Friday, 2 September 2016

Hastings Old Town Hall Association response to the Council's Solution.

See my previous blog last month (link), here is the HOTHA response.

1st September 2016 from Hastings Old Town Hall Association

Dear Peter 

Having had time to digest your response of 19th July the Hastings Old Town Hall Association would like to make the following response:

We are obviously disappointed that the Association was not given the opportunity to progress its ideas for community use of the Old Town Hall. We also regret that no one came back to us with these questions as many of the answers were in the business plan.

There seems to have been a fundamental misunderstanding as we prepared a plan for the trial period as discussed with you. Because this was an untried idea for the Old Town community it was important to give it space and time to develop whilst the full potential for this mixed use could be more accurately estimated. It was your idea to offer a trial period which formed the basis of our weekly meetings from March to July.

In response to your bullet points, which we have numbered for ease of reference, our comments/answers are as follows;-
1 Opening Hours – our proposed hours would have been tailored to meeting the needs of visitors, especially in regard to the shop which would also have served as a local information point –much needed in the Old Town.
The shop was intended to sell popular tourist items mainly sourced from local business such as Judges [Postcards] as well as locally produced arts and crafts.
The wider community use of the building would mean that at specific times during the day and evening different groups would be using the spaces, some of these would also have been for a public audience. The list of ideas and commitments to use on page 9 would spread over a week.
The essence of the proposal was that shared use of the building implies careful programming to allow the various groups to succeed in their aims. You will see the proposed hire fees were modest and affordable by small and experimental local groups.

2 The list of uses is on page 9, some activities have names beside them where a person or group representative had made a commitment. The time we spent from March to July using our website, Parish News and weekly meetings was our research of the demand, not all of which was Old Town based.

3 One of the key supporters and potential trustee was an experienced volunteer co-ordinator and had offered her services. There was a large mailing list and offers of help to draw on.

4 Retail activity – craft and antique fairs were included in the list of proposed uses and interest had been received in respect of these. Local artists and crafts people had expressed interest in selling their works on commission. Consideration had been given to meeting the needs of the huge numbers of foreign language students. Quality souvenirs were to be stocked as on the list at page 9

5 We found no lack of people wanting to use this unique space. It’s prime site and historic character gives it an appeal that a free room over a pub and church halls lack. Many groups who had expressed an interest have been unable to identify spaces at reasonable charges within the Old Town for their activities. During our discussion period more than 40 groups contacted us to express interest in hiring the spaces. Almost all of these signed up to the idea of a community hub and offered to play a bigger role in it. Our website was active from the end of March as a first point of contact and our mailing list continues to grow. Part of the idea evolving was that activities would be enabled to develop and spill over into other local venues; for example rehearsal and performance.

6 and 7 The status and proposed legal organisation of the Old Town Hall Association was made clear on pages 2 and 3. It would have been presumptive to apply for Charitable Incorporated Association status before we had firm offer of a lease. The main impetus throughout our discussions came from at least 10 vastly experienced people committed to making the idea work. It was evident that members of the group and proposed trustees had a wealth of experience in both business and education and in running successful community projects. The financial acumen they offered was considerable. The CVs of proposed trustees were included in the plan pages 10 – 12.

8 We felt there was sufficient enthusiasm, experience and commitment to run the centre for the first year on a voluntary basis. The development of roles and responsibilities was being developed and would continue to do so over that year, using the experience gained from managing this unique project. This would have been one of the major spin offs of the social benefit of the project, the potential for which we feel was considerable.

9 Set up costs – In addition to a summary of our approach included on page 4. An application had been made to the Foreshore Trust towards set up costs.

10 Accountancy, auditing and legal services were being provided pro bono. Marketing – a large part of this would also be voluntary and provision sought in grant applications. There are a significant number of recently retired professionals willing to assist and their expertise would be invaluable.

11 Planning fees- We did ask if a change of use was required but have had no answer to this. It is true to say that we were disappointed that we did not receive more timely advice after more than 6 weeks. No major works were proposed until after the trial period when we could reasonably assess what was needed and how to achieve it.

12 Our plan was not a business but a community venture and this is what is missing from HBC’s response. We are seeking to use a Community Asset for the benefit of the community, it needs to generate enough to ‘wash it’s face’ but not a large profit. The profit to the town is the level of community activity and interest generated in providing a sustainable use for this much loved building. We feel a great opportunity has been missed to encourage this new community group to flourish and reach its potential in the use of an important building. Probity underpinned all our discussions; firstly to make sure we covered all of our unavoidable running costs and secondly, to help user groups develop their activities. The support of such groups being part of the role of local authorities, as is partnership working to such ends. Serious consideration and much work was given to developing an application to the Coastal Communities Fund. Their advice in discussions was to delay an application until the next round of funding, essentially by that time we anticipated having a legal entity and a lease

Our understanding of a Community Asset is that it enables a Local Authority to utilise a building for the community and without the need for a commercial rent. On 14th May 2015 the Old Town Hall was declared a ‘Community Asset’ for a period of 5 years. The current use proposed does not embrace the whole community nor does it offer the wider benefits and added value of our proposal. We recognise the financial constraints on HBC but we also believe that community initiatives such as Hastings Old Town Hall Association’s offered wide and lasting benefits to the community on many levels. In our view the Council have missed a unique chance to build on the coming together of local people [not just from the Old Town] to develop a real community asset.

We wish Anna Beck well if she does take the building. However from the information available we fail to see a ’full rent’ of the nature advertised being sustained. We are concerned that if this idea does not succeed there is a possibility the lease will be sold on for an inappropriate use. Can you reassure us that should the tenant wish to surrender the lease it will revert to the Council and cannot be sold on? 

Anne Scott on behalf of Hastings Old Town Hall Association.

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