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: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/fohp2018/? 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?



Posted in Hastings Pier, JRS website | Leave a comment

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 | 1 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 friendsofhastingspier@gmail.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.


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

I am losing my heart to Ore Valley


I feel like a love-struck teenager. I’ve always been in love with places, and always attracted to the underdogs – my towns Deptford and Hastings and all the other-people’s-places that I fall in love with: Blackpool, Scarborough, Bradford, Greater Manchester, Liverpool 8. If I had more time I’d like to get to know Maryport, Jaywick, and the scruffy bit of Swindon!

But I don’t need to leave town to find the most perfect example of a place that has been continuously stamped on by an outside elite for 200 years. A place with both acute and chronic poverty, but where that is only one of the facts of life within a lively, distinctive culture and a valley-full of greenery. A place where dereliction has been created and sustained through state policy, private greed and dysfunctional ‘regeneration’ policies. Here the land and the people have been separated since the power station closed in the early 1980s. In the imaginations of the Regenerators, the land would be ‘solved’ through capitalism – private developers building boxes. The people would be ‘solved’ through social services. And never the twain shall meet.

Well, they’re meeting now!

The Heart of Hastings Community Land Trust took a licence on the power station land in August last year.The ‘Bottom Up Development’ (BUD) Team has opened the site pretty much every Saturday since then, growing to include Dan, Darren, Brian, Ian, Andros, Jenny and more all the time.  We’ve had 101 people at site days as well as the 150 who came to our events like Warm Up Ore Valley in November. The land seduces people – everyone who comes falls for it, at least until they get really cold! As the spring arrives, we’re hoping to grow our container into a little homestead.

Meanwhile, Sam Kinch, our community organiser, and his outreach team – Joe and Thilika – have been out knocking doors in the Valley – 1848 of them! Over 400 people in Ore Valley have said they want to be part of it or at the very least kept informed. 277 of them have been ‘listened to’ – a strange idea until you think how rare and wonderful just being listened to is!

One of the most amazing things is that it doesn’t feel like a clique. One of the team told me he feels completely comfortable and welcome turning up. There is an open feeling about the site that quietly welcomes and absorbs newcomers on the same level as anyone else. There’s enough room, it seems to be saying.

Each of us brings our own skills, and we all also bring our demons: that might be being a bit bossy, or it might be a physical or mental health issue. or the situation at home, or previous baggage, or just having bad days. Of course we fight – there are stand-offs and smears and squabbles. This is the stuff of relationships and it’s usually due to a strong sense of ownership. If someone new tries to take over it’s not long before they are told straight that this is a collective effort. Everyone’s welcome and not everyone is the same.

But for now, and by rights forever, the land is ours… and I’m lovin’ it!


Posted in Hastings, JRS website, Ore Valley, Self-renovating neighbourhoods | Leave a comment

1,000 Days

Jericho Road Solutions is 1,000 days old today, and I’m determined to carve out a little time to reflect on the experience and some of the lessons so far.

It’s been an honour to work with ambitious, stubborn, creative leaders in communities across the country, to support them to take action on what matters to them. For me the focus is usually on buildings that are precious to local people but are for some reason ‘stuck’ – through delinquent ownership, unviable renovation costs, conflictual politics, dysfunctional land markets, or any combination of circumstances too risky for the market and too complex for the state.

In my experience, the solutions to these situations can only be devised and led by independent social-mission organisations created by local people. They will not do that alone, but their allies will not be the status-driven ‘regeneration partnerships’ that were such a feature of 1990s/2000s regeneration. Instead they make real action-oriented, risk-sharing relationships that can help deliver the rescue. Sometimes (eg Bognor) that is with the owner or (eg LRFS) potential new owners; sometimes (eg Ancoats, Flimwell) it’s a developer; in Hastings we do joint ventures between social enterprises. The attitude of the local authority always colours the backdrop to our work, where we’re lucky that’s in positive ways!

  • Helping Ancoats Dispensary Trust (Manchester) to partner with igloo regeneration, win £5m of Heritage Lottery money and appoint Karen Houghton as CEO

  • Helping Bognor Pier Trust to raise grant funds and work with the current owner to achieve ‘rescue before ruin’ 


Bognor Regis Pier

  • Helping Our Yard to take on and redevelop Clitterhouse Farm as a base for community business activity in the context of the massive Brent Cross redevelopment

  • Helping Friends of London Road Fire Station in their ultimately successful campaign to shift this beautiful building out of long-term delinquent ownership

  • Helping local residents form Action for St Mary’s Hall in Hastings, seeking to solve the long-standing problem of its dereliction proactively rather than defensively

  • Helping the civic society and cricket club at Mitcham (the oldest cricket ground in the world) to achieve the security it needs to grow into a year-round whole-community resource

Sometimes, rarely, there is a project where the only ‘problem’ is taking up the challenge by putting the very best practice in place

  • Helping the owner/developer of 50 acres of woodland at Flimwell with planning permission for an exciting development of 5 houses, 8 studio workspaces, a large educational building and some overnight accommodation, to make this ‘a community project’.

I love to work directly with local people and neighbourhood groups but it is often frustrating when they all face the same problems whose roots are in policy, legislation, funding structures or wider attitudes. That’s why I also work with government, funders, corporates and academics on programmes, organisations and policy that aim to make it easier on the ground. The Jericho Road is a two-way street between neighbourhood and national.

  • CADO – Community Assets in Difficult Ownership (aka Campaign Against Delinquent Ownership). Highlight and tackle delinquent owners of precious assets. We worked with 10 demonstrator projects providing expert advice, peer learning and small grants to make progress on ‘unsticking’ precious buildings from delinquent ownership. The CADO demonstrators have taught me so much, expanding and embedding my niche but useful knowledge in the field. And, inevitably, I have fallen in love with most of the buildings! 


London Road Fire Station

  • ‘Demeter’ is a concept about the relationship between community and private sector partners – that it’s all about Dating, Mating, Translating, and Relating! The Demeter idea was tested through the BRICK Brokers project (funded by HLF, via PRT and Locality) which provided a broker for four pilot projects to support community-private partnerships around heritage buildings. 


Hades & Persephone – partners from very different cultures!

  • In the first year of Jericho Road I was retained by Locality as Associate Director for Community Organising to support the development of the legacy body (then called CoCo, now CO Ltd). During that time I worked with community organisers to develop this CO Scaffolding diagram. The idea was to fit on a single page something that would be recognized by all community organisers regardless of their background or methods. I’ve used it to structure all kinds of workshops and training and find it works well. All comments would be very welcome. The diagram is licensed ‘creative commons’ so anyone can use it. 

Scaffolding with CC

In the past year Jericho Road has ‘come home to Hastings’. I’m proud that I was able to bring together three social-mission organisations – JRS, Meanwhile Space and White Rock Trust – in the purchase and redevelopment of Rock House. It’s been an incredible journey so far; every day brings new levels of stress and new highs from watching this mad, risky, wonderful project take shape.


Rock House – Endless Possibilities


But just as, for me, Hastings Pier was most important as a symbol of community tenacity, Rock House is the pathfinder for a bigger prize – the development of the Heart of Hastings Community Land Trust with its two pillars:

  • buying property into community freehold in the White Rock area, including renovating difficult buildings, and then capping rents to make sure there are always affordable places to live and work.
  • promoting community self-build in Ore Valley, using the Organisation Workshop to transform hopeless derelict space, change people’s lives and build new collective community enterprises


“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places plains, and the crooked places will be made straight.” Martin Luther King, August 28 1963. Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.

Are we any closer to ‘exalting the valleys’ or transforming the Jericho Road? Maybe we’re closer to having the ambition and the tools to do so. If there is one capacity I aim to build in the people I work with it is AGENCY – the ability to believe you can do something. On the 1,000th day I want to pay tribute to all the ‘ordinary’ people who simply wont take no for an answer, and hope that I have helped to build their credibility, capability and above all, confidence.


Posted in Hastings, Jericho Road Solutions, Self-renovating neighbourhoods, Thinking | Leave a comment

New Year’s Honours

I am delighted to have been awarded an OBE for Services to Community Assets in the New Year’s Honours list, largely for my role in the rescue of Hastings Pier from closure in 2006 to reopening in 2016.

Jericho Road Solutions helps local leaders across the country to take on challenging buildings that they care about.

Looking forward to many more exciting projects in 2016!

Posted in JRS website, Uncategorized | 1 Comment