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Jess Steele in the rentable Rose Cottage space.

Commons talk with Jess Steele

Sharon Rhodes finds out directly from Jess Steele OBE about the Hastings Commons and the latest on the Observer Building, including the Hastings Commons Open Day planned for Friday 10 September.

SR: Jess, please explain to me what is ‘the Hastings Commons’?

JS: The Hastings Commons is a set of resources of places, buildings, and also a way of acting. The way of behaving is called Commoning, and it’s about working together to get good things done. Part of the Hastings Commons is the Heart of Hastings Community Land Trust, and that’s about making sure that the good things last for a long time. You put those properties into Land Trust ownership, and that means that local people will always have a right to influence and become part of what happens with those buildings, long after we’re all gone. I’m interested in three kinds of time. Meanwhile uses are what you get on with straight away. Then the human lifespan, children growing up, going through transitions, growing old and what people need through life. And then the ‘100 year horizon’ which stretches beyond any of our lives. The community land trust is for the long, long term, and we’re obviously doing a lot of work right now in that meanwhile phase, but we also aim to provide homes, workspaces, jobs, training, business support, project support, things that help people make their own way through their lives, rather than services to people. Everything we do aims to provide space and support for people to get on with and extend what they want to do.

Properties that make up Hastings Commons

Who makes up Hastings Commons at present?

The Hastings Commons is really a vision for the longer term, and the thing that is making it is a group of organisations that we call an ecosystem. And we call it that because it’s not fixed, it’s growing and changing over time. Two of the core elements are: Heart of Hastings Community Land Trust and White Rock Neighbourhood Ventures, which is a social enterprise developer that’s owned partly by the land trust, partly by Jericho Road Solutions and partly by Meanwhile Space.

We treat the various organisations as the tools in the box that will achieve the wider vision. Each has a particular role to play. This is constantly changing, because we’ve gone from being the owner of a 9-storey office block, which we were able to renovate to high quality but very cheaply because we took a community route to that. Now between us we own the Observer Building as well as the caves in the alley and Rose Cottage plus we’re taking on 12 Claremont. These are all being taken into ‘custodian ownership’, on the way to being long term community owned through the community land trust.

Each building throws up different challenges and risks which is why it’s important that we get them to ‘steady state’ before the land trust takes full ownership. And each month we evolve collectively, the different organisations and the different people involved changes and is open to change, open to new people coming forward and becoming involved. That’s how we work – we call it ‘organic phased development’.

Which brings us to the Observer Building. What’s happening right now?

There’s so much going on right now, the front is being cleaned and that’s revealing each of the little defects that are then going to be lovingly restored. The roof has been cleared off completely now and is basically back to what it was when the building was first built. We’ve kept the structural steel so it will be very interesting space up there. Our contractors, 8Build, are getting on with works throughout the building. We’ve been lucky to be awarded some further funding, which allows us to move into phase two, which are the upper floor. That means we won’t need to take the scaffolding down and then have to put it back up again. So the scaffolding is going to stay up longer than we had originally thought. The building will be able to open but we’ll still be busy doing the top two floors. Unfortunately that’s just the way it works with the funding, which comes in these stages one bit at a time that don’t necessarily match what you’d do if you could do it all at once.

So what’s the first bit that’s going to be open at the Observer Building and when?

Next summer people can expect to see both the ground floor and the alley level in action but there will still be scaffolding on the building.

New tenants for 10 Claremont – getting ready to open ‘Cheese on Sea’!

What’s happening in Claremont and The Alley?

Over the lockdown periods, we were able to get some money from the Accelerated Town Fund which allowed us to do loads of work in the Lower Alley which is The Caves and 10 Claremont and the spaces in between them. These spaces were very rundown and filthy, and now are beautiful patio gardens all planted up. 10 Claremont has now got planning permission to return to being a shop so we’re looking forward to opening it with Cheese On Sea as our first tenants. We’ve deliberately designed the shop so it creates a route through from Claremont into this wonderful space. This will be the first time that the Alley has been created as a circuit, something you can go in one end and out the other, rather than a dead end. We hope that lots of people will come and admire it and enjoy it, and come up with ideas for it. This is by no means a finished product.

Leigh Dyer’s metalwork in The Alley.

Also we’ve stabilised the cliff and the caves, opened them out completely, sand-blasted them back to the beautiful brickwork. They’re now safe and usable, and now we want to see what people want to do. So, come and look, and bring an open mind.

Let’s talk about the Common Room and the Hastings Commons Open Day!

The Common Room is the ground floor space in Eagle House which is the historic name for the old Dalton’s carpet and furniture shop on Cambridge Road opposite ESK. It’s really an offer to the town, a different kind of space, a space for people to relax, have a cup of tea, but not have to buy anything, not have to spend money. It’s a kind of public living room where people can sit down, rest, relax, chat, no expectations, a nice comfy space with sofas, maybe some cake if someone brings one. Another part of the same floor will be a kind of information space. So if you want to find out more, whether it’s about the Hastings Commons or about other things going on in town, you can choose to go into that information space, and find out more, give your views, and get involved.

On Friday 10 September, we’re having a first Hastings Commons Open Day centred around the Common Room which will be open to the public. There will be two tours of the Observer Building in the morning and then a History tour by Steve Peak at 12 noon. The Common Room will be open from 1pm, with some refreshments and at 2pm Maff Potts from Camerados will talk about their experience of public living rooms and asking if it’s the kind of approach that people in Hastings want.

At 3pm on Friday 10 September there’s a Hastings Commons Tour with Jay Simpson of White Rock Neighbourhood Ventures. Follow this link to see the schedule for the day.

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Posted 20:10 Sunday, Aug 29, 2021 In: Home Ground

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