Cliff Dean reflects on his 'hard hat' tour of the Discovery Centre

09 December 2019 | Posted in Project
Cliff Dean reflects on his 'hard hat' tour of the Discovery Centre
Hard hat tour © Emma Chaplin

In an article that first appeared in the Friends of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve winter newsletter, Cliff Dean, Chair of the Friends, reflects on his recent 'hard hat' tour of the Discovery Centre

"It was emotional. As we climbed into the building, I was struggling to recognise familiar faces transformed by hard hats and hi-vis jackets. Then I looked up and there, by contrast, was something I knew very well from years of sketches, plans and animations. 

But now it was real, and I was standing inside, a part of it, enclosed within it. Solid, spacious, light; as we’d been telling everyone it would be. Decades of pipe-dreams, meetings, promotions and talks had finally materialised. As Baxall’s Contracts Manager Alan Leigh described the structure’s characteristics, I was distracted again, looking beyond him through the huge, heavy panes to the saltmarsh where a smoky wisp of Golden Plovers was wheeling. 

This is what we’d been telling people it would be like. Perhaps architects and builders get used to bringing concepts from the intellectual into the material world, but it’s not something I’m used to and the effect was overwhelming.  

People whispered: “It actually looks bigger inside than out, like the Tardis!” It’s still a building site of concrete, wires, pipes and lonely-looking toilet bowls, the windows criss-crossed with tape to guard against bird-strikes; there are still to be installed polished concrete floors, the ceilings and wall panels, doors and furniture. Still to be fixed are the folding doors which will give us three generous permutations of space in the education area: to be named after the Layton family, whose huge bequest was catalytic in bringing this long-dreamt project to fruition. 

The windows frame the river and give a new appreciation of that tidal landscape. It was a bright, blue morning as I looked downriver on a shimmering flood tide with Robbie Gooders, whose husband John, (one of my predecessors) had, years ago, passionately advocated a new centre. 

I’ve been thinking about what this building will mean to the Friends – as a community. Until now we’ve been able to get together at meetings and walks and often too by chance - in hides for example and at the cabins. By next year though there will, for the first time, be a permanent place for us all to drop in, meet up, exchange news and get to know one another better; in other words to create a community that is closer, more coherent and will include those who up till now have had difficulty in accessing the reserve."

Sussex Wildlife Trust is delighted to be working with the Friends of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve on the Rye Harbour Discovery Centre, and is grateful to them for all their support and commitment to this tremendous project and to the reserve. 


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