Roller-coaster week

It’s been a roller-coaster week here in Hastings.

Since handing over the pier project to Hastings Pier Charity, the White Rock Trust has been focusing on the wider neighbourhood and on the second most challenging building in town – the old Observer Building.


We found out a week ago that the Observer Building was to go to auction this Friday (today!) and we have been trying to negotiate a private purchase in advance of that.

Last week we asked the receiver what it would cost to take it out of auction and on Monday we matched that offer, including a 10% deposit within 3 days. They came back and said they wanted 20% deposit – we managed to raise that as a gift from Jericho Road Solutions and Meanwhile Space CIC (who are buying Rothermere House next door).  If they had accepted this we would have to raise the rest of the money by September. If we failed, the gift from Jericho Road and Meanwhile Space would be lost. We had talked to funders and lenders to make sure there was a chance they could make the decision in time.

We thought we might have really good news on Monday night, but it was hanging in the balance. And then again on Wednesday afternoon things were looking up when we could have been in a position to bid up to £350k at auction. But when we checked the auction site it said ‘SOLD PRIOR’. We have been working flat out, but I’m sad to report that the Observer Building was sold to a private buyer for £320,000 prior to the auction.

Of course, a genuine fairy godmother might have arrived in town… it’s just not that likely.

The Observer Building has been empty for 30
years. It’s had 12 owners and as many planning permissions. The last owner is in prison for money-laundering; the bank lent too much money on it; the receiver is waiting for his fee. Last year it went through auction again and a new ‘owner’ emerged, only to disappear (losing his deposit) when it became clear how much work needs doing.

Just like the pier, there are no commercial-only solutions. It needs grant to make it commercially viable, and that means community ownership, or at least real community involvement. And as with the pier, the White Rock Trust will not give up. Didn’t we win an award for ‘dogged persistence’?!

I want to thank everyone who has been working so hard this week – especially Keith Sadler, Mark Curry, Ed Lofts, Ray Chapman, Laura Gales, Fiona Ambrose, Lorna Lloyd, and Ronan Larvor, as well as Jeremy Birch and Hastings Borough Council for their support. And also apologise to everyone at Steve Wyler’s leaving do who asked how I was and got the whole story as a rant! It’s not over, and you will all be needed again! We look forward to meeting the buyer, who is expected to complete the purchase within 20 business days.


Posted in Hastings, Hastings Pier, Jericho Road Solutions, Seaside, Self-renovating neighbourhoods | 9 Comments

Turning the Tide

Turning the Tide? Deptford regeneration event 25 April 2014, Deptford Town Hall, New Cross Road (#ttt21)

To mark 21 years since ‘Turning the Tide‘ was published and to explore the history, experience and impact of ‘regeneration’ in Deptford (and further afield) in that period. Possibly part of the process of producing an Update to Turning the Tide.

This event is being organised by the Centre for Urban and Community Research (CUCR) at Goldsmiths College as part of its twentieth anniversary celebrations.


3.30 – 5.30 Seminar: The changing face of “regeneration” in London
Short initial interventions by: Alison RookeMichael KeithHeidi Seetzen, Rob ImrieLuna Glucksberg
5.30 – 6.00 Screenings and sound intervention: Creative Responses to Urban Change in Deptford (food and drinks provided)
6.00 – 8.00 Workshop: 21 Years of Urban Regeneration in Deptford
Short provocations by: Ben GidleyJess SteeleJessica LeechNeil Transpontine, and Joe Montgomery
Followed by roundtable discussions:
– Creative Deptford: arts, culture and regeneration
– Housing and neighbourhood
– DIY Deptford: regeneration from below?
– Convoys Wharf: regeneration or land grab?
– The changing face of Deptford: migration, identity, diversity and generation

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21 years of regeneration – revisited

It’s 21 years since I published Turning the Tide: The History of Everyday Deptford.

At that point ‘the present’ was full of regeneration programmes.

What was their impact? What did we learn? What should be done differently in future?


On April 25th 2014, the Centre for Urban and Community Research at Goldsmiths is hosting a free event to explore the stories of Deptford’s “regeneration”. We will be looking back over the two decades since the publication of Turning The Tide which coincided with the start of CUCR’s evaluation of the Deptford City Challenge programme. Our aim is to discuss the recent changes in Deptford, but also to think about the possible futures for the area.





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Deptford Dockyard Clock in Thamesmead

Deptford Dockyard Clock in Thamesmead

And here is the Deptford Dockyard clock in situ in Thamesmead town centre.

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Deptford Dockyard clocktower

Deptford Dockyard clocktower

The 18th century Deptford Dockyard clock on its way down river to its new home in Thamesmead, 1986. It was given to Thamesmead by the GLC as they faced abolition “as something to remember the GLC by”

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Sitting in a ditch watching stars

After a good start with weekly blogs I seem to have fallen into Abeyance. It feels like a ditch I want to climb out of.

It’s been a stunning couple of months – which is probably why I feel like a cartoon character seeing spinning stars.

So I’ll just begin and hope there’s something of interest for everyone in this meze of odd experiences and learning.

It started with a 24-hour residential to help redesign the Community Organisers training programme. As we approach the final year of the programme, our task is to consolidate everything we have learned to create a new framework for the Foundations of Community Organising certificate course (along with other training offers like Digital Organising) to hand over to CoCo, the legacy body. This training is expected to be delivered through the Inspiration Network, a group of the most skilled graduate COs, hosts and other trainers. The IN is already operational and providing a great mentoring service within the current programme. Over time it will be opened up to include other trainers – watch out on for further news.

I left Staffordshire to head straight to Seoul, to join the international guests at the Global Social Economy Forum. I never particularly meant to go to South Korea – I was a last-minute stand-in, but now I’m a convert.

I keep mulling over the enormous contrast with Detroit – the last city that really blew me away. First the obvious – Seoul is economically thriving; it has one of the largest, safest public transport systems in the world; and you would have to search all day to find a building, or part of a building, that’s not in use. Detroit is technically bankrupt; has almost no public transport at all; and has a sadly-deserved reputation for crime and empty buildings.

Then the next layer – people eat well in Korea whereas Detroit is a food desert of Saharan proportions; South Koreans are taught to despise the neighbours over the border and the £8m Dorasan station built to cross the so-called ‘demilitarised zone’ (DeeEmZee) has never been used, whereas Detroit looks across the river at tranquil Canada but there are no non-car routes between them.

But in my personal experience these two cities do have some common ground. I walked them both – 6 miles down Woodward on a dark Detroit night, about the same in Seoul up and round Namsam, the mountain in the middle of the city. I met amazing people in both – Grace Lee Boggs, the 98-year old community organiser and ultimate role model, and Park Won Soon, the activist-turned city mayor committed to generating a social economy alongside the dominant jaebeol super-companies (Samsung, LG, Hyundai, Daewoo, etc). Most of all, I hope I get to go back to both cities before too long.

I’d hardly touched down before it was time for Locality’s Convention in Leicester. 600 people from all over the country, all caring about local neighbourhoods – my favourite environment. And I got to meet the wonderful Bernadette McAlliskey again.

I had a Jericho Road exhibition stand and people kept coming to talk to me about precious buildings in irresponsible ownership – my specialist subject. I’m already working with local groups on two piers, a 14th century monastery, a cinema, a former hospital, a newspaper factory and an old bakery. But I really like the sound of the old coach works empty for 40 years and owned by scary gangsters…!

While I was in Seoul my 50-year old brother-in-law died. He was diagnosed with cancer 6 years ago, having only moved in with my sister 18 months before. I went straight from Leicester to Devon to be with her. Of course it was tragic and there were tears but it was also the best funeral I’ve ever been to. We had a lovely little hall beside a river, courtesy of Green Fuse, so about 15 of us spent the day before making origami cranes and lanterns and decorating it. The coffin was made of woven willow, perfect for interlacing with all the flowers and spending time with the coffin was so different from the spookiness of a standard crematorium.

The eulogy was given by a very old friend who caught the balance perfectly between serious memorial and the funny poignant stories any life has. The music was an eccentric mix, with Richard’s own compositions and recordings punctuated by the Star Wars theme. Richard had made an astoundingly detailed large-scale model of the Star Destroyer for one of the family’s crazy annual film projects – it was hanging from the ceiling on display in the hall! As his brother reminded us, Richard always liked blowing things up; they’ve decided to shoot his ashes into space in a specially-designed rocket!

Since then it’s been back to the usual round of good people with ambitious projects in interesting places. Bexhill Community Playhouse have been granted £500k to buy the last cinema in Bexhill. South Parade Trust have finally got an offer from the current owners to sell them the pier. Ancoats Dispensary Trust are about to press ‘submit’ on a £5m Heritage Enterprise bid.

But today Colwyn Bay Pier was thrown into jeopardy by a crazy ‘democratic’ decision. Despite having (nearly) sorted out ownership and having an approved development grant of £594,000 from HLF, Conwy County Borough councillors voted to demolish the 113 year-old Victoria Pier! It’s astonishing how the worst stories of irresponsible ownership are not about gangsters at all but groups of well-meaning but ill-informed politicians. More on this soon…

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Delinquent ownership – a PS about the council role

When it comes to dealing with derelict and disused buildings and land, Councils are in a practically impossible position (but that’s quite normal for local government!). They have a set of ‘powers’ that are theoretically available but technically complex. In my experience, councillors quickly learn a default position to say they won’t use them – too difficult, too expensive, too risky (the DER response). It’s important to remember that this is a cultural and political position and it can be changed.

But once you get the ‘DER’ response, it can take years for a local community to campaign to get the local authority to pay attention and consider using its powers. Most will fail simply because people have better things to do, but others – doggedly persistent – will see it through to a win. The council will come round – through political pressure or officer change-of-heart, or both – but even after that it will take longer than tolerable to actually make it happen. (You’ll know I’m referring to Hastings Pier… the CPO process included unpredictable delays including the Secretary of State lecturing us about Ravenclaw’s human rights and the final document being sent to Panama by courier, who couldn’t deliver to a PO Box so had to return, mission unfulfilled, and rely on the royal mail instead!).

There are two ways that this unhelpful tension between democratically-elected local authorities and their voters concerned about precious buildings can be resolved – either making it easier for councils to use their powers (eradicating ‘DER’), or giving communities powers directly. Which would you advocate? ANSWER THE SURVEY!

There are two councils I’m aware of that have consistently and systematically used particular powers over a sustained period:

  • Great Yarmouth – compulsory purchase on heritage grounds
  • Hastings – section 215 ‘grotbuster’ orders to tidy up the outside of buildings and charge the owner

I would welcome any additions to this list…

And then there is the terrible story of Manchester’s failed CPO of the London Road Fire Station. A compulsory purchase that (imho) should have happened, if the timely restoration of the Grade II* listed building was the primary consideration. Stan Edwards, CPO expert extraordinaire, has written a fascinating article (IRRV Valuer Journal May 2013 – CPOs Listed Buildings)  exploring why it didn’t happen. It’s no wonder MCC feel burned and cross about it. They will need to be coaxed away from this ‘ghost’…

Posted in Jericho Road Solutions, Locality, Policy, Thinking | 3 Comments