In 1999, Hastings was contacted by Wayne Addy, a young officer from Sedlescombe who was working under the auspices of the UN. The then British High Commissioner, Sir Peter Penfold, was urging members of the peace-keeping forces to contact UK towns with the same name as Sierra Leonean towns, to see if they could help rebuild the country, which had been devastated by the civil war. The Twinning Officer asked for more details, but it seemed that the overwhelming need for humanitarian aid was beyond the scope of the local authority.
In 2001, at a chance meeting in the House of Commons, the then Defence Minister, Peter Kilfoyle, approached our own MP Michael Foster with much the same request. Michael in turn asked Dr John Geater, Chairman of the local Christian charity LOAF Project, whether they could help. LOAF Project had recently built a school in Rwanda and an orphanage in Romania, and had huge experience in both fund-raising and managing a large project in a developing country. LOAF adopted Hastings SL for its 2001/2002 project. The town’s infrastructure and bridges had been virtually destroyed, so that it was almost impossible to get goods in and out, or for the people to get to work in nearby Freetown. Yet Hastings had been a flourishing town, and can be so again: the airstrip and the regional police training academy are getting back into operation, and the vocational school can be started up again, with outside help.
Local engineer Derek Tomblin identified some 13 bridges that needed totally rebuilding, restoring or upgrading. LOAF appealed to the Hastings & St Leonards community – schools, churches, businesses etc – to sponsor a bridge, and a generous community responded. See Projects / Previous Projects.
LOAF sent out a container-load of food, clothing, equipment and £1000 worth of tools donated by the Builders Centre. Items like typewriters and sewing machines went to re-equip the vocational school, so that the young people could be trained to earn their own living.
In 2003, a group calling itself the Hastings Sierra Leone Friendship Link was set up, to ensure continuity when LOAF went on to a new project. It has raised funds, for example through musical events with an African flavour, an annual cryptic quiz sheet and an annual quiz night; and friends of the Link have raised money through fundraisers such as the Coast-to-Coast Walk or bread-and-cheese lunches at work. The Link has always managed to send goods and medical equipment out to Hastings, and in 2007 Hastings Borough Council recognised the strength of the friendship between the two Hastings and signed an official ‘twinning’ charter. That year saw the laying of the foundations of a ‘community resource centre’, again with the help of LOAF: the Twin Town Centre was opened in 2010. The third project – still ongoing – is the extension and refurbishment of the little Health Centre. In December 2014, the Rotary Club of St Leonards paid for the centre’s complete re-wiring.
One of the most important achievements has been the setting up of a dozen schools partnerships including teacher exchanges. From 2019 we plan to start on a major project to provide the schools with an improved water supply and toilets.