AMBITIOUS £2m plans could see Shoreham Fort rebuilt in the next five years, creating a community space that will combine history and nature.
Gary Baines, founder of the Friends of Shoreham Fort, hopes to see his dream become a reality, with the help of a team of volunteers and grant funding.
As a child, his grandfather took him to see the fort and he remembers running around pretending he was a soldier.
His fascination grew but he found very little was documented about the rare fort, which dates back to Napoleonic times.
So, he set about finding all he could and eventually set up the Friends of Shoreham Fort in 2009. The group became official on May 9, 2010, his 30th birthday, and in June last year, it was finally registered as a charity.
“It has been a fantastic achievement, what we have already done,” said Gary, citing the 28 tons of rubble removed from the tunnel by volunteers as an example of the hard work done by a relatively small team.
His hope is to rebuild the barrack block and get it back to how it was in 1872. The idea is to turn the old cook house area into a café, put in a stage and create an indoor area which can be used by the community.
Gary said the Friends of Shoreham Beach hold various education sessions, such as rock pooling, nearby, so it would be a useful place for them in bad weather.
Last year, the Friends of Shoreham Fort received £15,000 from the Adur Pot of Gold and a further grant of £10,000, some of which they are using to design new information signs.
Dating back to 1857, it is the last fort of its kind in the world.
“It is a prototype for all the forts in Portsmouth,” explained Gary.
“Shoreham Fort was built in 1857 in Napoleonic times, when the country was at threat from the French. A fortification was built in Littlehampton in 1854 but mistakes were made. These were corrected at Shoreham, which became the prototype.”
During the tour of the site, which anyone is welcome to join on Sundays at 1pm and 3pm, Gary explained about the gun placements, the magazines, how powder monkeys were used, and the “new technology” used to disguise the true nature of the fort.
When a common lizard was spotted running over the wall, Gary explained more than 100 live there now, and they grow up to 12in long.
Some of the fort’s Second World War history has been uncovered, too, for example, a barrage balloon hook and the foundations of shower blocks.
People on the tour were also taken inside the south caponier and shown pictures of the 1st Sussex Artillery Volunteers on parade at the fort.
In the future, visitors will be able to see one of their original uniforms, along with about 100 rifles, which will be put on display in an interactive museum, as part of the development plans.