If they are serious about keeping Hastings Pier in community ownership then Friends of Hastings Pier (FOHP) have until next week to submit a business plan and lodge an ‘expression of interest’ with the estate agents managing its sale.
In an email from FOHP this week, members were told: “Things have moved quicker than we thought on the sale of the pier… We were hoping to have longer to complete this, the active volunteers of the Friends group are working hard compiling a business plan and options on raising the funds required.”
Members of the group are reminded that: “A great deal of effort, time and money went into the rescue of Hastings Pier from the former private owner. We do not believe ‘the Panamanian situation’ should ever be allowed to reoccur and we are concerned that a freehold sale would gift very significant public and community investment to enable direct private profit.”
FOHP was re-established in February this year to be an independent voice for community shareholders and supporters. Active and constructive volunteers have been working on a number of fronts, including developing the core of a ‘Friends Plan for the Pier’.
The two key points of the plan are first to separate the top from the bottom. The bottom of the pier, says FOHP, needs to stay in community ownership forever.Once that plan is agreed, Hastings Pier Charity should emerge from administration with a new elected board, retaining its freehold ownership. Its stewarding role would focus on maintenance and insurance at a cost of £250,000pa.
Step two sees the top of the pier generating sufficient income to pay a rent that covers the annual costs of maintenance and insurance.
FOHP say that if the visitor spend per head could be raised to the UK pier average of £2.83 and the pier could attract 320,000 visitors per year, it would make revenues of around £1million per year. But the group recognises that this will take investment to raise footfall and visitor spend, it will incur costs dependent on the overall vision; it will take time, they believe an operator would need up to three years rent-free to make the business work. FOHP say it would also need ‘a clean slate,’ so writing-off or refinancing the £450,000 of unsecured creditors and finally it needs credible, competent, collaborative leadership.
Describing its ‘vision for the top’ FOHP says: “We hope to see a commercial operator take on a long operational lease and would expect Hastings Pier Company as freeholder to give free rein to the operator’s activities within very broad parameters, while offering a route for shareholder and supporter input and influence.
“In order to prove that the top can sustain the bottom and thereby attract operator interest, we have developed an indicative business proposition.
This treats the pier as similar to a cruise ship or a resort, with intensive programming and an active events/hosting team ensuring that visitors have a good time and have every opportunity to spend money.
“The plan would repurpose the visitor centre into a dining, drinking, dancing experience, making full use of its location and position regarding sunshine, noise and the existing reinforcement underneath.
“We would add a new, simple and relatively light-weight structure on the apron, the landward end of the pier, which would begin life as a paid attraction… but would be flexible so that the interior could be reconfigured to sustain novelty.
“The pier is a great place to meet people – from groups of friends getting together to sole traders looking for potential customers. Leveraging local networks with this narrative will enable local people to contribute their own events and activities, bolstering the events programming without adding costs.”
Looking for Shareholders
FOHP says it has been unsuccessful in asking the administrators of the pier to send out an email to all the shareholders so are using other means to try and reach those people and FOHP pleads that is anyone knows someone who is a shareholder that they use social media or whatever means necessary to keep them abreast of developments and particularly to let them know about the planned meeting at the White Rock Theatre on Monday April 23 at 7.30pm.
Asset of Community Value
Many of you know our application to reregister the Pier as Asset of Community Value was turned down. We have sent a letter to the council requesting they relook at our bid to have the Pier reinstated as an Asset of Community Value, We will let you know the outcome.
Active members needed
And FOHP says it needs more active members. The email that went out this week says: “Lots of you have been offering help to support the pier so we have compiled a list of some of the expertise needed.
“We are looking for people interested in working with us putting together a business plan, we need to find ways of raise funds towards different elements, for instance, the insurance and engineering costs are £240,000 a year. Do we have anyone out there who could help run a crowdfunding effort?
“We need people to research grants and lottery funds we can apply for and people with the skills to fill-in the forms and apply for them, we need people to help with general fundraising for the support fund.
“It would be great to have someone with journalism skills and/or media connections to help promote all our efforts and communicate with the press as well as Facebook buddies – who can answer the queries and messages, even if it’s just a holding message until someone with the answer can get back to them and are there any lawyers out there who can offer free advice or point us in the right direction?”