Building Updates: The Road to Renovation has begun!

Permission has been given, contractors have been appointed and renovation has finally begun on three Hastings Commons properties: 12 Claremont, Eagle House, and the rooftop of the Observer Building. Through the experienced hands of Hastings Commons, whose unique regeneration approach has been crafted over more than 15 years of local action, these previously neglected buildings are being given new leases of life and purpose, all for community benefit. It has taken many years of action from the Hastings Commons team and the wider community to get to this point, and these renovations represent a pivotal moment for all three buildings. 

Renovations for 12 Claremont and Eagle House buildings are planned to be complete by March 2025. Once open:

12 Claremont will become an inclusive & accessible creative hub that will include a gallery space run by Project Art Works and artist workspace managed by Hastings Art School. There will also be an international hosting and learning centre on the 1st floor, run by Jericho Road Solutions, for people from across the country and the world to learn about commoning and community led regeneration. 

Eagle House will resume its role as a self-sustaining community hub, with a focus on provision for young people. The Common Room first opened as a public living room in September 2021 with a youth club added since October 2023. Both uses will return to the ground floor, providing an accessible space that addresses multiple community needs at no cost to the users. The rest of the building will cater to the Hastings Youth Commons, providing spaces for interaction, learning and support for those aged 11-18, as well as office space for local youth workers and youth organisations and income-generating spaces to subsidise ongoing youth work.

Observer Building Rooftop

From derelict empty space, the roof will be transformed into an accessible public roof terrace providing gorgeous views over Hastings, with a bar at the southern end of the building. There will also be a new floor built on top of the bar area for ongoing youth work. The main works are due to be completed by Christmas time this year and early next year the bar will be fitted, and gardens planted ready for public opening by April next year.

A committed team

To bring these visions to life, Hastings Commons are working with a dedicated team of architects, consultants, and builders. The renovations of 12 Claremont and Eagle House are being undertaken by Buxton Building Contractors Ltd. Buxton have been a contractor throughout the Southeast since 1924 and this year are celebrating their centenary year.

David Norman, Managing Director of Buxton, says:

Buxton Building are delighted to have been awarded two significant projects in collaboration with Hastings Commons. Our focus will be on the refurbishment and renovation of two key properties, 12 Claremont and Eagle House, transforming them into vibrant community spaces. We operate in an open and harmonious environment, adopting a partnering style approach so that we can overcome challenges together and find the best solutions.”

The OB Roof is being developed by 8Build, who have worked in the Observer Building since 2019.

Architectural design for all buildings has been carefully considered alongside a sustainable approach. This means heating systems are powered by low-energy air source heat pumps, solar panelling is included on roof sections and internal finishes have been chosen based on their environmental impact.

12 Claremont is being designed by heritage architects Purcell, who are the UK’s largest practice specialising in architectural and building conservation.

Of the design, Purcell architect Stephen Athanasiou, says:

“A light-touch strategy for repairs and enhancements to the building’s fabric will protect the building from further dereliction, provide comfortable conditions for occupation and reduce the building’s environmental impact. Accessibility is paramount to the enjoyment of this heritage asset; therefore, significant interventions have only been proposed where alterations will create an inclusive environment, informed by neurodiversity and mobility.”

12 Claremont by Caroline Hughes

Eagle House and the OB roof are being designed by IF_DO, who are dedicated to creating projects with a positive impact on users and the environment. As the architects for the Observer Building, IF_ DO have been working closely with Hastings Commons since 2019.

Sarah Castle, Director, IF_DO, says

“Working with our long-time client and collaborator Hastings Commons, this project exemplifies our passion for creating spaces which foster community well-being, as well as for the deep retrofitting of existing buildings. Eagle House will stand as a testament to collaborative, community-driven regeneration, and we are excited to support our client in creating opportunities for the young people of Hastings.”

Eagle House, May 2024 in preparation for refurbishment.

Historical Significance

A key aim for Hastings Commons is to revitalise neglected buildings of local heritage importance for community benefit. All three buildings have faced periods of dereliction but also hold vital historical significance to the town.

12 Claremont began life in 1870 as the Claremont Rooms, home to all kinds of community meetings and activities. It was an early base for the F J Parsons newspaper empire before they built the Printworks at 14 Claremont. The building went on to have a range of uses, including as Hastings’ first telephone exchange. In the early 2000s it was restored by local creative entrepreneur Caroline Le Breton and the late Jon Cole, becoming the birthplace of Project Art Works, a local arts charity that collaborates with disabled and neurodivergent people and their carers through artistic practice, training, and development. The building had been empty since 2016, when plans by East Sussex County Council to extend the next-door library were abandoned. After a 6-year campaign by Hastings Commons Community Land Trust in partnership with Project Art Works, the building was transferred from ESCC to Hastings Commons on a 125-year peppercorn lease in 2022. Funding has been awarded from the Towns Fund and Community Ownership Fund.

Eagle House is a historically significant, but badly neglected property that was constructed around 1867. By 1871 it was occupied by “Henry Lancaster, undertaker, upholsterer etc”. By 1904 it was advertised as “four immense showrooms for furniture of every description” and it later became the second-hand department for Debenhams. Its ornate frontage seems to have fallen off in the 1980s and the current façade was described as “detrimental to the conservation area”. In 1992 Peter Dalton acquired the property and ran a successful carpet shop there until his retirement. Hastings Commons took the building on in Spring 2021, opening the Common Room on the ground floor, initially as a public living room and since October 2023 adding a youth club. 

The Observer Building is perhaps the most iconic building of the three, carved into the White Rock cliff face in 1924 to house FJ Parsons’ printworks. Until 1984, this building was a thriving hub of activity and hive of industry. However, the decline of the print industry in the 1980s meant the building was eventually abandoned, becoming increasingly derelict while various planning permissions for the building were granted. The Observer Building was opened temporarily in 2016 as a creative arts venue by Dawn Dublin and Erica Holland, but it wasn’t until 2019 that the building was purchased by Hastings Commons, where renovations began immediately. Five years later, as the building celebrates its centenary year half the building has been reopened for use as workspace, venue, a creative technology hub and Crossfit Gym.

“I worked on the development of Eagle House and 12 Claremont for nearly 3 years before finally seeing a contractor on site.  It’s incredibly exciting seeing projects that felt quite abstract for so long finally beginning to take shape in a tangible way.  For me, the excitement comes from knowing we will deliver proper restorations of historic buildings in Hastings, but also watching the users of the buildings make them their own.”

Kit Godfrey, Deputy General Manager and Project Lead for 12 Claremont and Eagle House

With thanks to our funders who are helping make these projects possible:

  • The Community Ownership Fund (12 Claremont)
  • Towns Fund (12 Claremont)
  • Historic England (12 Claremont)
  • Youth Investment Fund (Eagle House and Observer Building Rooftop)

About Hastings Commons

Hastings Commons Community Land Trust (CLT) is a charitable Community Benefit Society established in March 2016. The CLT has over 500 shareholding members. Together with our property development partner, Hastings Commons Neighbourhood Ventures (HCNV), we are creating ‘Hastings Commons’, a collection of physical spaces, people, and organisations. Our focus is on the White Rock neighbourhood of Hastings, a part of the town centre that is rich in heritage but has suffered decades of neglect and is close to the top 1% most deprived in the country.

Hastings Commons’ overall purpose is to tackle dereliction, protect the character and diversity of the neighbourhood and create an environment where people can shape their place and enhance their lives. It does this by bringing difficult and derelict properties into community ownership in perpetuity and renovating them to a high standard to provide affordable homes and workspaces, and spaces for learning, enterprise, and wellbeing. We aim to build a sustainable portfolio of unique assets to bequeath to future generations, to create community benefits in every year along the way, and to demonstrate an alternative to traditional models of regeneration.