How the money works

I’m going to try to explain the financial package that Friends of Hastings Pier put together as simply as I can. This is both an exercise in extreme transparency and a practice run for some workshops I’m planning about how money works in land & building development (from a community perspective of course).

I’m not going to name our commercial operator partner but detailed information about him and his support team was submitted to the Administrators and the estate agents on 14th June, along with the legal heads of terms of the agreement between us.

First a quick rant…

Those of us who like to get things done often complain about procurement rules but we recognise they are there to ensure fairness and clarity. Instead throughout this administration process we have been lost in the world of the estate agent where there are no rules, just a driving desire to close the highest possible deal at the soonest possible time. That world of private property is also well known to be macho, aggressive, secretive, and unscrupulous. It is absolutely the wrong approach to a civic/community asset.

At no point in the process since submitting our first proposal on 12th April did the Administrators explain what was going to happen next, how or when. When we met them on 11th May we asked to be put in touch with other bidders but heard nothing. On 13th June they asked us to ‘set out any revised plans by Noon tomorrow’ but did not commit to what they would do with them.

I believe a more appropriate administration process would have been:

  1. Describe and promote what you’re doing and work with people who show interest in the matter, explain what you’re looking for, encourage collaborations. As new people approach you, meet with them and then ask if they wish to meet with others who have shown interest so far. Ask all potential bidders to make available an overview of their vision for wider publication
  2. After 3-4 months of that work, set a date with 6 weeks notice by which all potential proposals must come forward in whatever combinations they have chosen. While submitting detailed info to the Administrators, bidders also update their overview proposals online.
  3. Have an assessment process (2 weeks minimum) based on a clear set of criteria. Consult closely with relevant stakeholders, most obviously the local authority, but also including staff, volunteers, community and user groups.
  4. Make a decision – present it publicly, including to the community shareholders
  5. Implement it.

This could have been done in the same overall timeframe but been a better process leading almost certainly to a better decision.

If this had been the process, and it had been clear from the start, then Friends of Hastings Pier could have focused on the job it initially set out to do – to give shareholders and supporters a voice in the process and the decision. Instead we were forced to take a position as a ‘bidder’ in a secretive and non-collaborative environment.

Even so, though we will continue to complain about the process, we are convinced that even within that approach, ours was the best overall bid and should have been chosen.


By the way it is revolutionary to share this kind of information about a bid publicly. Isn’t that ridiculous?!

PURCHASE FREEHOLD OFFER: £55,000. This was emailed at 15.44 on 15/6/18 and followed up formally by our lawyer. This amount, and indeed more if necessary, was available in the form of a cheque from Jericho Road Solutions, as captured on camera by numerous media outlets that day. I have track record in applying Jericho Road assets to help make local projects happen. We were able to purchase Rock House because I put £85k on my mortgage. In this case it would have been every last penny we had in the bank. The amazing thing about finance in the community is that I could take that action knowing that others would help share the burden.

SECURED AVAILABLE FINANCE: Total £750k, comprising £180k Crowdfunder (see below) and up to £570k secured on Operator assets. This would be used for working capital, both to install and fit out the new temporary structure, and to manage and underpin the costs until December 2020. At that point the pier would close for 3 months while the new permanent building was readied for the 2021 Season.

CROWDFUNDER: Crowdfunder approached us on 25th April, a couple of days after the Urgent Public Meeting, via a conversation happening in the background with community shares specialist Dave Boyle. They had already put together a draft page. They have been brilliantly supportive throughout and we are gutted that they won’t get their fees. One of the great legacies of this process is the 800+ comments that explain why people donated. Very powerful indeed.

We had to take a very rapid decision about target amount and date so that it could go live quickly. The noises from the Administrator, never clearly stated, never in writing, had been that we needed £1.2M – a figure apparently based on the pier losing £50k ever month, itself based on figures from February 2018. We rounded that down to £1M and said we’d get half through Crowdfunder and half from grants. In the meantime we got on with producing our financial model to see what a more realistic working capital requirement would be.

But the target of £500k was too high for that kind of individual donor fundraising, especially in just one month. That meant that no amount of donating would be worth it – like trying to vote against in a safe seat. We had to do something about it!

Chris Brown of igloo regeneration is an extraordinarily good problem-solver. Even he was pushed to his limits, trying to support a not-yet-incorporated organisation in an uncertain situation. But with his patience we worked out a good, clear deal. Igloo would provide £300,000 to the Crowdfunder as a short-term loan, repayable within 6 months with no interest charged.

That certainly provided a great boost and within a few days a further £40k came in from other donors (in small amounts from £5 to £5,000). This ‘spurt’ and ‘splutter’ of crowd-funding is extremely stressful – end up checking it every 5 minutes!

As we headed towards the deadline of 31st May it was going well but we were acutely aware that it was ‘all or nothing’. Crowdfunder called and asked if we wanted to extend – we hadn’t even realised it was an option! That’s where the 30th June deadline came from.

By the time the Administrator announced the decision (9.30pm 15/6) the Crowdfunder had breached £475k and was clearly going to reach target. We would have drawn down the money, paid the Crowdfunder fees (£19k), repaid igloo and had £181k in the bank by 7th July.

Before explaining how we could take on the pier if we only had £181k, let me say something about support ‘in the pipeline’.


  • Power to Change – community business fund application submitted 5/6 – £300k
  • Coop Foundation – positive ongoing discussions, application in assessment – £90k
  • Esmee Fairbairn – approached us 15/6 with an offer to work up an emergency application for c.£60k
  • Coastal Revival Fund – application in progress for deadline 5/7 – £50k
  • Potential local private investor – positive discussions were ongoing with interest in “exploring ways to put the Pier’s finances on a firmer footing”
  • Comprehensive funding search by our fundraising expert Julie Eason concluding it was ‘absolutely’ possible for FOHP to raise £1.6M for a new permanent building


Lots of people have asked ‘why don’t you contact the bands that played on the pier?’ FOHP volunteers Amy Walker and Andrew Pearce have between them contacted pretty much all the managers and tweeted all the musicians who ever played there. Lots of goodwill, some swag to auction (thanks especially @BillyBragg), offers to play benefit gigs and to perform on our future pier.

Right up to the last minute, as the story spread nationally across all the papers, we were being approached by all kinds of people wanting to see if they could help, including some pretty big hitters. There is no doubt it had begun to capture the imagination – just at that moment the Administrators gave it away ‘for a song’ – I wonder was it ‘(Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ or ‘Madness’?!

Two worlds that are likely to support Hastings Pier that we had only just begun to mobilise:

  • community businesses – the sense of solidarity was growing, especially after the tweet from the Bevy community pub in Brighton. Maybe this siphoning off of community assets into private ownership will wake the movement?
  • architecture – with such excellent support from dRMM and from the University of Brighton’s Architecture School, we perhaps could have done more to get the attention of the architecture world sooner. Perhaps they’ll listen now?


Our financial model showed that the working capital available from the Crowdfunder, the investment by the operator in the installation and fit-out of the temporary structure (estimated around £100k, (of which in this model £30k is shown as an FOHP contribution so that we knew that he would close the Crowdfunder gap if that became necessary in a hurry), and his guarantee to further underwrite pier working capital up to a maximum investment of £570k over 3 years, would be more than adequate for the Transition period. When tested for sensitivity in terms of visitor numbers and average spend per head the worst case scenario shows a total sunk capital of £630k in that period (in other words well within our guaranteed capital available).

The detail of projected income and spend can be explored on the spreadsheet by those that choose to do so. The important conclusion is that the pier business would likely lose £100-£250k in Year 1, smaller losses or breakeven in Year 2,  and make a surplus in Y3 of £50-120k.

* * *

There is no doubt that the Pier is a challenging business to predict. My Christmas 2009 was absorbed in writing the first financial plan – no tourism expert, I made it up as best I could. Luckily we quickly found Leisure Development Partners and they put us on the right footing. I am convinced that the reason the Pier stumbled in 2017 was that Phase 2 – always essential to the LDP plan – had been forgotten and the all-important narrative that sustains these great totemic assets was grinding to a halt.

I spent many hours last year, paid for the first time ever by Hastings Pier Charity, to create the spreadsheets, from scratch, that could at least model what was going on financially and what change would need to happen to turn it around. I have never seen any financial information since then about Hastings Pier that wasn’t based on those spreadsheets. You won’t be surprised to know that my hourly rate is a lot lower than the Administrators.

I know more about piers than I ever expected to, but my role was not to be the expert – rather to hook the necessary expertise into the passionate grassroots, to draw on everything we know, the wisdom of crowds and the immense human asset of Hastings & St Leonards and their supporters everywhere.

I’ve talked about the money here, but at the core of the plan to drive the business were the people of Hastings & St Leonards. One particular person who always gave me hope was the wonderful Adam Wide with his larger-than-life, boy-scout persona and his deep understanding of creative content for a visitor attraction. Both of us knew that there isn’t a better place in the world to go looking for ‘animators’ than this eccentric, extrovert, extraordinary town. Some things are hard to value on a spreadsheet.

I hope that this gives some answers to the question of how the money would have worked. I’m happy to answer further questions and would welcome comments on how to present what is quite complex information more simply. I’m going to have a go at doing something similar for Rock House and Ore Valley in the next few weeks. I’m sick of people sniping in the background when they don’t know the facts. An entrepreneur is someone who sets out to do something when they don’t yet control the resources to do it. So I’m happy to share because I take pride in my ability to put together collaborative packages of financial and other support for projects that matter to people.

Posted in Hastings, Hastings Pier, Jericho Road Solutions, Piers, Seaside | 1 Comment

Hastings Pier – where our hearts are

Pier 2007 cropped.jpg

After 19 crazy weeks of community mobilisation, commercial negotiation, late night bid-writing, endless spreadsheets, obsessive Crowdfunder checking, and the hard, hard work of keeping hope alive… this is me trying to make sense of what has happened, what has been achieved and the impact of our failure to protect something so precious that it makes grown-ups cry.

I didn’t want to do any of this. When I heard that Hastings Pier Charity had gone into Administration in November 2017 I felt physically sick. A phone call with the Administrator in December sent me into a furious depression I haven’t experienced for 20 years. I couldn’t do any work, I couldn’t even bear to go into my office at home. I walked the dog a lot.

In the woods Scuffle and I would often meet Lesley with her dog Nicky. Was she stalking me?! Whatever, she managed to persuade me we had to do something. And then Vidhya at Power to Change said they’d help with a grant. So we arranged the first meeting on 3rd Feb 2018. We tried to get participation from the Administrators, HLF and other funders. When they refused we decided to go ahead with a small and informal meeting for people who wanted to be active and constructive.

That set the tone we have maintained throughout – we look forwards not backwards, we rise to the challenge, we adapt as necessary but maintain core principles that came from that first meeting and were voted on by 500 people at the public meeting on 23rd April.

  1. People get a say in what happens next
  2. The community’s asset should not be sold off into private hands
  3. A partnership approach to ownership and operation is the way forward 
  4. Good results are underpinned by good governance
  5. The Pier should remain a space that everyone can enjoy and take pride in

We mobilised every possible resource available to a small, eccentric town on the south coast. The response from the town has been phenomenal. Our collaborators list was already impressive by the time we submitted our first Friends Plan for Hastings Pier on 12th April; it has grown since. We have developed and adapted all kinds of processes and tools for coordination, transparency, connectivity, and we’ve done that at a incredible speed. None of that could have happened without a core team with astounding commitment and complementary skills. That core was constantly growing, a swirl of purposeful activity, drawing in new people, creating something bigger than the sum of the parts. Of course it hasn’t been anything like perfect, but it’s been generally good-natured

Alongside that local energy, I’d like to pay special tribute to some of the amazing people who have come from outside and fallen for Hastings and the People’s Pier.

  • Alex de Rijke (dRMM)
  • Chris Brown (Igloo Regeneration)
  • David Alcock (Anthony Collins Solicitors)
  • Tony McKinlay (Towercrest Enterprises)
  • Vidhya Alakeson and Ged Devlin (Power to Change)
  • Michael Collins (Leisure Development Partners)
  • Hugh Rolo (Locality)

These are all very clever, successful people, highly respected within their own sectors (and much admired by me). Each in their own way pulled out all the stops for us, going way beyond any normal commercial relationship, because as we all know Hastings Pier is not a normal commercial proposition.

Our Proposals

While all our plans have been available online as they developed, the final proposal that we put to the Administrators is not, because it contains genuinely confidential commercial information. In brief, it was a co-investing shared venture between FOHP Trust and a commercial operator, backed with £750k of guaranteed finance, alongside current funding bids or approaches from funders totalling £450k, with dRMM contributing £60-90k of design work, plus a comprehensive funding search by an Institute of Fundraisers expert showing we could ‘absolutely’ raise £1.6M capital to achieve and open a permanent building within 3 years. We could start straight away – dRMM had pulled an all-nighter for us and designed a beautiful but simple and cheap temporary structure.

In terms of operational capacity not only were we committed to working with the current team of staff and volunteers who have done so much to make this season a success so far, but our operator partner would bring in additional expertise and experienced staff to fill gaps and cope with a step-change in visitor numbers. The first thing we promised to do was actually count footfall – there is literally no data about how many people have been on the pier, let alone intelligence about who they were or what they thought.

Our approach, of course, made a full and undoubted commitment to prioritise maintenance and to sustain the in-house engineering team which holds the crucial ‘corporate memory’ of the pier.

To top all that, yesterday afternoon we offered to pay a purchase price of £55k. Without seeing the plans of others none of us can be categorically sure that it was the best option but it set a pretty high bar…

The ‘process’ of the pier’s disposal

There were three really terrible things about the approach taken:

  1. First and foremost it was just inappropriate. It is wrong to use a commercial administration process for a civic/community asset, applying private property sector ‘solutions’ to a civic problem that the community is capable and willing to solve for itself given half a chance. I hope that @PeoplesBiz and @LocalityNews will help to campaign for a Community Administration Act or an amendment to the Cooperatives & Community Benefit Societies Act 2014 to establish a more suitable process for when a community asset faces financial difficulties.
  1. The behaviour around timescales to develop proposals – not just ours but other bidders too – was almost designed to exclude good options and to waste a lot of people’s valuable time. They would never give us a deadline date or an honest description of the decision-making process, it was all just estate agent hyper-stress(hurry, hurry, or you’ll lose it, imminent decision, can’t wait, no you can’t have 6 months/3 months/6 weeks/30 days etc). Procurement rules can be annoying but they are in place to create fairness and clarity to everyone involved – nothing like that in this process.
  1. There was an absence of governance and engagement from all the places we might have expected better. Appearing numerous times this week in the Guardian (and rather sweetly also the Epsom Guardian), the Daily Mail, the Telegraph and the Express (even more sweetly also the Aberdeen Evening Express!), I think we can safely say this Pier is of interest to everyone across political and cultural divides. I have said it before: this is a totemic asset, meaning it belongs to everyone and everyone belongs to it.

Yet our politicians have been absent, the Foreshore Trust impotent and, most egregiously, the Heritage Lottery Fund, in pole position as the only secured creditor, have hidden behind the Administrators, too scared of judicial review perhaps to institute a fair, open and engaging process that could achieve the best possible future for an asset of acknowledged national heritage and architectural significance. They have all missed an opportunity to connect with and support voters, taxpayers, and lottery players, and to harness the energy of local people to solve local challenges.

Despite all these horrors, this process has had plenty of wonderful moments and outcomes – new and renewed friendships, hundreds of civic conversations, a new database of people who care about the pier, and an emerging solidarity among grassroots communities across the country.

What next?

We are taking a few days to reflect and re-group. An update has gone out on the Crowdfunder and to our mailing list. At least five possible next steps present themselves.

  1. CHALLENGE. We think they made the wrong decision and we think they made the decision wrongly. Lots of people ask ‘is it legal?’. We know that commercial Administrators have very wide-ranging powers, but nevertheless the disposal process will come under intense scrutiny.
  1. PROTECTION. Immediately re-list the Pier as an Asset of Community Value. Work to beef up the pathetic 2-year ‘reversion clause’. Ask the council to seek an annual repairs report to be submitted to the Borough Engineer in recognition of the risk to them if it gets into trouble again. Keep 4,000 beady eyes on it.
  1. PIER RESERVE FUND. Establish a community-held fund, actively invested and topped up with new grants, donations and bequests, to help it grow over the years so that it is always ready in the event of an opportunity to bring the pier back into community ownership.
  1. THE PIER IN EXILE. One really exciting thing has been the people and businesses that have come to the fore, both passionate locals and supportive outsiders. We will find ways to keep that energy going this summer and beyond.
  1. A COMMUNITY ADMINISTRATION ACT. We will be looking for a suitable MP who will put forward a Private Members Bill to lay out a better process for the situation where a community asset is at stake and/or the organisation is a community benefit society.

* * *

Personally I need to get some sleep and then try to start earning a living again. I do that mainly by helping community groups all over the country to take on challenging buildings that people love. Many of these projects involve Heritage Lottery Fund. I can only hope that my comments above will be taken not as an attack but as a frustrated cry of pain and a plea to learn lessons. We have so much to be grateful to HLF for, both in Hastings and across the UK. It is an immensely important piece of public infrastructure, which is why it must be held to account when communities feel it is hurting rather than helping them.

In 2016 I was awarded an OBE for services to community assets. I’ve always said that medal was for all of us who stand up to be counted, disregarding the snipers and the nay-sayers, taking a risk on hope. I’ve had hundreds of messages today from people across Hastings and across the country. You all say nice things but I do this because I can’t not. In the middle of the week someone admired my perseverance but said I was ‘pushing water uphill’. I listened politely and then said “as a specialist in pushing water uphill, I’ll carry on doing just that”. The question is not why I’m mad enough to do it but rather why does it have to be so bloody hard? When will we ‘exalt the valleys and make low the hills and mountains’? When is change coming if we don’t make it ourselves?

This tragic fiasco is not just about Hastings Pier, any more than the HLF renovation funding or the Stirling Prize was. This has always been about economics and power. And particularly the power or otherwise of local communities to manage, expand and protect their own local wealth.

The two Battles for Hastings Pier (2006-13 and 2017-18) stand in deadly stark contrast to each other. In one a very active community was eventually empowered by public funds to achieve the renovation of a derelict structure. In the other, the fully-restored asset was removed secretly from 5,000 shareholder-owners and then subjected to a commercial process that led, unfathomably, to where we are now.

A final thought…

Abid Gulzar made an interesting point last night. He waved at the pier and said ‘it’s not going anywhere’. He was right; the pier is a ‘tethered’ asset – it will always be Hastings.  I spoke to Alex de Rijke from dRMM earlier. While horrified by the injustice of the process and sad at its outcome, he’s relaxed about the pier itself – “it will survive Mr Gulzar and have another life after”.



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Pride in Hastings Pier

I was really pleased, honoured, and emotional to be at the celebration event on the Pier yesterday to mark the achievements of the Learning & Education Team which has been funded by Heritage Lottery Fund for the past 5 years.
This is what I said:
* * *
I want to talk about three things:
• The people
• The achievement (specifically of the heritage & learning programme)
• The future
The people = so many people, so much love, so much uncertainty and dogged determination to win through regardless. Individuals should be recognised and valued but we must also give credit to the power of numbers – that’s what it takes.
The achievement = the numbers, breadth, depth, diversity, and impact – all astounding. The legacy – in terms of archive and corporate memory – is precious and should be incorporated in the revitalisation of pier.
The future = Phase 2 of the People’s Pier
The project was always phased:
Phase 1 (renovation) – stable platform, stable ownership, interim business
Phase 2 (revitalisation) – commercialisation, intensive programme that focuses on footfall and dwell-time, with new infrastructure that enables visitor spend
Cohesion – the pier is our anchor, not just that everyone uses it but that everyone is involved in making it.
This great lump of metal and wood, as it heads towards its 150th birthday, represents:
• our courage and audacity in the face of the beautiful but ultimately hostile and threatening sea
• The ‘dead centre’ (or beating heart?) of our two towns of Hastings and St Leonards
• The ‘totem’ that we all belong to and belongs to all of us
Battle for Hastings Pier flag
I’ve brought some things which were kept for nostalgia as souvenirs.
Yet here we are again – campaigning to save Hastings Pier once more!
It has never been possible to walk away. I know, I tried!
What is happening now is just another threat in the long history of challenges the People’s Pier has faced
– from the Catch 22 at the start that if you didn’t have the money you couldn’t own it and if you didn’t own it you couldn’t get the money…
– to now where local people – working for free to protect the long term future of a critically important heritage, cultural and community asset – are treated as ‘just another bidder’ in a procurement exercise for a new guardian.
So let me finish by saying thank you:
1. to Heritage Lottery Fund for all their support – both in the beginning and while the pier is going through this crisis
2. to all the supporters, shareholders, funders and advisers, locally and across the country, and
3. most of all to the staff and volunteers who have given so much and who continue to keep the good ship sailing despite the weather!
Raise your glasses to the future of Hastings Pier.
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Hastings Pier… 3 things you can do to help

“There are battles you think you’ve won, only to discover you need to fight them all over again” – Jonathan Freedland, Guardian 28/4/18

At first, when the Hastings Pier Charity was put into administration in November 2017, it seemed terrible and tragic and tipped me over the edge. Strangely, it now feels like an opportunity. It’s a bit like the Fire in 2010 – the worst thing imaginable but still, in the smouldering, a chance of renewal.  Are we going round in circles or are we making progress towards some kind of destiny??! Maybe both!

Friends of Hastings Pier was set up (again) on 3rd February 2018 to give shareholders and supporters a voice. We were working towards a big meeting, preferably with the Administrators and HLF. At the end of March we were suddenly told we had until 12th April to put in a bid. We went ahead – proposing a split of the ‘top’ (above deck) and ‘bottom’ (structure), and developed an indicative business plan to show that, with Phase 2 investment and operated commercially, the top could make enough money to pay a rent to a community trust freeholder that would be responsible for the bottom forever. This model of separation is operated by several piers nationally, including Bournemouth and Cromer.

It’s crucial to remember that the pier project was always phased. Phase 1 (mainly HLF-funded) aimed for stable ownership, a stable platform, and an interim business plan that would tick over while investment was found for Phase 2 which would fully revitalise the pier. Phase 1 has created a beautifully renovated, Stirling prize-winning pier. Phase 2 appeared to have been forgotten, but is now fully back on the agenda.

We developed those ideas further, with input from the fabulous Adam Wide and exquisite initial designs provided by dRMM. Then we were told that if we didn’t have cash funds our bid would not be considered. So we went ahead with seeking pledges and quickly set up a Crowdfunder page. WHICH IS LIVE & URGENT & NEEDS YOUR ATTENTION RIGHT NOW!


Then the Administrators asked:

“Are the Friends of Hastings Pier comfortable that if we were given ownership of the pier next month, or even in the next two months, we would have the confidence and capability to :-

Continue to keep the pier open
Take over the loss-making operation
Sustain those losses for 2 years
Pay for maintenance and insurance @ £30,000 a month
Pay for any storm damage not covered by insurance
Design and ‘spec’. new buildings
Get planning permission for new buildings
Supervise and oversee the building of new buildings
Lease or Operate all aspects of operating the new buildings
Lease out or Operate the Entertainment Programme and F & B content
Ensure stability for the next two years
Build up the numbers of visitors over the next 2 -3 years
……. to finally generate profit”.

We’ve begun to answer that challenge in our transition plan, which argues:

“As community entrepreneurs, we disagree with the idea that the new owner is to ‘take over the loss-making operation and sustain that for 2 years’. That is a negative and narrow view. Our plan is to make radical changes from Day 1 to bring the pier into genuine community ownership and massively increase the breadth and depth of local and visitor usage, while implementing Phase 2 development and aiming towards a destination pier from Year 4 onwards.

We are confident in our ability to take on the pier. We were never asked if we wanted to give it up.”

The creative ideas for the long term, developed by Adam Wide with Friends of Hastings Pier can be seen here:

The emerging designs by dRMM can be seen here:

The discussion draft of the Transition Plan is here:  

Some people get immediately why Hastings Pier is so important, for others it take longer to get under their skin. Most importantly, it’s a totemic asset – a totem is something that belongs to everyone and everyone belongs to.

On Monday 23rd April 500 people came to the public meeting and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Five spokespeople were elected, including me. We deliberately don’t have a committee, whoever comes and is active and constructive can have a say and make stuff happen.

On Thursday night we launched the Crowdfunder: with a target of £500k. We’ll be working to match that with a grant (calling all grant funders and foundations…?!) so we can show we have financial muscle as well as moral right and the best plans.

I’ve been writing to everyone I know to ask for 3 things:

  1. Dig deep and soon.If we don’t get to £500k by 31 May we’re sunk and really we need as much as possible by 11th May when a couple of us are meeting with the Administrators. Don’t hold back, be a saint and pledge whatever you can afford.
  2. Spread far and wide. We have lots of great volunteers in Hastings (more always welcome) but this needs to be pushed way beyond Hastings, and especially to people with a bit more money who can pledge in the £thousands. Share the crowdfunder link + @FOHP2018 + #YourPier. Talk to your friends; talk to everyone you meet – are they helping Hastings Pier?!
  3. Lend your skills, time, credibility, and networks. Alex de Rijke and his colleagues at dRMM have donated £60,000 of fees to help bring Phase 2 to planning permission. Adam Wide brings 40 years experience as a creative director in tourism & entertainment. Craig Cohon is lending his business weight. Please think about what you personally could do for Hastings Pier…

And lastly, let’s help make hope possible rather than despair convincing. We have to try… this money and momentum is what keeps alive the possibility of long-term community ownership of the People’s Pier (and in any case the money all goes back to the donors if we don’t raise the target or our bid gets rejected).

Go to Crowdfunder now and make my day… 

The game is on… are you in?



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Water OMG!

It was a fascinating day in Southampton at the Labour Party #NewEconomics conference on Saturday.

What stuck with me the most was being presented with the evidence behind the complete and ongoing rip-off and harm done by the privatisation of water. The pictures below are all from the talk by Dr Kate Baylis (SOAS University of London). I really hope she doesn’t mind – I’m just so cross and worried about this – I need to get it out there!

The amazing ‘denseness’ of the company structures. This web of companies is just one of the water conglomerates – Southern Water. The yellow highlighted company is the only part of the structure that is regulated. 

The fact that these water lords own *all the assets* – every last pipe and tap and pump and filter system. Unlike the railways where at least Network Rail has been kept whole. The debt they have loaded on includes the cost of buying the company in the first place – the amount of actual equity (ie shareholders funds) has dropped.

The water suppliers have a complete monopoly on all the customers in a defined region. They have ‘securitised’ future water bills (ie borrowed against them). So the money we will pay on our bills for water in several years time has already been used up. Does that bode well?

England is out on a limb internationally by having privatised water. Water in the US is 85% publicly owned and managed. When states do privatise they use fixed term management contracts, not give away the infrastructure itself.

So what does our water bill pay for? 26.8% return on capital (dividends to shareholders) and just 3% tax.

And finally, what does all that do to affordability? Guess…


The upper line is the average annual water bill. The line below it is average hourly earnings. The crunch date where the lines diverge is 2010. I expect there’s data now for dates beyond 2012 – would be interesting to see it.

Anyway, rant over for now. Vote Labour, get our water back! (not to mention the railways, energy and the rest)

Posted in Just Me, Policy, Thinking | 1 Comment

Investing Upside Down (ppt)

Here’s a link to the slides I showed yesterday at the Labour Party #NewEconomics conference in Southampton. Plus the narrative notes.

Investing Upside Down – Jess Steele

Investing Upside Down – narrative

Posted in Hastings, Hastings Pier, Jericho Road Solutions, JRS website, Ore Valley, Self-renovating neighbourhoods, Thinking | Leave a comment

Friends Again!

The Friends of Hastings Pier (FOHP) has been re-established a decade after it handed the baton of the People’s Pier to the Hastings Pier & White Rock Trust which later set up the Hastings Pier Charity.

The Friends are shareholders and supporters who want to be active and constructive in this second crisis for our pier. There are currently 150 signed-up members and 400 members of the facebook group, with many more joining all the time.

We want to look forwards not backwards. Just as in the horrible days and weeks after the Fire of 2010 we refused to be drawn into blame and despair but instead focused on the urgent matter of the Pier’s future, now again we must put all our efforts into proposing alternatives to a direction of travel that would put our Pier and therefore our wider local economy at risk.

That does not mean we shouldn’t learn from the past. And we certainly don’t want to disown it. There is so much to be proud of and grateful for – a fully-renovated, structurally-sound pier that won the most prestigious prize in architecture; a truly impressive community reach that brought over 400,000 people to the pier including many thousands of schoolchildren; a minimal debt-burden and an opportunity to take the Pier to the next stage in its long life.

From direct experience over the years I know for sure that the people who governed, led, worked for and volunteered for the Pier worked extremely hard, with good intentions and great skills. Together they achieved the impossible, saved the Pier from the brink of destruction and took every effort to make the transition from successful renovation to successful operation. Throughout that time the trustees in particular took on a huge burden, worked without payment, gave their best expertise for free including through very difficult times without a CEO or general manager and without secure funding making long-term planning and partnerships very difficult.

Lots of things got in the way of transition – not least that funders tend to see ‘completion’ as the end of the renovation, when in fact the end of the project should be when the building is in a ‘steady state’ which is likely to be several years after. Every business needs working capital in the early years to cushion the almost inevitable losses as it becomes established. Funders are beginning to understand this and we can expect to see more focus on ‘post-completion support’ in future.

In the case of Hastings Pier that transitional period was even more important since it was never the intention to leave the revitalised pier with ‘nothing on it’. The aim of phase 1 was: stable ownership, a stable platform, and an initial business plan that could sustain it while seeking further investment for phase 2 of the ‘21st century pleasure pier’, which included additional shelter, a major events programme, and, eventually, the reinstatement of the landing stage.

We feel that it was wrong to put the Pier into administration without involving the shareholders or giving them a chance to put forward a different solution. But, we are where we are. So now FoHP aims to work with shareholders & supporters who agree with our three main principles:

  1. There is a way for the pier to return to community ownership to protect its long-term future while working with a private operator to run it as a sustainable commercial operation.
  2. It is essential that the freehold of the pier is not sold into private ownership to avoid the position it reached by 2006 when it was closed for safety reasons due to neglect by a private owner.
  3. The shareholders and other community supporters have an important and ongoing role to play in the People’s Pier.

The task we set ourselves is to return to the original strategy – 1) stable ownership, 2) stable platform, 3) commercial operation). We will focus on:

  • Lobbying and campaigning to protect community ownership of the freehold of Hastings Pier
  • Reconfirming and implementing phase 2 – which was always going to be an approach rooted in commercial realities rather than grant-funded heritage and learning

We are blessed that many people who have played a role in the Pier over the last 12 years are still in Hastings and still in love with the Pier (it gets under your skin as I may have mentioned before!). It’s important that we hear what they know and think, information about what was tried, what worked, what didn’t, what has been learned, without anyone feeling they are going to be blamed. We also need to recognise that lots of suggestions people make have already been considered. One thing the Friends are doing is gathering together all the suggestions we know about into a spreadsheet with outline costs and implications (such as, if you want to add a building or a ride you may need to reinforce the structure underneath).

So let’s have no sniping. It’s not just unfair, it’s also unproductive. Everything we do should be about working together and with others to create and present a clear proposition for dynamic commercial management alongside long-term protected community ownership.

To join FOHP email and/or join the facebook discussion at

P.S. While I believe we should ‘look forward not backwards’, as a historian by background I still like to keep the records! Here’s a summary timeline that may be of interest and puts the current predicament into a wider context and a longer view.


Posted in Hastings, Hastings Pier, JRS website, Piers, Seaside | 2 Comments