New chief speaks out after pier’s ‘challenging’ first year

Pier of the Year presentation to Hastings Pier. Photo by Sid Saunders. SUS-170704-094928001
Pier of the Year presentation to Hastings Pier. Photo by Sid Saunders. SUS-170704-094928001

The CEO of Hastings Pier has spoken out about the attraction’s financial situation, after admitting to shareholders that the pier had faced a ‘challenging’ first 12 months.

In an exclusive interview, Jo Stewart told the Observer the charity was working towards a stronger financial situation, despite opening last spring with a quarter of a million pounds less than expected in its commercial budget.

Previous CEO Simon Opie led the project to restore the pier back to its former glory after it was devastated by fire in October 2010.

But a ferocious storm during the building work put the pier’s opening back by several months and saw £250,000 taken from the operating budget as an emergency measure.

Jo, who took over as CEO in March, explained: “There was a big storm halfway though the building, which cost a lot of money.

“We had to bring in a big floating crane which costs thousands of pounds a day to hire. It was a specialist piece of equipment.

“Because the pier opened a year later than planned, we had to insure the pier for a year longer as a construction site.

“So once we were open, we were already £250,000 short.”

The pier was left without a CEO for several months following the departure of Mr Opie and Jo officially took over the role at the beginning of last month.

Prior to this, she spent a couple of months working with pier trustees to put together a new business plan.

It costs approximately £700,000 a year to keep the pier going.

Much of that money goes on maintenance underneath the pier, including the annual replacement of 20,000 nuts and bolts under the structure.

Jo said: “It may not look like it costs lots to run, but it does.”

She added: “With every new business that starts out, you have to find a good working model.

“We have made mistakes. We will make mistakes in the future, as every business does, but we have to try everything to find out what works for the pier.

“Moving a business from basically a construction site to a commercial visitor attraction is quite an undertaking and the money has been tight.

“There was a gap between CEOs and there was the overspend issue because of building issues.

“But we think we are coming out of it now and hopefully going forward, and with the help of future grants and a more solid business model we can see it’s a sustainable business.”

Jo says she is “really grateful” to the “amazing” shareholders, and praised the band of dedicated volunteers who play “a massive part in the pier running successfully”.

She said: “There’s light at the end of the tunnel now.

“I can see a really good future for it.

“Going forward, depending on money, I would like to light the pier. And we are looking to buy a big temporary structure we can put up and down for big events.”

But these plans depend on the public’s generosity and successful grant applications.

Jo said: “We are a charity and we are going to continually be relying on grants and donations.

“We hope to become self-funding but until we are, we are going to be relying very much on other people.”

BIG EVENTS PLANNED FOR PIER

There is a bumper crop of events planned for Hastings Pier this summer season, with something to suit all tastes.

The management is currently in negotiations with some top music acts for a gig to coincide with the town’s first Pride event in late August.

Meanwhile, tickets are selling well for Beano On The Sea, a three-day music festival on September 8, 9 and 10 featuring some of the best indie bands of the 1990s, including headliners The Bluetones and Lightning Seeds.

A third headliner is due to be announced shortly, with rumours of a big name in the pipeline.

Wayne Hemmingway’s Classic Car Boot Sale is somewhat of a coup for the pier and will see 100 vintage cars roll up on July 8 and 9 with vintage and designer craftsmen and women selling their wares.

Those stuck for something to do over Father’s Day weekend (June 17-18) could visit the Street Food Festival.

And starting next month, a series of open air film screenings is sure to be popular.

The cinema is sponsored by BMW Mini which will provide some stylish vehicles to all VIP guests to watch the movie in style, with fish and chips and a glass of bubbly delivered to your seat.

For full details, or for other events on the pier, visit www.hastingspier.org.uk.