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The second floor of the Observer Building

An inside look at the Observer Building

Embracing historical features, the Observer Building is set to be regenerated, becoming a live, work and leisure space. HOT’s Vicky Huggins takes a tour round the building to find out more: she also took the photos.

Despite its chequered history following closure in 1984, White Rock Neighbourhood Ventures (WRNV) plans to rejuvenate the Observer Building, creating a focal point for Trinity Triangle where people can live and work and that provides visitors with a cultural draw.

During its period of closure, the Observer Building was bought and sold various times, with previous owners frequently putting it back on the market once planning permission was received.

Jay Simpson, administrator at WRNV, told HOT, “People in Hastings have had their hopes raised before, and they’ve been let down by f

ormer owners. Our message is: this is going to happen, and we’re looking forward to the benefits for the town.”

The vaults and alley level

A corridor that runs into the cliff face features a focal point for local artists to display work.

This area will be a public leisure space, including a 1066 Crossfit gym and a microbrewery. The latter will also be a place for people to buy drinks and socialise. There will also be tables and chairs for alley events.

Many original features of the space are to be kept, including the exposed brickwork. Ironwork from the original machines that runs along the ceilings will be retained and cleaned.

There is a blast-proof door, which goes back to the war when the space was briefly used as an air raid shelter. This will be relocated elsewhere in the building but the archway above will be restored.

The caves down the alley are to be opened up and some used as storage for bins, helping to clean up the outside alley area. Other opened caves may feature a barbeque space or wood-burning pizza oven.

The mezzanine floor

The mezzanine floor is the upper basement between the alley level and the ground floor. It will be home to a marketplace with 15 small independent units.

A lift shaft for the original executives only lift hangs down from the ceiling and won’t be reinstated. Instead an additional staircase will be put in its place, opening into the middle of the market area.

The space is difficult to work with as there are load-bearing walls, but windows will be added to these to extend the natural light.

The ground floor

The original plans for the ground floor had to be scuppered to make way for a new and extensive substation which will be installed as there is currently no power supply to the building. A quarter to a third of the space will be used for a cafe. The remaining space may be used as a private hire event space, but this is subject to change – WRNV are open to proposals from local organisations.

The area will also feature two business incubator units with financial support from  WRNV. These will be spaces for small startups to try out their business ideas without being tied into long leases.

Coming in via the main entrance on Cambridge Road leads you to the  staircase and lift, which were in their time only used by executive staff. Both are to be restored, keeping the original handrail.

The first floor

Props for a planned Christmas 2020 event, scheduled to go ahead if and when Hastings emerges from lockdown.

This floor is home to what was the executive board room and will now become a hireable meeting and function room. It has good natural light and the view hasn’t changed for nearly 100 years.

The original door and wood surround will stay in place and an additional door will be added. This will either be a new door built to the spec of the existing door or a similar door will be sourced.

Using the Rock House model, the first floor will also feature a co-working, rent-a-desk space with an extensive kitchen for commercial tenants.

With a quarter of a million pounds having already been spent on structural repairs, tendering went out to contractors in early November. Work to the basement, mezzanine, ground and first floors, as well as the roof and outside of the building, will start in January 2021.

This first phase is fully funded by Historic England, Connecting Hastings and Rother Together (Chart)/European Regional Development Fund (£405,000) and South-East Local Enterprise Partnership (loan of £1.75m). Work is planned to be completed in March 2022 when the building will open to the public.

Second and third floors

Having secured further funding, WRVN has begun developing the technical designs for the second and third floor with building work due to start as soon as the first phase is complete. Construction on these floors will hopefully be completed early 2023.

The second and third floors will be residential space featuring a mix of 15 studio, one and two-bed flats. The flats will be dual aspect, meaning there will be windows on both sides to allow for plenty of natural light. With planning permission already secured, the entrances to second floor flats will be from a newly constructed external balcony, along the ‘Gotham’ alley side of the building.

The technical spec for the third floor is not finished, but as it is a smaller space it will exclusively feature studio and one-bed flats with indoor entrances.

Buckets and troughs cover the third floor to catch water dripping from the leaking corrugated roof.

One flat will be constructed so it is suitable for a person with complex needs and will include an annexed flat for a live-in carer.

Rhonda MacLean, WRVN’s project support officer, revealed that, “The impact of Covid-19 means that we have had delays in the planning and design process.”

Of the two lift shafts, one will be restored. It comes out into the lobby on the second floor, allowing residents access to the outside balcony and walkway, where the entrances for the homes will be located.

Fourth floor: the rooftop bar

The view from what will become the rooftop bar.

To the south of the fourth floor, an area will be converted into a public rooftop bar with far-reaching views out to sea and towards Hastings Castle. Replacing an old corrugated roof, the rest of the fourth floor will become a rooftop garden, running the full length of the building.

Following an acoustic survey, measures are being taken to ensure that there will be no noise issues for nearby residents and residents living below. These include insulation to the walls and the ceiling of the third floor, as well as replacing the windows with new soundproof ones.

For the Town

Jay said, Whether you want somewhere to live, open your own business, collaborate with like-minded people, or simply “hang out”, the OB will have it all.”

Working with IF_DO architects, WRNV is fully renovating the OB, ensuring cost efficiency with an environmentally friendly approach. The building will be fully accessible throughout.

Rhonda added, “It’s going to create opportunities for local people, and independent businesses post-development. It can only boost the local economy.”


Posted 11:13 Thursday, Nov 12, 2020 In: Home Ground

1 Comment

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  1. ken davis

    This is a truly wonderful project! I recall going in to the building back in the early 70s when my father was a monotype keyboard operator there, the workplace conditions were awful. To see what was in effect a derelict building being brought back into use marks an historic achievement. The use of the rooftop as an outside space is particularly good in terms of creating an attractive venue for the town. Well done the WRNV team, medals and awards all round methinks!!

    Comment by ken davis — Friday, Nov 13, 2020 @ 08:55

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