This set of Q&A is made up of questions asked by supporters and community members since the first meeting held on 24 Sept 2018 to discuss the proposal to of community led regeneration of the Observer Building. We will add more questions and answers from community members as the project develops. If you have a question, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Who is behind the redevelopment of the Observer Building?
The project to rescue the Observer Building (OB) and regenerate it as a community asset is being driven by White Rock Neighbourhood Ventures, community-rooted neighbourhood developer and creator of Rock House (adjacent to the OB). We have also had the help of a few fantastic and committed local people working alongside us or acting as champions for the cause. We’re always open to more people participating so do get in touch if you have an idea for the building or want to do something to help the project along. Going forward there will need to be a groundswell of community support to make the project a success.
White Rock Neighbourhood Ventures is made up of 3 shareholding partners:
Creates vibrant communities by bringing redundant space into productive, affordable workspaces for start up and small businesses
Coaches neighbourhood groups to achieve positive change in their local areas. Influences nationally to make local change easier. Reinvests profits in Hastings
National community business grant funder. Temporary partner currently seeking to gift shares to local charity
More broadly, a collaborative DIY regeneration effort in the White Rock neighbourhood is cultivating an ‘ecosystem’ of connected buildings and tenants with shared values and purpose. This locally-rooted, evolving community aims to create nurturing, secure homes and work spaces where creativity can thrive, boosting local participation and economic growth, promoting inclusion and diversity and encouraging grassroots enterprise. Other organisations involved in this work are:
What are you planning?
Our plans are still evolving, but we know we want to provide long-term, capped rent housing and workspace and a vibrant leisure destination, working with multiple partners and creating opportunities for local people through the building’s redevelopment.
Forecasting a ten-year transformation, we have identified short-term meanwhile uses, medium and long-term development plans. The initial proposed uses for the site include:
- leisure use on the basement, mezzanine and ground floors
- work pods and office use on the first floor
- artist-maker spaces on the second floor, and a construction workshop to support the renovation
- a roof garden and common room with a bar looking out to sea on the fourth floor (once the roof is removed).
After the initial redevelopment, the second and third floor will be converted into residential flats at capped rent, with work due to begin in 2021.
How much did you buy the building for and how did you finance the purchase?
We completed the purchase of the Observer Building on 13 February 2019, for the negotiated price of £1.15 million.
The purchase has been funded by:
- Ecology Building Society lent us £1.2 million for the purchase as a mortgage secured on Rock House
- Big Issue Invest lent us £150k, amortised over 15 years, to be refinanced between May 2020 and Feb 2022.
- Sean Lask of Castlestone Investments has lent £200k to be refinanced in May 2020
- Hastings Borough Council have granted us £5k to contribute to the interest repayments on the loans
Our plan going forward is to refinance these loans with a series of grants and social investments to bring the building into stable, productive use by the community and reduce interest on loan repayment terms. Over 10 years, we will deliver a phased, community-rooted redevelopment of the building to create ongoing revenue to meet the repayment terms.
The OB has planning permission to build above the current height of the building. Would you extend the roof?
Eventually, we may look to build above the fourth floor, in line with the planning permission granted by Hastings Borough Council last year, possibly adding two more floors for flats for market rent or sale which could clear the debt on the building’s development, future-proofing it for community use and protecting the affordable space forever.
What are the risks?
This is a high-risk venture. We have to fundraise and raise investment throughout the project, meaning progress is dependent on the success of several funding applications. We also need to generate enough income through rentals to pay the interest on the loans we used for the purchase (up to £6000 pcm) to progress.
WRNV has taken on the liability for this, working in depth with social lenders and professional advisors to understand and mitigate these risks. Ultimately, the success of the building rides on the building being economically productive from the word go, and this will take a community wide effort.
SECURELY CAPPED RENTS
What do we mean by capped rents?
White Rock Neighbourhood Ventures caps its rents because it wants to create spaces in Hastings Town Centre where people can afford to live and work in the face of rising rents and low local wages.
The rents are set at a percentage of the average income in Hastings and capped in perpetuity so they only rise with inflation, while market rents increase without regulation. Based on research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, WRNV and Heart of Hastings both use the concept of ‘Living Rents’ that are set at one-third of median local income.
Capped rents exist to lock in affordability forever, allowing those who need affordable space to continue to thrive in the town centre.
Rock House Capped Rents are not affordable, what do you plan to do about truly affordable rents?
Rock House capped rents were higher than some people could afford, but we would use the Heart of Hastings model – 1/3 of median income in Hastings. As rents will be capped in perpetuity, stay stable and only rise with inflation as private rents sky rocket – they will effectively get cheaper in comparison to the market. Heart of Hastings and Rock House both reserve some flats for Local Housing Allowance rates, which is something we may consider for the Observer too.
What would the rent be?
All of our rents are capped and information about rents on specific spaces can be found in the tenant information pack available from email@example.com and on our website in the spaces available page: https://theobserverbuilding.org.uk/space-available/
Why can’t you offer free space to community groups?
When Rock House first opened, there were community members / businesses who used the space at the beginning for cheap rent or for free but unfortunately were never able to generate enough income for their ideas to pay the full rent. They couldn’t stay paying nothing or discounted rents in the place of tenants who could pay the full capped rent – the building has to pay for itself. Even so, the building acted as incubation space for these local creatives and enterprises and we hope that the OB do this too through meanwhile use.
RENTING WORK SPACE
When can I rent work space in the Observer Building?
Some spaces in the OB should be ready for longer-term tenants from earliest June 2019 – namely the first floor (rented workspace) and the second floor (artist-makerspace).
At the moment we are taking expressions of interest from individual tenants (companies/individuals) – you just need to fill out a form on our website: https://theobserverbuilding.org.uk/space-available/express-an-interest/
We are also seeking to recruit an operator to manage the proposed artist maker-space located on the second floor. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for details of the role and information how to apply.
We will be inviting prospective tenants on tours in February and March 2019 before the building works start and inviting people to apply soon after, with Heads of Terms being signed by the end of May latest.
More information on tenancies can be found in the tenant pack on the website in the spaces available tab: https://theobserverbuilding.org.uk/space-available/
How are workspace tenants selected?
We select our workspace tenants based on the following criteria:
- We support people who need affordable space (generally artistic, creative, tech and community organisations).
Enthusiasm for our ethos
- We share a broad set of values about the importance of affordable space, creativity, neighbourliness and local social impact. We will invite tenants to join us who align with our values.
- Along with paying capped rents, our buildings work because of a very strong ethos of cooperation, mutual trust and respect. That’s between the tenants, and between tenants and WRNV as owner/developer.
- Our ethos has spread to the Heart of Hastings CLT so we’re starting to build up an ‘ecosystem’ of local buildings (39 Cambridge, 12 Claremont) run in the same way which share values and resources between them.
- We’re interested in what you love about the local neighbourhood too – do you living and working in Hastings? Do you have a locally rooted business (employing or procuring locally)? Or perhaps you have aspirations to contribute to local life (social benefit, cultural contributions)?
- Our buildings are ‘community self-managed’ meaning all tenants are expected to work together to contribute to the physical and social upkeep of the building. This is just as important as your rent.
What about the bottom three floors?
For the remaining floors we are carrying out a full options appraisal for the Ground floor, Mezzanine and Basement. We’re looking at a range of possible leisure uses, from a hydroponic salad growing project to a paint balling experience, escape room experience to food and drink court.
Whichever option we decide on, our aim is to create a warm, inviting atmosphere and local opportunity and economic growth with these floors, as well as generate enough revenue to service the other floors. Get in touch with your ideas for these spaces.
Would a bar conflict with the planned and existing residential tenants?
We plan to minimise the any disruption caused to our residential tenants using sound insulation etc. However, we imagine residents who choose ‘town centre living’ expect a reasonable level of noise from new and existing food, drink and leisure venues in the neighbourhood which contribute a great deal to the local economy.
RENTING A FLAT
When will the residential flats be ready?
We plan to build up to 16 capped rent flats on the second and third floors. We estimate that the building works will beginning on these in 2021, due to the extensive grant fundraising required to pay for it.
This means the housing element of the OB is likely not to be ready for at least 2 years. At the moment we are not taking expressions of interest for residential tenants, but we will advertise heavily and email our mailing list contacts well in advance of this to invite applications.
In the meantime, our partner charity Heart of Hastings CLT also offer affordable housing. You can sign up for their mailing list here: https://www.heartofhastings.org.uk/
Would you become a social housing provider?
Heart of Hastings CLT has looked into this previously but being a registered provider (the new name for housing associations) has as many challenges as benefits.
How does this vison fit into the housing/ homelessness crisis?
We recognise there is a massive housing crisis in Hastings. Hastings Council is not building any homes, the social housing waiting list is huge, people are at risk of homelessness because of high rents. The OB would not solve the whole problem, but it would allow us to provide a number of high quality, genuinely stable and affordable homes and be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
THE WIDER NEIGHBOURHOOD
What is the ‘ecosystem’ of buildings in White Rock?
Through the positive changes at Rock House, an ‘ecosystem’ of connected buildings and organisations is organically developing in White Rock. Each of the buildings is distinct and run by different organisations, but they have shared value and purpose in their commitment to DIY regeneration, affordable space, collaborative opportunities, local economic growth and productive use of otherwise wasted buildings.
The current buildings (see map below) include:
- The Observer Building (completing purchase on 13th Feb, due for development by White Rock Neighbourhood Ventures)
- Rock House (also owned and developed by White Rock Neighbourhood Ventures)
- The Caves down the alley behind Claremont (recently purchased by White Rock Neighbourhood Ventures for development)
- 39 Cambridge (community owned and developed by Heart of Hastings Community Land Trust)
- 12 Claremont (due for development by Heart of Hastings CLT and Project Artworks in a joint venture)
What are the caves?
White Rock Neighbourhood Ventures has also bought the caves that run alongside the Observer Building and in the alley way. At the moment we think they could be used partly for more effective waste management for all the businesses backing onto the alley, the OB included. We are in consultation with Hastings Borough Council about this.
There may be ways to put them to other community uses, perhaps for small businesses– ideas welcome!
What is your approach to environmental sustainability?
Recycling the underused space in the Observer Building offers (4000 square metres over seven storeys), rather than building something from scratch, is an explicitly sustainable act in itself.
That said, we are committed to doing everything we can, within the constraints of the building and the budget, to promote the sustainability of the OB, both during renovation and once operational.
To comply with modern building regulations, developers generally are compelled to take an environmentally sustainable approach. Environmental sustainability is being discussed as part of the mechanical and electrical (M&E) package for the renovations. We hope that we’ll go further than the minimum requirements where funding allows, so we’re exploring energy efficiency, waste management and sustainable uses, for example the roof garden, harvesting rain water and installing solar panels.
How are you working with partners?
We work in partnership on a regular basis in White Rock. Our regular partners include Heart of Hastings and Living Rents, as well as Project Artworks who will be entering a joint venture with Heart of Hastings to develop 12 Claremont.
White Rock Neighbourhood Ventures itself is a partnership organisation, made up of Jericho Road Solutions, Power to Change and Meanwhile Space. There is more information on this on page 1 of this document.
We try to procure locally wherever possible and are currently working with a team of local professionals (architects, engineers, building contractors) to get the initial works off the ground.
Are the council supportive?
Yes – the Regeneration Team at Hastings Borough Council have been particularly helpful by granting us £5k to contribute to the interest on the loans we took out for the purchase. They have met with us on several occasions and we are in continual discussion about how we can work together to further the Observer Building project.
Some individual councillors are very supportive and the leader of the council has expressed support for the building to come into community use and provide affordable housing. Some of the funding for the residential floors could come from the government’s Community Housing Fund.
We are also likely to be in receipt of some funding from East Sussex County Council in the coming months from their Stalled Sites Fund.