Success is now the challenge

Hastings Pier is now open as part of a phased opening period over the next week or so as works complete.

Initially, the Pavilion bar and restaurant will open, plus the full 272m of pier, the funfair and several of the kiosks.

The Deck at Hastings Pier will be open over the next few days and everything will be fully complete in time for the open-air cinema season starting May 12.

The vision set for Hastings Pier is for a very modern attraction that also draws on its strong and popular heritage. An important aim is to recapture its creator, Eugenius Birch’s, elegant and open feel; a large social space that encourages promenading which is so beloved of the English pier.

Heritage Lottery Fund is providing 80 per cent of the more than £14m total that the project cost and now, rebuilt and reopen, the pier must become financially viable if it is to survive another 140 years.

So it must consistently attract large numbers of visitors and particularly repeat visitors, from both Hastings and local towns as well as from further afield.

Unlike the more traditional pier, the open spaces on Hastings Pier allows us to offer a very broad range of events, attractions and entertainment throughout the entire year, from small-to-medium seasonal events through to large scale activities made up of higher profile/multiple day events.

The aim is to give many reasons to visit the pier, to encourage repeat visits at different times of year both in and out of the tourist season.

And although the pier’s programme of events will tap in to Hastings’ already vibrant calendar it also needs to attract external promoters, prepared to invest in a pier that generates excitement and, above all, audiences.

And to this end we have already begun to develop commercial partnerships to bring content, events and attractions to the pier.

We are now working to finalise the entertainment schedule for 2016, from the opening in April to the end of the year.

We already have an open-air cinema season in place this May, the circus in August and the two outdoor gigs  – the Levellers and Happy Mondays – in September, the opening event for the planned celebrations of the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, also in September plus the traditional funfair now in place.

A key feature is likely to be traditional and popular guest rides and attractions, which will be offered at various times of the year.

Other attractions may include mazes, climbing walls and sports activities whilst cultural offerings are likely to include speciality markets, the outdoor cinema, music, folk and arts/heritage festivals.

The pier will also host seasonal festivals; perhaps a Summer Family Festival in July/August; a Halloween event in October, and Christmas Festival in December. 

The new visitor centre, The Deck at Hastings Pier, will house the digital archive we’ve created of the pier’s history from 1872 to the present day – much of it from local people offering their photographs, memorabilia,and memories.

It’ll be free to access via touch tables as well as online.

The Lower Deck will also be available for private hire events and there will be plenty of scope for interest group activities such as classic bike and car shows, antiques fairs and urban sports events.

General access to the pier will be free all year-round, combined with a changing programme of events and attractions, some of which will be paid for.

As with other attractions in Hastings, the footfall on the pier will be seasonal, and the events and attractions will necessarily reflect this.

However, we aim to stretch the traditional view of where the season begins and ends by using our programme of attractions to also build audiences in the colder months.

Hastings Pier should not just be seen as ‘for tourists’ or ‘for locals’ and the pier will need to strike a balance between commercial activities that are the lifeblood of any attraction and the sometimes less profitable community-led events at the heart of the project.

But first and foremost, the pier has to be financially successful – the annual insurance cost, for example, starts at around £140,000 – and that financial security depends on the range of attractions on the pier and active support from locals and visitors alike.

Within the first few seasons of the pier re-opening, HPC will have the opportunity to try different options and models using the open spaces at both ends of the pier.

If deemed advantageous, we may decide to build on those spaces should that create more opportunity and draw more visitors to the pier both in and out of season.

The new pier’s construction work is finished but the really important bit, its success as a local destination and tourist attraction, the place it takes in the local and tourist community is now the challenge. To ensure it becomes a vital part of Hastings’ leisure offer we all need to support it.

As we’ve seen in the past – with piers you either use them, or lose them.

Simon Opie

Hastings Pier Charity

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