Covid-19: latest update

Friday July 17th

As we all know, it has been an extremely challenging four months for everyone.

Firstly, we would like to apologise to our members and supporters for our lack of communication over the past months; we totally understand the frustration this has caused. Lockdown has hit the Society extremely hard and it has been incredibly difficult for us to remain in regular contact with members, supporters and all the other organisations and groups with whom we have links.

The good news is that we will be posting a short, weekly update every Friday here, in the news section of our website. We hope that this will keep you up to date with news from the Society and our property reopening plans.

Lockdown has been an extremely challenging time for the SAS with our properties closed, a huge loss of income, and virtually all staff furloughed. However, despite our drastically reduced numbers of staff, we are still working hard behind the scenes to keep the Society going and look after our collections and properties.

As with other heritage organisations and museums, the easing of lockdown means we are now in a position to start a phased reopening of our properties and gardens. Unfortunately, our smaller properties such as the Priest House, Marlipins, and Ann of Cleves House, will have to remain closed for the foreseeable future.

Due to social distancing and one-way visitor flow requirements, these three properties are just too small for us to open safely at this time. As government guidelines change, we will continue to review the situation and aim to reopen these properties at some point in the future.

Lewes Castle and Barbican House also contain areas where social distancing is impossible and so, for the moment, they will also remain closed. We are looking at the possibility of occasional opening of the Gun Garden at Lewes Castle and, if this is possible, we will post news of the opening times and days on our website.

Our events programme across all sites is also being thoroughly reviewed and is in the process of being updated. As lockdown restrictions ease, our options for events change, so please keep an eye on the events page of our website for the latest details and changes. We are really hopeful that we will be able to run a small programme of events over the coming months.

Michelham Priory’s gardens have been open for a few weeks now and are looking absolutely stunning. Visitors have really enjoyed having the chance to get outside and experience the tranquillity of the Priory after months stuck indoors. The café is providing an excellent takeaway service, so if you are looking for somewhere relaxing to visit where you can enjoy a bite to eat and drink, Michelham Priory is the place for you. This year, for the first time, the Priory is welcoming dogs (on short leads) into the gardens from 1.30pm each day. We hope to reopen parts of the house in early August, subject to government guidelines. However, the playground and mill will remain closed for the time being.

Fishbourne Roman Palace will also remain closed over the coming weeks but, as with all our sites, we are working on plans for reopening. For some of our sites, considerations around reopening are not just about social distancing measures and Coronavirus safety, we also have to consider the financial costs of reopening balanced with our predicted visitor numbers, the availability of volunteers, and the maintenance and conservation works which are now required as a result of lockdown and which must be completed before we can reopen.

All these factors mean that decisions on when to reopen are not always straight forward. As soon as we are able to confirm a date for reopening of Fishbourne we will do so on our website, newsletters and via our social media channels.

The Society is extremely lucky to have an amazing team of volunteers across the organisation, some of whom have been able to continue volunteering from home during lockdown. Our fantastic library volunteers from Barbican House have continued to work on our Sussex Archaeological Collections digitization project. They have made great progress with this important aspect of our work, enabling us to make our collections available to everyone online in the future.

Other volunteers have been sewing masks for staff and volunteers, repairing equipment, propagating plants, and assisting with fundraising. We really do appreciate all their hard work and support of the Society, especially over the past months. Thank you!

Thanks to the government’s flexible furlough scheme, a few staff are now able to return part-time and catch up on tasks which had been put on hold. Memberships and renewals are available through our website as usual. With extremely reduced staffing levels, processing of memberships and enquiries is taking longer than usual but rest assured we are dealing with these as quickly as we can, and we will be in contact with you when possible.

Thank you to all our members, visitors and supporters for your patience over the past months. We really do appreciate you sticking with us and your generous donations which make such a difference. We shall post short updates every Friday to keep you informed on property reopening plans and other news from the Society.