The Connecting Hastings and Rother Together Project is finally getting off the ground, starting to set up specific projects to benefit the most deprived communities in Hastings and Bexhill.
This was an EU funded project with a total funding (including match funding) of around £6m. Hastings Council made a successful funding application for this some years ago, but like so many EU funded projects, the bureaucracy means it’s a long time coming to fruition.
The project provided grant funding for local providers to bid for, to set up local schemes to address employability and community development issues in the most deprived parts of Bexhill and Hastings (mainly Sidley, Hollington, Castle, Central St Leonards, Baird, Ore and Tressell wards). A resident-led panel was established to look at bids and award funding. The first of these bids has now been approved. The first to be fully approved and the contract signed is ‘Live, Work,Thrive’, a project to be run by Education Futures Trust, Fellowship of St Nicholas and Sussex Community Development Association. This project will use £232,000 of CHART funding, with roughly the same amount in match funding from the Hastings and Rother councils’ Flexible Homelessness Grant.
‘Live, Work and Thrive’ will take a holistic approach to bringing together the three pillars of housing, employment and health. Participants will work with coaches from the three delivery partners who will support participants to assess the needs of vulnerable local people, including physical and mental health, and help them get specialist support through training and volunteering, leading to paid employment, long term housing, integrating them into communities.
Four further projects have been approved, but the contracts have yet to be signed. These will provide:
- a business skills training centre at the new Business Start-Up Facility (currently being built by Hastings Council) at Sidney Little Road;
- a project to address barriers to employment and provide skills training in Sidley;
- a project to create an ‘enterprise hub’ in Baird Ward, along with a skills and equipment library, to encourage unemployed people to gain practical skills and become self-employed;
- a project to provide coaching and mentoring for long-term unemployed people to provide skills to get into existing jobs in the local community.
Several other projects are in the pipeline, and will be announced in due course. There will be around 10 of these major projects to address health, unemployment and skills issues in the most deprived communities, as well as some smaller grants to local organisations too.
Along with Andy Batsford (Cabinet Member for Housing, Leisure and Community Engagement) and Maya Evans (Cabinet Member for Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Development), I visited Preston City Council, to look at their ‘Community Wealth Building’ model for boosting the local economy.
Preston is a rather different town from Hastings, with different issues. They’re a little bigger (population around 140,000) but have their own university – the University of Central Lancashire, with 24,000 students. Transport links are very good (fastest train times to London Euston are about the same time as Hastings to Euston!), they’re right on the M6, and it’s a major transport hub for the North West. The university is currently spending £200m on a town centre regeneration project to create a new ‘public space’. The iconic ‘brutalist’ enormous concrete bus station has also recently been saved and refurbished (see picture).
‘Community Wealth Building’ seems to have two elements: local procurement by public sector providers, and developing local business skills, especially around setting up co-operative businesses.
The business skills and co-operatives element has largely been undertaken by the university, although it’s in its early stages. The idea of local procurement has been led by the City Council, but other public sector bodies (notably the university and Lancashire County Council) have adopted the same policies, to favour local businesses, especially those that are creating apprenticeships for local people. They’ve simplified the procurement process too, making it easier for smaller businesses to apply for contracts.
They do seem to have had some significant success in terms of redirecting public spending to Preston, or at least to the ‘Preston area’ (for the city council and university) and Lancashire (for the county council), although a lot of the spending in Preston is down to the university rather than the City Council, as the university has a much larger budget.
Matthew Brown, the Preston Council leader, admitted that the whole approach was in its early stages, and was a little bemused by the amount of publicity it had been getting. Nevertheless, there could well be something similar we can do in Hastings. We’re currently reviewing our procurement strategy to make it more like Preston’s, and although we don’t have a big local university, we could try to get other big public service providers (such as the county council and hospital) to sign up to a similar approach.
Heritage Action Zone
Council officers and Heart of Hastings (the community land trust that’s been redeveloping Rock House and the Observer Building) applied for a Heritage Action Zone grant of £2m last year, with Heart of Hastings leading the project work. Final approval is expected imminently for a grant agreement to be signed in February. The main council support with the programme is the provision of a dedicated Conservation Development Officer, to be funded by the programme.
The programme will provide grant funding for the refurbishment of historic buildings in the Trinity Triangle/Cambridge Road area, including for example the old United Reformed Church (now used as Opus Theatre).
Along with further Historic England grant funding to complete the restoration of Pelham Arcade, this represents a major commitment to Hastings by Historic England, in recognition of the historically important buildings we have here, and the commitment shown by the council and partner organisations such as Heart of Hastings to preserving them.
West Hill Lift
The West Hill Lift was closed last summer, after an inspection revealed that it needed major repairs. Loss of income and the repairs to the lift have cost Hastings Council over £100,000. The lift was originally opened in 1891, and has had few modifications since then. The reason for the closure was primarily the failure of a large winding wheel (see picture, when it was removed last autumn). These wheels were standard equipment in mining pithead gear when the lift was built, but of course are no longer available. So the wheel had to be sent to a foundry in Rotherham for repair and refurbishment. The wheel is due to arrive back at the lift and be refitted at 8am on 10th February, following which there will be extensive testing, with the lift re-opening before Easter. Hopefully, the lift will now run another 129 years without major failure. Not only is this lift a major tourist attraction for the town, but it’s also an important income generator for the council, helping us offset cuts to government grant funding.
Last year, East Sussex County Council approved a £150,000 ‘wayfinding’ project to improve pedestrian signage in Hastings, particularly along the seafront and town centres. This is part of the £9m Hastings and Bexhill Movement and Access Package, funded through a grant from the Local Enterprise Partnership.
This work was devolved to Hastings Council, to refurbish the existing town centre and seafront wayfinding maps and to install new ones where there are gaps, with an emphasis on helping pedestrians find their way between transport hubs and major attractions.
A draft strategy has now been drawn up and will be finalised over the next couple of months, with new signage installed later in the year. The draft strategy will be available for consultation on the council’s website.
That’ll do for now – if you’d like more information on any of this, leave a message on 01424 451066, or e-mail at [email protected]