A three-part interview with Hastings-based Paul Hamlyn Foundation, winner of the Award for Artists 2018

By Caf Fean 

Becky draws our attention to some pressing personal and local concerns – mental health, the success of the Observer Building with Jess Steele and securing the future of Coastal Currents through community action are topics we discussed over coffee at her cosy home in St Leonards. 

Becky Beasley, Location: Bottle Alley, Hastings
PICTURE: Emile Holba

Part 3: The Observer Building as a community asset

On 24 January, White Rock Neighbourhood Ventures (owners of neighbouring Rock House), announced that they had exchanged contracts on the Observer Building. Becky Beasley’s response: “Our awe-inspiring town centre enigma, empty for thirty years, is now a community asset. Watch it come back to life under Jess Steele and her beautiful team’s care.” 

Becky told me about the exciting possibilities that now lie open for the next phase of life for the Cambridge Road Observer Building. “We’re seeing more creative community regeneration where a sense of place is established and real estate and money follows. What’s exciting about having Jess working in town is that she seeks to protect primary wonderful buildings from external development and, ultimately, elevated prices. Jess isn’t all about red tape – she wants to worldbuild and I’m interested in world-builders. It’s awe-inspiring to be living in a town where this community-asset work is happening in these tough times. It will have a huge effect on the future landscape here. It’s exceptional, like watching a rainbow.”

A continuing debate in and around Hastings and  St Leonards is just how sexy it is at the moment: Shoreditch-on-Sea, Hackney-on-Holiday, South-London-on-Sea … the list goes on. Becky says our current state of play leaves us exposed: “[We are] vulnerable to what is happening – once you hit the hot places lists, the heart just gets ripped out and rental and retail costs go up. Creative practitioners often have relatively modest incomes and they’re happy, they don’t want to be rich – the attitude of Jess’s team is about maintaining that relationship and keeping those people and activities in the town centre.” 

Becky expands upon what ‘community asset’ means in the context of the Observer Building: “It’s important one doesn’t get a sense that ‘I can go in any time I want to and run around it.’ It’s about understanding what it means as a community for a building to be a local asset, rather than
being privately developed, maintaining rent control, for example. You might use the building from time to time, you might not. The building is still worth investing time and effort into for the sake of our community as a whole, even if by taking part we do not become direct beneficiaries.” After all, it’s an incredible building: “Just remember how much space there is inside to work, live, play, eat – entertain – it’s huge! And then there are all those tunnels underneath! The team want to bring it back to life – a modern version of how it used to be in its heyday,” Becky explains.

Becky is working on a new photographic artwork as a reward for the Observer Building crowd-funder which launches soon. “It’ll be an edition of three – hopefully it’ll generate some good money for the project,” she smiles. 

• Read part 1 here
• Read part 2 here

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