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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 email@example.com and/or join the facebook discussion at https://www.facebook.com/groups/FOHP2018/?ref=bookmarks
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.