It's easy to see why Rother District Council is finding it difficult to decide the future of the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill. It is expensive to run, but universally loved, and plans to bring in a commercial operator are unpopular. A cause of particular concern is the threat that it may be taken over by J D Wetherspoons - a name loaded with connotations of commercial vulgarity. But is it really such a threat? In this year's camra design awards there were two joint winners in the category for converting a building into a pub. Both schemes were for Wetherspoons, which has proved itself willing to appoint good architects, and to listen to their ideas - the architects of the award-winning schemes were encouraged to 'crit' recent pubs and to establish guidelines for future projects.
The results of this exercise suggest that Bexhill's pavilion could be eminently suited to refurbishment as a public house. Factors contributing to a venue's success include good views in and out (integral to Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff's original design), and a clearly visible bar (which already exists). More contentious is the conclusion that a successful pub conversion should be informed by a strong theme related to the original use of the building. The notion of a theme pub conjures up images of fake Irish bars with staff dressed as leprechauns. But let's face it, the possibilities for 'theming' at the Bexhill Pavilion are pretty limited. Wetherspoons will doubtless realise the marketing potential of both 1930s-style glamour and faded seaside splendour. And in any case, the Grade I listing will make it difficult to go for anything else.
Being a pub needn't exclude those who already use the building. There is no reason why function rooms shouldn't continue to be available for community groups. Gallery and restaurant spaces can easily be included in a bar, and it may be possible to continue to run the theatre. The transformation of such a popular icon is bound to bring on a pang of collective nostalgia. But surely it's better to see the building busy and profitable, than to see it being a burden on Bexhill or going the way of so many south coast pleasure buildings and falling into decay.