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Community society Hengistbury Head Outdoors launches £4m bid to save Hengistbury Head Outdoor Education Centre

AT least £4 million is needed to rejuvenate the Hengistbury Head Outdoor Education Centre and bring it back to public use.

A group of water sports enthusiasts have formed community society Hengistbury Head Outdoors and pledged to raise the cash to save the HHOEC which has suffered from lack of funding and investment for years.

It was closed in 2020 after its previous operator Brockenhurst College pulled out. Since then the main building at the site has been found to be too dangerous to allow people inside.

The society wants to get the centre re-opened
The society wants to get the centre re-opened

At a recent packed public meeting, chair of the group Mark Merritt told those attending: “Our vision and the only reason that got us together is that the centre will be reopened by and for the community, because then it will be forever.

“We will not sit down and we will not go away quietly until BCP says, ‘This is a community asset and you can have it’.”

The society, which currently has 10 directors, wants people over 16 to join it, paying a one-off lifetime membership fee of £10.

One of the directors, Simon Pitman, said the first step was to get the HHOEC registered as a community asset which he warned could take a year.

He said indications from BCP Council were that they were “willing to help us” with the process but that the group had to show “long-term, sustainable business plans”.

Mr Pitman said the central building needed to be demolished and rebuilt, and a slipway also needed replacing, adding: “It is a great shame that the building has deteriorated as much as it has. We will have to have a solid new build.”

He said the cost of it would be “at least £4 million” which would be paid for from fundraising, donations and a “whole variety of different things”.

Mr Pitman added: “We have already had a lot of interest and support from local businesses. We will not be raising all that money from the community, it will have to come from elsewhere.”

One of the organisations backing the society’s efforts, he revealed, was the British Olympic Rowing team which Mr Pitman said were in talks with BCP Council about having a centre on the beach between Bournemouth and Southbourne.

He said they had shown “strong support” in the society’s plans as they were interested in using the rebuilt centre as a bad-weather facility.

He said the centre’s transfer to the society as a community asset would have to be complete before a planning application for the rebuild could be submitted.

Mr Pitman said once reopened, temporary buildings could be used while the main one was being rebuilt.

The main building at the centre will need rebuilding at a cost of at least £4 million
The main building at the centre will need rebuilding at a cost of at least £4 million

He said he did not believe BCP Council would give the freehold of the site to the society but was confident it would give them a “very long” lease.

Mr Pitman said any new build would be eco-friendly and self-sustainable, adding that the society was mindful that it was in a site of special scientific interest (SSSI).

He added that the building would be a “multi-purpose venue” that “people of all ages” will want to use.

Urging the public to get involved, he said: “Follow our social media, become a member, spread the word.” He also asked any businesses that may be interested in backing the society to contact them.

For more information visit www.hengistbury.org

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