My Sussex: Maggie Scott

Photo by John Cole

How did you end up in Sussex?

I was born in London and lived in Notting Hill until I was ten, when the family moved to Hampshire. After I graduated from St Martins School of Art in 1977, I worked for a while in Perugia, in Italy, then went to live in Paris. Many years later I moved back to France, this time in the south, and lived there with my husband for about 14 years; however, the prospect of having Marine le Pen as President was the catalyst for a move back to the UK. Unfortunately, it was just in time for Brexit.

And why St Leonards?

I used to be a member of the Labour Party and I came to the Brighton Party Conference in 2017. I wanted to hear Jeremy Corbyn, but also the writer and activist Naomi Klein. I found an Airbnb apartment right on the seafront near the i360 and fell in love with the view. This planted a seed – the idea of living by the sea – and I began to search for a space. Brighton prices were above my budget, so I started to explore other seaside towns. I looked at Folkestone, Margate and Eastbourne but in Hastings/St Leonards I found a place I could afford that had lots of artists and even more importantly, a vibrant and growing black community. Now we rent a lovely high-ceilinged flat on the seafront, with great views. There is nothing like waking up and looking at the sea from your bed.

There’s a big artistic community…

Very early on after the move, I joined Hastings Creatives, a network with over 1,200 members, which is amazing for a town of this size! If you want to collaborate with a filmmaker, or find a printmaker, a photographer, an art teacher, a set dresser or a fabric designer, in fact anything creative, they’re all in the group. It’s extraordinary. I’m currently [until June 4] exhibiting with five other local artists of Caribbean heritage in WE OUT HERE at Hastings Contemporary. But within five minutes’ walk from my house there is Hastings Art Forum, a gallery that showcases local artists with fortnightly exhibitions, and Electro Studios Project Space, an artist-run gallery where I will be showing some work in their textile show in July.

Hastings Contemporary is a boon…

It is, and it’s fantastic to have a ‘centre of excellence’ showing international art that attracts visitors from all over the south east (and in the case of the current show, Soutine | Kossoff, probably all over the country). But it’s great that they have been persuaded to put on an exhibition representing the burgeoning local arts scene. I’m delighted that WE OUT HERE has been so well received – not just among the black community, but the local community as a whole. However, there is still one large barrier to overcome, and that is the entrance fee.

Many national museums and galleries have realised it’s a false economy, so we are all hoping Hastings Contemporary will revisit this policy and look at the benefits of attracting more – and more diverse – visitors to the building.

There are plenty of other cultural opportunities…

Hastings has a good reputation for live music; there are lots of festivals and annual events, but you are almost guaranteed to find some live music playing somewhere in Hastings every day of the week. The events at venues like The Printworks are always worth checking out, but I also make sure I look at the programme of talks, exhibitions and workshops happening at Photo Hastings. We are blessed with the independent Electric Cinema in the old town, screening classic and world films, and of course the Kino-Teatr that combines a gallery, restaurant and large cinema space, and hosts some great clubs like the monthly Bavard Bar – a blend of TED talks, comedy and Radio 4! The great thing is, you can do all these things at very little cost, which makes it available to a broad audience, especially young adults.

What about eating out?

We’re very lucky to have The Royal gastro pub opposite St Leonards station, which runs an excellent kitchen; a few meters away, Mama Putts’ serves authentic African/Caribbean food in a smart ‘white tablecloth’ restaurant. Another favourite is the Galleria, an intimate fish restaurant on Norman Road with a small menu, always serving fresh seasonal food. For a perfect sea view with excellent food and an impressive wine selection head to Graze on Grand, and grab the window stools. This wine bar and gallery is always welcoming and relaxed whether you just want a glass of sherry and some olives, or a full three courses. The owner Stephanie has a great eye and always features interesting artists on her walls.

Do you get out of town much?

One of the joys of living in Hastings is that in less than ten minutes you can be in the countryside. Hastings Country Park is on our doorstep. My husband is a passionate gardener, and we are members of the National Trust and English Heritage, so we love going to places like Great Dixter and Sissinghurst. I always enjoy Charleston, particularly their gallery exhibitions, and of course Towner Eastbourne, which has transformed the town. I often find myself in the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill and really appreciate the efforts they are making for inclusivity, like the decision to hire older as well as young people to serve in their restaurant. Oh, and we often go to Alfriston, where we are big fans of Cate and Nash who run Much Ado Books.

Tell us a Sussex secret…

More people should know about the Bale House, which is an information centre and café in Hastings Country Park, made entirely out of sustainable materials, mainly straw. It was designed by CAVE Co-operative and it is Hastings’ best-kept secret, but it shouldn’t be! It has won several awards and it is an extraordinary and beautiful-looking building. When you are inside and having a coffee look up… I’ve made some felted acoustic baffles for the ceiling.