Business prospects with beach benefits

Features Posted 24/06/19
Coastal town enjoys a cultural revival thanks to a funding partnership to upgrade a tired leisure area.

Sea air and a great quality of life continue to attract individuals, families and businesses to the Sussex coast and Hastings is reaping the benefit. The town is enjoying a revival in cultural, business and leisure activities, with funding available to make dreams come true.

Robin Johnson is one of the entrepreneurs finding that life in the seaside town has its rewards. He set up a one-man bespoke carpentry and joinery business in a lock-up at the end of an alley in 2013, after leaving his job as head of design and technology at Hurstpierpoint College.

A period working in the basement of the former Hastings Observer newspaper offices brought in new orders and Robin began to look for more space to grow. He moved into a new workshop in 2017, where he claimed grants offered by Business East Sussex and Locate East Sussex, in partnership with East Sussex County Council.

With their help, Robin has been able to employ two full-time, skilled craftsmen, buy machinery and boost production. The entire workforce of seven is proud of its latest challenge – a hush-hush project for Jean-Paul Gaultier.

Robin said of the grants system: “It was all about creating new jobs and getting the machinery that would allow us to be more productive. Everyone was on hand to help us. It’s something I’ll be doing again, to help to employ more people and purchase a CNC machine to aid production further. The support has really helped us to grow.”

The Johnson Bespoke team’s talents have featured on Channel 4’s “Amazing Spaces” series, in which they were challenged by architect and presenter George Clarke to create a “living wall” of moss and a “vacuum wardrobe” to fit inside a futuristic rotating house he and William Hardie were building.

A successful funding application by Hastings Borough Council in 2017 has also brought results.

The council received more than £800,000 from the Coastal Communities Fund to run a two-year multi-partner project to improve the White Rock/America Ground area. Since then, Rock House, a partially converted office block, has been upgraded to provide affordable business and commercial space. Work is planned on refurbishing the water feature and promenade between the pier and Source Park, which has a series of BMX and skateboard tracks.

The Source Park has developed a training programme inspired by BMX Olympic and runs a series of local, regional and international BMX and skateboarding events attracting thousands of visitors every year.

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