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White Rock Trust will soon base itself at the newly refurbished Rock House (image: WRT).

White Rock Trust will soon base itself at the newly refurbished Rock House (image: WRT).

White Rock Trust ready to fulfil regeneration mission from new base in Rock House

When Hastings’ reborn pier opens for business next year, the 325,000 visitors it is expected to attract to the town offer a great potential boost for regeneration. And capturing regeneration potential in its area is the mission of the White Rock Trust, which is preparing to move into a new base. Trust coordinator, Ed Lofts, explains all to Nick Terdre.

The pier is a central feature in the White Rock area, which to the south is bounded by the sea front from Havelock Road to Warrior Square, and to the north by Bohemia Road. Other major assets include White Rock Theatre, White Rock Hotel and the former White Rock Baths, now being converted into a BMX and skate-boarding park.

Image: WRT

Image: WRT

White Rock Trust calls itself “midwife to the rescue of Hastings Pier”; its roots go back to the Friends of Hastings Pier which was set up by local people in 2006 and became the Hastings Pier and White Rock Trust in early 2008. But once the ownership problem had been solved through compulsory purchase and £14 million of funding for restoration had been secured, the pier was hived off into a separate project – Hastings Pier Charity – and what was left became the White Rock Trust.

Into the future with Rock House

The Trust, which has been homeless for a while, is now on the cusp of a new phase with its own headquarters and financial base. Its future is firmly based on the aptly named Rock House in Cambridge Road, previously run-down and underused, but now owned by a three-way partnership between the Trust, Jericho Road Solutions – which is run by Jess Steele – and the community interest company, Meanwhile Space. The Trust was able to pay for its share thanks to a grant from Power to Change, which channels Lottery funds to community businesses.

Rock House, which boasts the fastest broadband in Hastings, is already a hive of activity – the middle three floors have been rented to a mix of creative enterprises (including the Old Bakers, a motley collection of creatives including several HOT colleagues), while two of the upper floors are being turned into flats which will be let in the new year at affordable rents, capped so that they only rise with inflation.

Part of the ground floor will become WRT’s headquarters and a free project space for local community activity, while the other section will be occupied by 20 desks to be rented out to all kinds of local entrepreneurs at £125 a month all-in. This will provide the Trust with an income stream which will enable it to expand its activities and hopefully pay Ed’s salary – at present he is funded by a grant from Coastal Communities.

Ed Lofts, project coordinator, outside Rock House.

Ed Lofts, trust coordinator, outside Rock House.

The Trust also had its eye on the unused former Observer building next door, but after being sold at auction this ended up in the hands of Jeff Kirby’s Flint Development Group. Flint now has a temporary base in Rock House as it seeks planning permission to redevelop the Observer building and provides space for art exhibitions and community group events on the first two floors under a temporary licence.

Making the most of visitor potential

So how can the White Rock area in particular and the town in general benefit from the annual 325,000 visitors who are expected to flock to Hastings when the pier is back in business? At present, visitors bypass most of the White Rock area. They largely stick to the sea-front, with forays into the town centre and Old Town – those coming by car use one of the sea front car parks, while visitors arriving by train mostly go directly to the sea front via Havelock Road.

How to get visitors to wander around more, enjoy the neighbourhood and support the local economy? This is the subject of the White Rock Area Action Plan, involving a partnership between local businesses and hotels, the Freedom Leisure group which runs the Summerfields and Falaise activity centres, the council, local public services like the fire, police and ambulance, and WRT. The Trust has a key role here, working as the outreach arm for the emerging plan, liaising with local people and businesses, knocking on doors, talking to people in the street and asking for their ideas. Community involvement in drawing up the plan is seen as vital to its success, Ed says.

Among ideas which have been thrown up are marking new routes to the sea with a series of artworks on buildings to draw the visitors along, and a funicular railway down the slopes of White Rock Gardens. This naturally segues into the wider question of how to propel visitors round town more widely – perhaps dedicated transport along the whole of the sea-front is required, such as a tram or a train running from Rock-A-Nore in the east to West St Leonards?

The Trust is currently working on options, drawing on people’s ideas, concerns and visions. The timetable is tight – the aim is to have a plan, including provisions for community engagement, agreed with the council by March and then implemented in the course of 2016.

Play group project

The Trust also supports smaller projects for benefiting the local community. An interesting initiative was undertaken during this year’s summer holidays when the White Rock Gardens group was set up to provide play opportunities for younger children in the disused tennis courts. Ed is keen to emphasise that this came about because the Trust engaged with local residents. “We knocked on their doors and listened to what they had to say. They told us there was nothing for younger children.” When they saw the chance of something happening, the residents, mainly of course mothers, also became engaged. The play groups were a success and more ambitious plans are being drawn up for next year’s summer holidays.

In addition to Ed, the Trust counts on half a dozen unpaid directors or trustees, mostly local people with a business or public service background, and a couple of volunteers. A certain turnover of trustees is encouraged to avoid stagnation, Ed says.

Although an independent initiative, the Trust naturally has regular dealings with the council, with which it has established a good working relationship. In fact it has been able to advise the council on how to get on better with the people it represents. “We’ve told the council they need to listen more,” Ed says. “And they recognise that they need to change.”

Local residents can make their views count, Ed says – he cites the case of 101 Cambridge Road as an example of successful opposition to an unpopular development in which the Trust played a part. 101 Cambridge Road was a large residence whose new owner applied to turn it into a house of multiple occupation – HMO. Local people resisted the plan and came to the Trust for support in mounting a petition. “We became the medium between the two sides,” Ed says. In the event the application was turned down and an appeal failed. “The council will listen if you follow the right procedures,” Ed says.

White Rock Trust

You can contact Ed Lofts on ed@whiterocktrust.org.uk

See here if you’re interested in taking one of the 20 desks to be let to local entrepreneurs.

Posted 17:30 Tuesday, Dec 8, 2015 In: Home Ground

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