Re-start the heart of neighbourhood

White Rock Trust directors outside the old Observer building.  Jess Steele, Steve Wyler, Ray Chapman, Ed Lofts and Esther Brown

White Rock Trust directors outside the old Observer building. Jess Steele, Steve Wyler, Ray Chapman, Ed Lofts and Esther Brown

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TODAY marks the launch of a Hastings Observer backed campaign to save our former offices in Cambridge Road, and rejuvenate the wider White Rock neighbourhood.

This campaign is not just about one building, but an entire area in need. However the 41,000 sq ft derelict structure is at its heart.

Currently owned by investment bank Investec, the imposing building, which was built by FJ Parsons and served as the Observer offices and printworks for decades, has changed hands several times since, but has lain empty for the last 25 years.

The White Rock Trust has now handed over the pier project to Hastings Pier Charity for implementation, dropped “Hastings Pier” from its title, and turned its attention to the wider neighbourhood, including working towards ownership and redevelopment of the Observer building.

Jess Steele, a director of the White Rock Trust, said: “We are focused on how to make sure the rest of the town but particularly the White Rock area, benefits from the changes that the pier will bring. What we need is a bit of collective planning involving businesses, residents, and institutional stakeholders.

“The Observer building is the rotting heart of the neighbourhood at the moment; it could be the vibrant heart.”

The building is of considerable interest to the community, not only because of its prominent location and untapped potential, but its history as a key place of employment and social interaction.

In December last year, more than 500 signatures were collected in the space of a week in support of a Hastings Trust campaign to have the building declared an Asset of Community Value.

Key to rejuvenating the neighbourhood, which is a mix of shops, bars, public buildings, churches, and housing, is community support, from residents and businesses alike, and for this reason the trust has put forward the idea of a Neighbourhood Plan.

The trust held a meeting last Thursday (October 10) also attended by members of Castle Ward Forum and the White Rock and America Ground Business Group, to discuss the way forward.

Clare Wright, from Locality, a network for community-led organisations, explained the concept of a Neighbourhood Plan, brought into being by the Localism Act of 2011.

She said: “For the first time in 60 years, local people can come together if they wish to make a plan for how they want their area to be developed.”

If a Neighbourhood Plan is approved, district planners are obliged to support it.

In the case of the White Rock area there are many details left to work out, but at last Thursday’s meeting it was agreed in principle by the White Rock Trust, Castle Ward Forum, and the White Rock and America Ground Business Group, to work towards a Neighbourhood Plan, and there is to be a further meeting next month.

Castle Ward councillor Judy Rogers said: “I think everyone is agreed that we need to see something happen with the Observer building.

“If we can regenerate community spirit and pride, the project will be a success whether or not a Neighbourhood Plan is the outcome.”

The trust has taken on a meanwhile lease of the basement of Rothermere House, accessed via the alleyway adjacent to the Observer building, which will be a hub for community activities.

Email membership of the White Rock Trust is free. Email to info@whiterocktrust.org.uk. Postal membership is £5 per year. Cheques payable to “White Rock Trust”. Write to The White Rock Trust c/o The White Rock Hotel, 1-10 White Rock, Hastings.