White Rock Neighbourhood Ventures (WRNV) have announced they have  exchanged contracts to purchase the Observer Building at 53 Cambridge Road for a total price of £1.15 million. 

WRNV is a community-rooted development company that has transformed Rock House next door from a run-down 9-storey office block into a creative and collaborative mixed-use hub which now houses 45 businesses and 10 residents, all at rents capped to remain affordable in perpetuity. The addition of the OB to their portfolio is aimed at inspiring a whole ‘ecosystem’ of distinctive buildings with shared values, according to communications lead Beth Woolf.

Project champion, Jess Steele, says: “As well as rescuing this beautiful building after 34 years of dereliction, we want it to provide life-changing opportunities for local people – both during the renovation and through the long-term uses. While we have a great team, strong partnerships and a deep understanding of the neighbourhood, this will only be successful if local people, businesses and organisations support it.” 

Forecasting a ten-year transformation, the team has identified short-term ‘meanwhile’ uses, then 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 rents, with work due to begin in 2021. Eventually, the team 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.  These could be at market rent or sale, enabling clearance of the debt on the building’s development, future-proofing it for community use, and protecting the affordable space forever. 

Some spaces could be available to hire up to June 2019 before longer-term tenants move in from July 2019. The team also seeks an operator to manage the proposed artist maker-space located on the second floor. 

Invitation to participate
WRNV welcomes questions, ideas and thoughts from neighbours to help shape their thinking. All expressions of interest, suggestions and ideas should be made through the project website, www.theob.org.uk. Already 55 expressions of interest in long term tenancies from summer 2019 have been received, and 11 enquiries about hiring the space for what they describe as a rich mixture of events. 

Beth Woolf says: “We want to enliven the space as soon as possible with what already makes Hastings great – art, culture and quirkiness. We’re loving collaborating with some talented local people. We’ve been humbled by both old and new friends coming forward to galvanise around the OB project, and we are so grateful for their support so far to make the project a success.”

For more information on the Observer Building proposals visit: https://theobserverbuilding.org.uk/

Contribute to the Crowdfunder
With the support of the local and wider community, the WRNV team hopes to raise at least £10,000 to get started with immediate works and show the larger funders how much people want this to happen. Their Crowdfunder offers locally sourced rewards gifted by supporters of the OB project, including from Paul Hamlyn Award-winning artist Becky Beasley; local hairdresser Yard and Quarter; Tommy’s Pizza; and unique reclaimed wood specialists, Harbor.

To contribute to the crowdfunder visit: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/the-observer-building

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