Hastings community building(s): a learning journey

Nick Booth
Jun 23, 2019 · 4 min read

Sometimes you need to trust people when they say come on a journey.

That’s what we did when UnLtd (a lab partner) invited us to Hastings for a thunderously damp day-and-a-bit by the sea learning journey. The heavens opened and ideas poured in…

Lorna Prescott, Louise Cannon and Nick Booth (me) spent the day with a range of others who are building place-based community.

We were hosted by Jess Steele and the rest of the team at White Rock Neighbourhood Trust, Heart of Hastings Community Land Trust and Jericho Road Solutions in Hastings.

This is Jess explaining the work they’ve done to buy buildings which act as the basis of long term sustainable community and neighbourhoods.

Some notes:

They began with a meanwhile space in the basement of an old office block in Hastings, £200 a month, with the aim of animating a curious alleyway in the town. It turned out that this was a toehold into a neighbourhood they cared about.

Partly because they were already there the landlord approached them to see if they wanted to buy the building — ‘why not’, they thought. Jess offered nearly half the asking price and, within a few weeks, they owned a 9-floor office block.

“We bought this building in 2014 before we’d done a lot of the thinking, this building helped us do the thinking”

Now full of life and living, this developed gradually

They began to use the building even as they were refurbishing it, three floors, at first, now all 9 floors are used for a mixture of homes and workspaces.

We wanted to:

Use community freehold — to de-commodify the market. Use the freehold power for social good instead of private profit

explains Jess.

This means that the tenants have a sustainable rent which only rises by the rate of inflation. Tenants are selected thoughtfully:

1 Based on need
2 They have a local connection — this is for Hastings people
3 They have enthusiasm for the ethos of collaboration and self-management
4 They have a willingness to make a personal contribution to the physical and cultural aspects of the neighbourhood.

But the idea has evolved beyond one building. In part through the creation of Heart of Hastings Community Land Trust, they have gone on to buy a huge print works next to rock house and acquire other buildings. The money is raised and the buildings run through an ecosystem of organisations, private, social enterprises and charities, which share an ethos and ambition.

It's a combined desire to provide affordable living and workspace, resist the pressures of gentrification and nurture a neighbourhood for social good. All for the long term, or rather forever.

Jess explain that through the ecosystem the boards of the organisations are integrated, they intentionally work to understand each other's values :

The neighbourhood is the enterprise

Together they tackle the twin challenges of dereliction v gentrification, they take community action “forever “ and Jess tells us “No we won’t wait for the master plan — we don’t accept your master plan”.

“Ownership is a process,” she explains, “it’s not an event. You need different skills and cultures. At one point you have to do the deal at another you need to build different expertise alongside other organisations good at other things — these are alliances based on shared values. “

They call it intentional neighbouring.

This day in Hastings was stimulating, encouraging and energising. Some of their approaches echo many of the principles we are working to:

Persistence and Being There matters.

Relationships matter.

Encourage abundance thinking and practice.

Nurture the courage to be curious and experiment.

Default to a doing imperative

Work at the speed of trust.

But above all, I was bowled over by the vigour, the emotional heft and intellectually flexibility that the team is bringing to the ambition to buy and build a neighbourhood for sustainable living, forever.

CoLab Dudley

Observations, interactions and reflections from a social lab on Dudley High Street

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