By Merlin Betts 

Hastings now has a commitment to become a garden town. Or, at least, one of the seven programmes making up the £24.4million Town Deal aims to make Castle Ward a Garden Town. The Town Centre Public Realm and Green Connections programme, piloted by community powerhouse Transition Town Hastings (TTH), is hailed as a “central system” complementing all other projects in the green-orientated Town Deal. The Deal’s funding focus is on regeneration and developing a “new sustainable future for the town centre”, in other words for Castle Ward. 

The Town Centre Public Realm and Green Connections programme, referred to hereafter as ‘Hastings Garden Town’, is inspired by Sheffield’s Gray to Green scheme, which has seen tarmac torn up and replaced with plant life. The Sheffield scheme was implemented partly as a flood defence and partly to reconnect severed and ignored parts of town, which have been seeing investment and development following the early phases of Gray to Green. Hastings Garden Town aspires to follow suit and re-envision Havelock Road as a flood-proofing and bountiful garden. The project is partially led by Fergus Garrett, gardener at the famously biodiverse Great Dixter House and Gardens, who will underpin its approach to creative ecology. This means encouraging the presence of bees, bugs and butterflies that would normally not be seen in a busy urban environment. Hastings garden town additionally plans to improve pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, promoting more sustainable means of travel for visitors and residents alike. 

Hastings Band of Brothers fill planters with soil alongside Julia Hilton and Sherry Clark

TTH has substantial grounding in green community work and encouraging volunteer participation, being responsible for the community garden and wildflower path at Warrior Square station and a series of community composting hubs – amongst various other co-operations and initiatives. In May, they also began ‘Gardening Our Streets’, a community-led scheme to plant and tend a selection of pop-up ‘parklets’ giving the town a hint of how more plant life will positively impact its sometimes drab and dire streets. This effort is partly a proof of concept for the Garden Town. On the 19 and 21 May, Gardening Our Streets volunteers filled and placed 16 oak planters built by local company Old Wood Works. The planters are wheeled – readily manoeuvrable if a little cumbersome – and have specialised watering systems, making them well-suited to the usually problematic conditions of paved and tarmacked streets. The plants inhabiting them are hardy seaside varieties accustomed to wind and hard wear. 

A selection of the planters were temporarily arranged in an empty parking space outside the wonderful Stooge Coffee, creating an island of calm – a parklet – where the sound of the breeze drifting through leaves could take the edge off even the dizziest caffeine or sugar high. Volunteers and visitors came from The Common Room and all over the Trinity Triangle to appreciate the space and included, as you might expect, some of our new Green councillors such as council member for Castle Ward, Claire Carr. Now the same oak planters remain in the area, giving a small hint of what the future could be.

Gardening Our Streets is operating independently of the Town Deal, securing its own resources by co-operation with other local organisations, including Energise Sussex Coast, Hastings Commons, Groundwork South, Holy Trinity Hastings, A Band of Brothers, and the Rough Sleepers Initiative. It was initially funded by the Trinity Triangle/America Ground Heritage Action Zone and later additionally by the Making It Happen programme.

CREDIT: Julia Hilton

Apart from working with organisations, Gardening Our Streets is pioneering a ‘time-bank’ called We Dig Hastings. Time-banks are a simple and effective way of rewarding volunteers for their hard work. In We Dig Hastings’ case, every volunteer between May and September is given one time credit for every hour of their labour, which can then be redeemed with partners such as Stooge Coffee, the Common Room and Great Dixter House and Gardens. Time-credits are also transferable, so volunteers who don’t feel the need to be paid can still share the community love by gifting their credits to anyone else.

Unlike the flagship, signature project to make Hastings Castle a more popular tourist attraction, Hastings Garden Town aims to improve the quality of life throughout the town centre and keep people involved in the maintenance of their lived environment. Its thorough approach to community-led creativity would be readily applicable in other parts of Hastings, as we can see to some extent at Warrior Square station. 

To find out more, or even get involved, visit transitiontownhastings.org.uk or Thursday’s “Green Room” at the Common Room on Cambridge Road, just down from the Observer Building.


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