The Observer Building was bought on Valentine’s Day 2019 by White Rock Neighbourhood Ventures, a partnership between:
- Two investors/developers – Meanwhile Space and Jericho Road Solutions
- A local charity and long-term owner Heart of Hastings CLT
The project was inspired by 10 years of sustained community engagement, where 400 locals were in regular conversation about the risks posed to Hastings by gentrification, which threatened its precious diversity and character. They concluded that something could be done to mitigate this:
– putting buildings into community ownership and capping the rents forever.
So when Rock House came up for sale, the two investors leapt at the chance to put these ideas into action. Over 4 years, space by space, the building was renovated with a mix of grant funding. It is now full of tenants who are part of the development team, shaping the building and the community within it.
The team at White Rock Neighbourhood Ventures were heartened by the success of Rock House, which is now a thriving mixed-use hub home to:
- 10 housing tenants – over half on local housing benefit
- 44 small local businesses ranging from virtual reality to music production
- i-Rock – an NHS mental health drop in service
- Home Ground Kitchen – a neighbourhood kitchen working with refugees and providing a platform for women in the food industry
So when the Observer Building went up for sale, they began fundraising using social investment banks and negotiated a reduced price of £1.15m for the freehold.
WHAT ARE THE PLANS FOR THE BUILDING?
Both the Observer Building project and Rock House hinge on three principles:
- Capped rents – only rising with inflation to provide people with the security they need to thrive
- Community self-management – tenants are selected for their willingness to contribute to shaping the building and neighbourhood for the common good
- Long-term community ownership – once in a steady state, the building will pass to full community ownership to ensure it is safeguarded for local people for ever
The plan for the Observer is to fill the building with a mixture of capped rent spaces that will include:
- 16 capped rent flats for those struggling to find housing
- 1 floor of co-working studios and offices
- 3 floors of vibrant leisure businesses, activities and events. These floors will be partly run by a new organisation – Leisure & Learning Trust – who will facilitate a year-round exciting programme of events and activities for the public
- A roof garden with glasshouse and bar/common room
- A commitment to providing as many opportunities to local people as possible through the redevelopment and future uses of the building