Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
The unmistakable facade of the Observer building.

The unmistakable facade of the Observer building. Next door stands born-again Rock House.

New future about to unfold for Observer building

A new future is about to open up for the former Observer building in Cambridge Road following the exchange of contracts between White Rock Neighbourhood Ventures and the previous owner. A 10-year project to transform the building is envisaged, with a £10,000 Crowdfunder appeal to help kick-start the work. Nick Terdre reports.

The £1.15 million purchase of the former Observer building (OB) at 53 Cambridge Road is now in the bag following the exchange of contracts between White Rock Neighbourhood Ventures (WRNV) and previous owner Flint Group, which in 2018 was granted planning permission for a mixed-use development.

The building is next door to WRNV’s flagship venture, Rock House, which the community-rooted development company, as it describes itself, has transformed from a run-down nine-storey office block into a “creative and collaborative, mixed-use hub which now houses 45 businesses and 10 residents, all at rents capped to remain affordable in perpetuity.”

The born-again building has in turn inspired the development of an ‘eco-system’ of disntinctive buildings with shared values. These include The Caves in the alley behind Claremont, which was recently purchased by WRNV, 39 Cambridge Road, which has been turned into affordable flats by Heart of Hastings Community Land Trust, and 12 Claremont, which is to be jointly developed by HoH and Project Artworks, communications lead Beth Woolf tells HOT. OB will add hugely to this offer, she says.

Life-changing opportunities for local people

“As well as rescuing this beautiful building after 34 years of dereliction, we want it to provide life-changing opportunities for local people – both during the renovation and through the long-term uses,” says project champion Jess Steele. “While we have a great team, strong partnerships and a deep understanding of the neighbourhood, this will only be successful if local people, businesses and organisations support it.”

Team members: John Brunton, left, Jess Steele and Beth Woolf.

Team members: John Brunton, left, Jess Steele and Beth Woolf.

While it is expected to take 10 years for the building to be transformed for its community future, development plans have been identified for the short, medium and long term. Initial proposed uses include leisure use on the basement, mezzanine and ground floors, work pods and offices on the first floor, artist-maker spaces on the second floor, plus a construction workshop to support the renovation, and a roof garden and common room with bar looking out to sea on the fourth floor once the roof is removed.

Later the second and third floors will be converted to flats to be let out at capped rents – work is due to begin in 2021. Eventually, WRNV says, it may look to build above the fourth floor, in line with the planning permission, possibly adding two more floors of flats for market rent or sale, which could clear the debt on the development project.

In the meantime some spaces could be available for hire before longer-term tenants move in as from July. An operator is also being sought to manage the artist-maker space. “With 55 expressions of interest for long-term tenancies from this summer and 11 enquiries about hiring the space for a rich mixture of events, the new team are looking forward to filling the space with life, community and vibrancy,” WRNV says.

“We want to enliven the space as soon as possible with what already makes Hastings great – art, culture and quirkiness,” says Woolf. “We’re loving collaborating with some talented local people. We’ve been humbled by both old and new friends coming forward to galvanise around the Observer Building project and we are so grateful for their support so far to make the project a success.”

Questions, suggestions, ideas and thoughts can be submitted via the project website. Contributions are also requested to the Crowdfunder, through which the team hopes to raise £10,000 to get immediate works under way and show larger funders how much the local community wants the project to succeed (pledges are due by midday on Friday 8 March). A series of locally-sourced rewards are on offer to contributors.





Posted 08:49 Thursday, Feb 14, 2019 In: Home Ground


Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Ms.Doubtfire

    Ten years to finish this project? And only £10k to ‘kick start’ this project?
    Something does not sound quite right here and one can only hope that this innovative project does not end up in the same way as previous projects.
    All the plans in the pipe line are going to cost a huge amount of money. And as Kendal points out it is a real concern that this privately owned premises could use public monies to get free renovation and then sell it on for profit. There has to be some clause whereby this cannot happen. This building has a very chequered history and I am not convinced that what is proposed is going to happen. We need to know how much has been borrowed to buy this place and how the loan will be repaid.

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Friday, Feb 22, 2019 @ 11:51

  2. Kendal

    if it stays a community facility it is a fantastic project and well worth supporting, but we all thought that about the previous use and private money went into it. i confess to knowing little about the new owners so possibly premature concern. hands up.

    Comment by Kendal — Wednesday, Feb 20, 2019 @ 10:56

  3. Kendal

    apologies – from the new owners WRNV of course,

    Comment by Kendal — Wednesday, Feb 20, 2019 @ 10:51

  4. Kendal

    i think people will want to see contracts for the”long-term” community use before parting with money to renovate this PRIVATE building. who is to say this is not a ploy by the owners to get FREE renovation, only to repurpose the building for commercial profit down the line?

    Comment by Kendal — Wednesday, Feb 20, 2019 @ 10:48

  5. Eye on the ball

    Great work by the WRNV. It is good to hear a good news story. Wishing you every success with the project.

    Comment by Eye on the ball — Tuesday, Feb 19, 2019 @ 14:51

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