worrisome example of national government’s decision, beginning under Mr Cameron, to reduce funding to local councils. The expectation that local councils can continue to support the same activities and services as they did 15 years ago is not possible. Democracy at the local level is threatened when funds are removed but responsibility is not. We can blame Rother Council but the national government is the true culprit.

  6. “We can blame Rother Council but the national government is the true culprit”. Maybe, but in this case the relatively small amount of funding comes not from national government but from the local Council. Closure of the TIC and loss of the Town Model will surely have an effect on the revenues received by local businesses, but will any revenue received by the Council from business rates reflect this downturn? Personally I feel that Rother does very little to justify its’ existence for Rye these days. Ryexit anyone?

  7. Agree with all the comments . Having been at the monday 4th meeting which was not widely advertised I was struck at how little time was given to outsiders to discuss the problem before the final decision was made and how little time is now given to find a solution. Business plan by December 31 and take over by a new group by April 1st meaning that RTC will stop being financially responsible. They asked for people to sign up as trustees to form a charity and find a way to keep the centre and specifically the model with a local enterprise. I hope some dedicated experts signed up to find a solution in such a short time.
    And we should push RDC to give some of the car park money back to rye. As far as I am aware they are not supporting anything financially in rye.

  8. Why was the town model refurbished at the beginning of the season as reported in ryenews August 15th by Charles Harkness…where nothing was said it was going to be the last season it was going to be seen..surely if it had been flagged then more time to get people thinking of ways to help..
    See the two comments they were written when that article came out.
    I went to see it after then with two friends from London .it was fascinating and well worth going…


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