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Client behind dRMM’s Stirling Prize-winning Hastings Pier goes bust

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The charity behind dRMM’s award-winning revamp of Hastings Pier has gone into administration, less than a month after the project scooped this year’s RIBA Stirling Prize

Hastings Pier Charity said it had failed to agree a new three-year business plan with the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), Hastings Borough Council and East Sussex County Council and had been unable to find around £800,000 needed to help it to become, ultimately, self-funding.

Set up in 2011, the charity stepped into restore and run the derelict south coast landmark, which had been closed following a storm in 2008 and was subsequently damaged by a fire in 2010.

The pier reopened in April 2016 following a £14.2 million rebuild to wide public and media acclaim. However, the charity – a community benefit society – was reported to be in financial difficulties last month and the board of directors admitted the charity was now insolvent. Administrators Smith & Williamson were appointed on Friday (24 November).

The 145-year-old pier will remain open and funded throughout 2018, thanks to money already allocated to the project for next year from the HLF.

To fund the pier’s reconstruction the charity raised £300,000 by getting 3,000 local shareholders to buy a stake in the project at £100 a share. The scale of this community backing prompted RIBA president and Stirling Prize chair Ben Derbyshire to dub the project the ’People’s Pier’.

But the charity said it would not be going back to these shareholders for extra money to support the running of the seafront attraction, which was hailed as a ’masterpiece of regeneration’ by the Stirling Prize jury.

A statement released by the Hastings Pier Charity read: ’[We] have always taken the view that it would be wrong to ask community shareholders for more money to fund the ongoing operating costs of Hastings Pier. The major stakeholders did not feel able to support the new three-year plan.’

While Alex de Rijke of dRMM admitted the collapse was ‘sad news’ he insisted there was still hope for the pier’s future. He said: ‘When rebuilding the pier seemed impossible, Hastings Pier Charity, the community, dRMM and Heritage Lottery Fund came together to make it possible.

’Through combined efforts and commitment, the pier now stands strong again. The charity has secured the physical future of the pier and had recently presented a three-year business plan to reach self-funding status, for which £800,000 was needed. Sadly this was not raised.’

He added: ’We are hopeful that the administrator Smith & Williamson and the community will galvanise to ensure the pier continues to serve as the social and spatial landmark of Hastings that it is.

A pier is an expensive structure to maintain and a difficult business to run

’A pier is an expensive structure to maintain and a difficult business to run. But the Hastings community stakeholders are imaginative and determined people, and dRMM will certainly do whatever we can to help devise ways for the pier to generate more revenue. In the meantime, it is fantastic that the Heritage Lottery Fund is supporting the pier.’

In October the practice’s transformation of the Victorian pier, described by de Rijke as ‘like a phoenix from the ashes’, won the Stirling Prize ahead of finalist schemes by Groupwork + Amin Taha, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, Baynes and Mitchell Architects, 6a Architects and Reiach and Hall with Michael Laird Architects.

At the time Derbyshire said: ’The architects and local community have transformed a neglected wreck into a stunning, flexible new pier to delight and inspire visitors and local people.’

Comment from Ben Derbyshire, 27 November 2017

’While it’s not unheard of for a new business to struggle in its first few years, I’m sad to hear that the Hastings Pier Charity has gone into administration.

’I hope stakeholders will find a way forward, and that the beautiful pier has a bright future.

‘It’s great to hear Hastings Pier is open as usual, and I’d encourage RIBA members to show their support and visit our 2017 RIBA Stirling Prize winner this winter.’

Hastings jimstephenson 15 midres

Stirling Prize judges’ citation

Hastings Pier is a project that has evolved the idea of what architecture is and what architects should do.

dRMM’s role has been utterly pivotal in realising this masterpiece of subtle, effortless design. They have driven this project through to completion: campaigning, galvanising and organising local support throughout each aspect of the funding stage. They went above and beyond what most people think of as the role of the architect – and then they kept going!

dRMM show what incredibly talented and dedicated architects can do: inspire, think big, interact and engage with communities and clients to help them to achieve the seemingly impossible; this is a great message for young architects following in their footsteps.

The vital importance of building sustainably runs throughout the RIBA’s awards, and Hastings Pier deserves special recognition for its remarkable use of sustainable materials and positive social impact. The architects have designed a process as much building, and have designed the Pier to evolve and grow.

This project shows that local communities working with architects can make a huge difference. Councils across the country should take inspiration from Hastings Pier, and open their eyes to the unique assets that can be created when such collaborations take place.

Hastings jimstephenson 18 midres

Read the AJ’s building study by Jon Astbury

Hastings Pier by dRMM ph6

’That two out of the six shortlisted projects this year have a historic seaside setting is indicative of an increasing coastal pull – one that estate agents are of course eager to exploit but one that has, and continues, to bear architectural fruit, be it in the considered Turner Contemporary or the bombastic British Airways i360. While these tales of creative transformation are often read as outside intervention – something of a ‘Shoreditchification’ – here the example is far more home-grown.’

The AJ is professional media partner for the RIBA Stirling Prize

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