Hastings Pier had suffered from years of private under-investment and damage from fire before it was rescued by Hastings Pier Charity and White Rock Trust.
Ownership was achieved by working in partnership with Hastings Borough Council to obtain a compulsory purchase order (CPO). Investment from charitable funders and community shares is enabling the repair of the Victorian structure to create a 'People's Pier'.
Hastings Pier was built under an Act of Parliament and opened on 5 August 1872 on one of Britain's first ever bank holidays. The 'peerless pier' became one of the busiest on the south coast, flourishing during the Victorian seaside tourist boom. In later years it was popular as a venue for acts such as the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd.
By the 1990s it had suffered storm damage and neglect from a succession of private owners, which resulted in its closure between 1999 and 2002 due to a change in ownership, and then again from 2006 after it was deemed unsafe. The fight to save the pier began in 2008 and, like many campaigns, an initial 'Friends of Hastings Pier' group developed into a more formal and incorporated development trust as the campaign gathered pace.
Hastings Pier and White Rock Trust (HPWRT) undertook considerable work initially to put the project on the political map and secure the support of local MPs. The group were able to convince Hastings Borough Council to make a CPO and sell the Pier immediately afterwards for £1 to the Hastings Pier Charity, a new charitable organisation set up to take ownership. To minimise risk to the Council, this 'back-to-back' agreement was dependent on the group demonstrating that they had sufficient expertise and financial resources to manage the refurbishment. Support to develop a robust business plan was provided by a feasibility grant of £75,000 from the Social Investment Business (SIB) Communitybuilders programme.
On the night of 5 October 2010, a suspected arson attack ravaged the pier and destroyed 95% of the superstructure. Hastings Borough Council immediately set about making the structure safe, and urgent remedial works were carried out with the contribution of a £100,000 grant from English Heritage and advice from the EH Engineering Team. A further EH grant of £20,000 helped to fund one structural survey to ascertain the extent of fire damage to the cast iron frame and prepare another on which a repair programme would be based. The HPWRT engineers ascertained that the cast iron and steel skeleton was still sound, meaning the pier could potentially be rescued. Later that year HPWRT applied for an £8.7m Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant to try and secure the majority of the funding necessary to rebuild the pier. In April 2011 HPWRT were awarded HLF Round One funding, and given two years and a £340,000 development grant to submit a full proposal.
Since the fire the owners Ravenclaw (a company registered in Panama) had failed to respond to any of the council's letters, and in December 2011 Hastings Borough Council initiated the CPO process. The CPO was confirmed in 2012 by the Secretary of State without need for a public enquiry and the legal framework was in place to purchase the pier.
HPWRT submitted their final increased bid to HLF in August 2012 and a few months later Hastings got the news it had been waiting for: the full grant of £11.4m had been awarded. By May 2013 the additional £2.5m of funding from other sources was secured and HLF gave permission to start the works. With the general vesting conditions met, the CPO powers were enforced by the council and the freehold was transferred to Hastings Pier Charity on 14 August 2013.
A successful model
Refurbishment of the pier is now under way and is due to open in the summer of 2015. £8m of the project budget is being used to repair the ironwork substructure.
The previous layout of the pier was inflexible and over-developed, but the refurbished pier will include a new visitors' centre and a redeveloped pavilion, and will have more flexible outdoor space for visiting circuses, funfairs, festivals and open-air cinema events.
To ensure the pier is entirely self-funding, the Charity is developing partnerships with third-party organisations to create a dynamic and seasonal programme of events.
In the past the ownership of the pier has been a contentious issue, with a succession of private companies failing to generate and re-invest surpluses to maintain the town's iconic asset. The business model adopted by Hastings Pier Charity will reinvest all profits in the pier's maintenance.
Creation of a 'People's Pier', owned by local residents and businesses, is central to the vision and so the group were keen to offer a community share scheme.
Rather than dissolving the Charity and setting up a new legal entity, Hastings Pier Charity negotiated with the Charity Commission to make the transition from a Charity and Company Limited by Guarantee to a Community Benefit Society (Bencom), a form of Industrial and Provident Society with exempt Charity status (the first organisation to make such a transition following the Charities Act 2011).
The community share scheme closed in spring 2014 and has raised over £550,000 and created 3,000 shareholders. This has bridged the funding gap, generated working capital and most importantly has created a broad base of active members.
The CEO of Hastings Pier Charity, Simon Opie, believes a key to the project's success has been to stay flexible and re-engineer the plan to respond to changing circumstances.
Connecting into group wisdom has also been crucial, with the group receiving support from many organisations including the Community Shares Unit, Locality and Co-operatives UK. Seeking advice from groups that are on similar journeys, such as FC United in Manchester, has provided the group with the inspiration to keep going, knowing that they are not alone in breaking new ground.
The group has received local, regional and national support and substantial financial grant and loan funding totalling over £14m. This includes: English Heritage (£20,000); HLF (£11.4m); SIB Communitybuilders (£250,000); Coastal Communities Fund (£750,000); Architectural Heritage Fund (£350,000); Hastings Borough Council (£250,000); and Social Investment Business Community Assets Capital Grant (£500,000).
To ensure that the pier has a vibrant economic future the Charity is planning to invest the money raised through community shares in a range of income-generating assets on the pier. Ideas include the development of a micro-brewery, a children's play area, and a merchandising operation.