As we approach Easter and the first warm sunshine brings out the daffodils along with the new season’s tourists, Hastings starts to unfurl for the new season.
Our seafront plants always suffer in winter. It’s a hostile environment. But our sustainable planting along the seafront is returning to life, with even the somewhat battered ‘palm trees’ by the pier (they’re Cordylines rather than palms) showing signs of new growth. Hastings Pier is preparing for a programme of spring and summer events, and the new kiosk, run by The Source skateboard park, has now opened there. And there’s a new kiosk opening soon, by the historic weather station half way along the upper promenade, with Calypso kayak hire returning beneath at Easter.
Along at the Stade, the Mid-Summer Fish Festival and Seafood & Wine Festival will return, as well as the council’s Stade Saturdays programme of music and live entertainment. Indeed, Hastings has a growing reputation as a ‘music town’, with events from Fat Tuesday week right through the summer, including BBC ‘Introducing’, highlighting new music at the Palace, with live music by upcoming local bands at venues right across the town.
There will be a full programme of visual arts too, including exhibitions at the Jerwood and many other galleries, and of course the Coastal Currents arts festival in September.
Then there’s our established programme of local events, organised and run by local volunteers, many of them funded or supported by the council. So once again Hastings will be the stage for Jack-in-the-Green, Carnival, Bonfire, the Trolley Bus show, the Classic Car Show, and many more. And we have a fabulous variety of cultural assets, from historic buildings at Hastings Castle, Marine Court, Pelham Crescent and Burton St Leonards, to our atmospheric and evocative parks and open spaces.
But there’s plenty more we need to do. We need more overnight tourist accommodation so visitors can stay longer. More ‘boutique’ hotels are opening, which is good, but we need in particular small, high-quality self-catering accommodation. The council is considering possible sites for ‘glamping’ pods (small self-contained, self-catering chalets), but we need more. And we haven’t forgotten the seafront mini-tram … with so much going on right along the seafront, that becomes much easier to fund.
While tourism, linked to the cultural regeneration programme, is critically important to the town’s economy, we mustn’t forget those who live here too, especially in those Hastings neighbourhoods that suffer some of the worst deprivation in the country. We need to involve them, to make sure all that Hastings has to offer is available to them too. We need to break the cycles of unemployment and poverty. Linking cultural regeneration to other initiatives aimed at improving education, health, and skills in the most deprived neighbourhoods can help.
So I’m pleased that despite huge cuts in our government funding, we’ve been able to maintain our support for a significant programme of events and activities, and will still be driving forward our cultural regeneration strategy. Cuts to public services, Brexit, and an uncertain economic future make it hard to plan. But with partners in the public, private and community sectors, we’ll do all we can to keep Hastings special, to promote its vibrancy, its creativity, and its eccentricity. And we’ll do all we can to make sure the rest of the world knows about it!