How The Yard supports small enterprises

It’s a fair bet that a many Hastings’ residents don’t know of The Yard’s existence – despite passing the entrance when visiting Morrisons. Turn right instead of left on Waterworks Road and you’re among an eclectic range of workshops, for the last 20 years home to an intriguing and diverse collection of businesses.

Origin story

The idea sprang from the unlikely setting of Eel Pie Island on the Thames. Aside from having an iconic place in rock music history – The Rolling Stones and The Who played early gigs there – this was the location of a boatyard owned by Henry Gastall. In addition to providing facilities for DIY boatbuilding, restoration and repair projects, he rented affordable workshops to artists and craft-workers – including engineer and inventor Trevor Baylis of wind-up radio fame.

Following a devastating fire in 1996 Gastall relocated to Hastings where he took the former depot on a full repairing lease. Apart from a brief spat in 2012 (when it was known as The Britannia Enterprise Centre) the freeholder, Hastings Council, has mainly left Henry and his daughter Lucy, who now manages the site on a day to day basis, to get on with running the premises.

Managing complexity

“I like it to be tidy,” explains Lucy of the jumble of different buildings, old and new which the Gaskalls have steadily improved over time. “It’s a big space, there are always 800 things need doing.” Lucy, who “doesn’t keep normal office hours,” (nor even has an office) contacts her 45 tenants either
in person or through The Yard Instagram group. 

“Our role as landlord isn’t just about providing space for people to work in; it’s also about giving support. If there’s a question – e.g. about drainage or welding – we’ll try to help. The exchange of knowledge and skills here is fantastic. If you can’t do it there’ll be someone who can.

“This is a business, not a charity,” adds Lucy, firmly. Albeit an endeavour with a sense of what’s right and worthwhile; connected to the community, and evolving incrementally to meet local needs. “Dad ran this for 15 years, it’s the family business, I learnt by osmosis. He should have all the credit – he made it, I’ve just polished.”

Rents are apparently modest and, Lucy reveals, “we don’t take deposits from tenants and don’t have fixed term leases, just 30 days’ notice. A business started on a kitchen table might want space to develop. People need an opportunity to try an idea and if they fail not be financially crippled. Others will move on to bigger and better things. Most are sole traders, there are few employees and not everyone is here full-time.”  

She knows directly of what she speaks, being a co-partner in a high-end audio equipment making enterprise. Recently Lucy has assisted tenants in getting Covid support grant funds. She also refers them to Let’s Do Business who can often provide up to12 hours free accountancy advice. Consequently, there’s high demand for space at The Yard with 45 people currently on the waiting list.

Bright ideas

A recent innovation is the opening of Half Man, Half Burger (HM!HB!). Originally intended as a kitchen to supply take out orders, this has really taken off as a destination café too. “It’s rare to see people who work so hard, Rory and Matt deserve every success,” says Lucy.

She’s pleased with the increased footfall HM!HB! brings, “If people know a business is here, it increases exposure,” and praises less visible resident entrepreneurs at The Yard such as “highly skilled guys who do painted furniture for English Heritage, and Katya’s amazing cakes.” 

However, while some makers sell direct to the public, “The Yard is not a retail space,” says Lucy. Anyone who has seen the homogenisation and decline of artisan areas such as Clerkenwell and Spitalfields in London will understand her concern. Despite this, another new initiative intended to raise the Yard’s profile is ‘Hastings Makers Market’, held monthly over the summer with money raised going to the Snowflake Night Shelter.

Lacking any coherent local government-led economic strategy for start-ups and sole traders, thankfully Hastings’ creativity and entrepreneurship instead grows organically from the grassroots. In advocating for and assisting them, The Yard is a uniquely important asset and well worth a visit. 

Go and give these craftspeople some love, better still spend money. Lucy wouldn’t have her picture taken for this article, but if you spot a blur of energy, that’ll be her.

Next market Saturday 21st August

Businesses based at the yard include:

• Car wash
• Sign-writing
• Wood workshops 
• Jewellery, glass and cake makers
• Boat building
• Burger wrangling
• Dog grooming
• Furniture making
• Joinery
• Fireplace restoration
• Architectural salvage
• Blacksmiths forge
• Garden plant seller
• Music, artist and pottery studios
• Printing, design and bookbinding

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