This Saturday is an important day in the history of Hastings. It is the day that their iconic Pier re-opens after years of neglect, disrepair, closure and finally, a disastrous fire six years ago. That in itself is more than enough to celebrate tomorrow with music, food and oodles of the quirkiness that the town has a reputation for.
Perhaps more remarkably than that is the way that the Pier has been saved. It wasn’t private interests that did it (indeed some locals would say that was what sunk it) but the community of Hastings as a whole. A corporate vehicle known as a Community Benefit Society was set up by the people of Hastings that bought the pier off the council for £1. A project grant of £11.4 million towards the £14.2 million needed for the re-build was forthcoming from the Heritage Lottery Fund but what transferred its ownership to the people was a community share issue that raised close to £600,000. This made 3,000 mainly Hastings based individuals the collective owners of the Pier. Hastings Pier thereby became one of the largest and certainly one of the most high profile community businesses in the country.
We have made a short film about Hastings that shows how that groundswell of community support for the precious and meaningful assets in its midst has not stopped at just one project. Hastings Pier has already kick-started the transformation of the White Rock district of the town as it has brought a boost to local tourism, local enterprises and the economy as a whole. The White Rock Trust that originally led the group of local campaigners to buy and restore their beloved pier is setting up other community businesses to make the neighbourhood fit for purpose so that everyone benefits from the good things going on there.
Jess Steele, Hastings-based community entrepreneur, draws a thread in the film from the pier to the Rock House building which has been repurposed with the help of a Power to Change grant of £315,000, to give affordable office space for local businesses, creative work spaces, community facilities and flats for local people. The Rock House opened in March and already another community business is spilling out from that, namely the Heart of Hastings community land trust, to keep affordable housing in the hands of locals as opposed to the ‘DFLs’ (‘down from London’) who have just discovered the town and are driving up prices. As Rock House tenant Erica Smith points out in the film, as an economic model, community business gives the chance to stop locals “being done to rather than us doing”.
Mark Gordon is Director of Communications and Partnerships at Power to Change