“ Address: 56 East Street / Havant / Hampshire / PO9 1BS / Tel: 023 9247 2700 „
Havant Arts Centre and Museum have recently combined to form The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre in this small Hampshire town. Situated on East Street, the centre is easily recognisable because of the curvaceous pieces of sculpture by Ben Barrell that stand in the courtyard.
The box office is to the right of the main entrance, and ahead is the light and spacious Sadler Gallery where temporary exhibitions by local artists are held. There are tables and chairs so that you can sit and enjoy the works of art while sampling the fare of the Spring Cafe. The cafe is open from 9.30am until 3pm every day except Sunday; lunch is served between 11.30am and 2.30pm. Everything except the savoury tart with a large salad is under £5. The cafe does also serve cooked meals before evening shows at the centre, but you need to book by noon the day before the show.
I arrived just before 11am on a Tuesday and was surprised at how busy the cafe was. A large group of people, mainly senior citizens, had gathered to set off on an hour's walk, so when they left at 11 o'clock the place was much quieter. I ordered a cappuccino (all coffee is fair trade) and a slice of low-fat carrot cake and settled myself at a table near the bar from where I still had a good view of some of the works of art on show. Just to my left was a small area beyond the Sadler Gallery dedicated to a coastal heritage display focusing on the local harbours of Langstone and Chichester. Young children will enjoy the colourful feelie boxes here as well as the sea anemones in two tanks on the opposite wall.
Within the gallery area are several glass cabinets of jewellery, ceramics and textiles that are for sale. These would make beautiful and original gifts, so the centre is an excellent place to come for Christmas shopping or birthday presents. The art in the Sadler Gallery is sometimes for sale but prices can of course be high. The 'Affordable Art Gallery' exhibits works of art that are at more modest prices. At the time of writing there is a series of black-and-white photographs of Hayling Island by Stuart Burnes that were selling at £40 each.
Between the Sadler Gallery and the coastal heritage display are two showcases for private collections of local people. At the time of my visit they were inhabited by Isabel Baron's charming teddy bears that date back fifty years. Any local person can apply to put a collection on show at the centre.
Leaving the galleries and cafe area behind, I went through to the museum which houses a permanent collection. The local theme of the centre is continued here, and I was fascinated to find the works of a clock formerly at St Faith's Church in Havant ticking away. Railway enthusiasts will be interested by the showcase that remembers the days when there was a train service from Havant to Hayling Island known as the Hayling Billy line. You can enter a small room that has been set up as a 1950's kitchen in the Leigh Park housing estate that is part of Havant. There is no refrigerator here, just a pantry, and washing was done in a top-loading boiler.
At the far end of the museum is a research room, but this was cordoned off at the time of my visit. It obviously had a good supply of box files on the shelf. It has two computers with Internet access for research as well as a collection of local maps.
Walking back through the museum area I finally visited the Oyster Gift Shop which, like the makers' cabinets in the galleries, sells jewellery, ceramics and textiles by local artists. I bought some beautiful greetings cards there and would consider making a special journey in the autumn for Christmas shopping.
The Spring Centre does of course have a theatre for dance, music, comedy, film and theatrical productions, including shows specially for children. On Saturday 17th and Sunday 18th April 2010, for example, there is a jazz weekend, and towards the end of April the Bench Theatre will be putting on eight performances of Arthur Miller's 'The Crucible'. On the afternoon of 15th May there will be a musical adaptation of David McKee's 'Elmer the Elephant'. The theatre has easy access for wheelchairs and there is a disabled toilet as well as baby-changing facilities. Tickets can be booked at the box office in person, by telephone or online via the Spring's website.
A number of classes are run at the centre for the local community, including drawing, yoga, music and various types of dancing. There are also several classes in theatre and dance especially for young people; most of these last one hour and are held between 4pm and 7pm on weekdays. Children's workshops are usually organized during school holidays as well.
Details of all the activities are available on the centre's website at www.thespring.co.uk , where you can download the Spring's latest brochure.
The Spring is just a few minutes' walk from Havant railway station, and the 700 bus service from either Portsmouth or Brighton stops right outside the centre. It is a vibrant place that is definitely worth a visit by anyone interested in the arts or local history. If you live in the area make a point of going to see an exhibition or a show, or even just dropping in for a drink and finding out what's coming up in the next few weeks. I certainly enjoyed the time I spent there, and it was worth making the journey from Southsea.
The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre
56 East Street
Box Office 023 9247 2700
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