Geoff Beaghen and Hastings Arts – August 2011

I first met Geoff in 1987.  He was then in the throes of gathering together a group of people to form Hastings Arts – his vision of an umbrella organisation to include Music, Poetry, Film and Drama in addition to the Visual Arts.  Mutual friends had suggested that I should be the Theatre representative, and that’s how I came to know him.

His long-term dream was to establish an Arts Centre in Hastings that would not only act as an inspiration for local people and provide a venue for exhibitions and performances for local artists, but also help to regenerate the town itself.  Having recently retired, and moved down to Hastings more or less full-time, his energies were soon thrown into the process of recruiting members, organising events, obtaining charitable status, campaigning in the Press and lobbying local Councillors to canvas support for such a centre.

Meanwhile, he was searching for a suitable venue.  He pursued several possibilities, but finally one building began to dominate his imagination – the largely derelict St Mary in the Castle.

He managed to gain access to it, was convinced of its potential, and got a local architect to draw up plans for its restoration.  Months more of researching its original features, lobbying and campaigning followed, and eventually the council gave the go-ahead.  The long reconstruction project was documented by Gus Cummins, who painted several huge canvases of the magnificent interior, shrouded in a welter of scaffolding, as it approached completion.

By this time, the Riviera Group had been formed, and was running a gallery in what is now the entrance and café;  later, came The Friends of St Mary in the Castle – FOSMIC – who went on to manage the venue for exhibitions, concerts, films and performances, just as Geoff had envisaged.  Struggles with the Council over funding have meant that the venue has changed hands over the years, and changed its nature to some degree, but I believe it is true to say that without Geoff, his inspiration and his dedication, St Mary’s in its present form, as an architectural gem, with its wonderful acoustics for music, would not now exist.

People will remember Geoff for many different reasons:

His eye for beauty, seeing patterns in everything, from landscapes, skies and seascapes, to decaying industrial structures and random assortments of refuse; and for the intricacy of his drawings in graphite;

The agility of his mind, his fascination for detail, and the breadth of his interests, from the complexities of abstract ideas to the more bizarre contrivances in the ‘Innovations’ catalogue, with its intriguing ‘Whisper 2,000’;

His concern for the locality, any locality, so that no walk down any street in any town was safe from intent investigation of the planning applications on every lamppost;

His jaunty sense of style, with his characteristic Tibetan jacket, his vibrant colours, or fading Madras tartan;

His quirky sense of humour, with his vivid recall of the incidents and the characters of his youth, from the sarcastic summons of the manager of the boating lake, to the idiosyncrasies of his teachers, each remark engagingly recounted in its original accent, and each teacher, like a Mr T. J. P Perflewit, remembered with all the middle initials of their names intact;

And not least, his love, his friendship, his kindness, his self-effacing generosity, his compassion for others, not just on a global scale, but expressed through his day to day living, so that long before his neighbours were able to show their care for him, he was living his care for them.

We will all miss him.

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