THE ALLEY — PAST, PRESENT, POSSIBILITIES
The ‘Alley’ (also known as Rock Alley) refers to the area behind Claremont, part of the America Ground in the White Rock area of Hastings. It is an L-shape of land running between the Claremont shops, Rock House and the Observer Building.
Its story is largely untold. Its parts are the lost harbour of Kings Harold and William; a cataclysmic tsunami that silted it up; a medieval priory; the Rock Fair, held there from ‘time immemorial’; a settlement of merchants who occupied it, declared independence, and asked to become a part of the United States; the prosperous Victorian townscape built on the ‘derelict lands’ vacated by the evicted settlers; the seaside visitors including the young Queen Vic; the caves that provided shelter during war years and hiding places for smugglers’ goods; the new creative sector population regenerating it; and the remains of the White Rock itself, tens of millions of years old.
A small portion of the Alley land is owned, but most is unowned and technically unadopted. Some of the freeholders of adjacent properties to the Alley have overlapping rights and responsibilities on this unclaimed land. This includes the right of access, and the responsibility to maintain the land e.g. keeping it clean, free of vermin, etc.
The Alley is sometimes used for local community events, which are considered by most local people MSL has spoken to so far to be valuable community and economic activities for Hastings. However, it is necessary to properly manage such activities, and other business usage, in such a way as to ensure the health, safety and enjoyment of the public, and respect the rights of local residents and business owners. Principal challenges are the build-up of rubbish that is often not cleared away by those responsible, and a lack of any investment in maintaining the space in the face of e.g. plant growth from the cliffs, erosion and road deterioration.
Recognising the potential of the Alley, White Rock Neighbourhood Ventures (WRNV), the owners of Rock House, included it in their wider bid for a Coastal Communities Fund (CCF) grant. CCF funding is provided by central government to coastal communities in order to help enhance local community engagement and drive economic growth and regeneration. These funds are routed through Hastings Borough Council who are currently holding a capital grant of c. £75,000 to make improvements to the space. This funding provides a unique opportunity to address many of the challenges outlined above, as well as bring added community and economic benefit to freeholders and tenants within or adjacent to the Alley, and the wider Hastings community. It also has significant potential to unlock further funding from other sources e.g. charitable foundations or local government grants.
The overall objective is to form an open partnership that all those with a stake in the future of the Alley can engage with, where their voices can be heard and we can all take joint responsibility for making the most of the Alley to all our benefit.
Cleaning up the Alley
Between 6th and 8th September, MSL organised a major clearing of almost three tonnes of rubbish from the Alley. We followed this with a sweep, clearing of weeds and a power wash of the walk and wall surfaces. We also cleared some other hanging hazards, loose wires and pipes, and secured other materials that were at head height.
Before the clean up
Photos by Alex Brattell
And after . . .
Photos by Margaret Sheehy
On 10th September MSL launched the Alley as a new space for storytellers, artists and community. Click on here to find out more about this successful event.
Storylines brought many people to the Alley who had not been there before. Here's what some people had to say:
"I've walked down Claremont hundreds of times and never realised this amazing space was here. It's fantastic!"
"First time I've seen the whole space cleared."
"I think it's an exciting unseen part of Hastings."
"It's an amazing space and you have obviously done heaps of work to get it to where it can be used. Here's to its future."
"The alley itself is a film set – so diverse."
"I think the alley has great potential: music, performance space, markets, outdoor eating such as street food. Maybe the businesses backing it will help develop that?"
"Bring back the Rock Fair!"
"Represents past and potential future of Hastings and it's an exciting and unusual space that should be used by all."
"Such an inspirational place. Thank you!"
Illustrations by Rowena O'Reilly