The West Pier: Future
Interview with Rachel Clark, General Manager of The West Pier Trust, 12th December 1997

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The West Pier Trust PortaKabin
How was the West Pier Trust founded?   

Once the pier closed in 1975 there was immediately a campaign to stop the pier from being demolished (as this is what had been initially threatened). This campaign was highly successful in much as the demolition plans were abandoned. The group of people who were making this process were the embroyic form of the Trust but the West Pier Trust itself didn't start until later in the seventies/early eighties. In one form or another it has tried to get the pier restored ever since. This was always going to be a problem but obviously as time went on and expenses went up it became an increasing problem. One thing being that the pier iteself is very short and therefore exploitable space on it is limited. So it really wasn't until the lottery that there became a real chance of getting the pier properly restored. 

Rachel Clark What brought you to The West Pier Trust?  

I've been here for 4 and a half years and I started I suppose because I wanted a's as simple as that! I answered an advertisement for a very different job to what it is now. It was very much a part-time job. This was still very much pre-lottery days. The lottery was just a glimmer on the horizon. We didn't really know very much about it - no-one did- so we were still really hoping to get the pier restored without lottery money which, with hindsight, was clearly never going to happen but we'd never have thought that at the time. It's only since the lottery came into existence that our hopes have been real and tangible. 

What's your background in the restorative field? Have you done any similar projects in the past? 

No, nothing at all like this. I worked in a theatre, or rather worked in a buliding which we converted into a theatre. So I'm used to buildings and the associated problems - of which there are many! I'm also used to working for non-profit-making organisations so this job is linked but it's not exactly the same environment by any stretch of the imagination. 

How many people does the West Pier Trust employ?  

I am employed as the only full-time employee and Maureen works on  long part-time hours. (I work 35 hours and she works 25 hours).We also have a part-time accountant. The  chief executive, Geoff Lockwood,who isn't based in the office but just drops in, is even more part-time than that and his exact hours vary. These are all the paid employees although we also have some honorary help from other people. We have an honourary historian, Dr. Fred Gray, and an honorary Technical Officer. 

Do you have any voluntary help as well?  

No we don't. It is difficult t explain precisely but this sort of work doesn'y invite voluntary help very easily. Obviously there's always things like stuffing envelopes and it's very helpful to have voluntary help when we do mailings. However, roles within the trust are very specific and defined and it's not the sort of thing that it's very easy to spread. So yes, we do get voluntary help but not on a day-to-day basis and only really for occasional menial tasks. 

You've got funding for the pier? Is this just for the initial restoration project? 

No, what we had, almost 18 months ago now, was about £1 million pounds of emergency works which, in essence, were just holding works. That obviously took a long time and the emergency works eventually finished in January of this year (1997). What we're now hoping for is a further £14 million from the lottery which we think it is very likely we'll receive at the beginning of next year. We've also got private development partners who have input at least £10 million. So funding is all in place, it's just a matter of twhen the lottery money will be released as without that nothing will happen. 

What is the estimated total cost, at this stage, of restoring the pier?  

25 million pounds. £1 million, plus £14 million, plus £10 million. That's what we reckon it will be. 

I read that the lower esplanade below the pier is going to be commercially developed. What kind of enterprises do you have planned for the redesigned facility.  

Now that's a difficult question to answer. In the new development (on the esplande) obviously they'll be commercial usage but that's only because the new pier needs more letteable space to make the whole project viable. So they'll definately have to be money-making plans but precisely what is very difficult to say at this stage. I can say however, what's more tha likely to be on the pier itself. They'll be at least two etaurants, retail outlets, some hotel accomodation, an art gallery. But, as I say, on the land end, at this stage, it's hard to say precisely. 

And is the old theatre at the end of the pier going to be restored as a theatre?   

No, no chance at all of that! It just wouldn't work commercially. There's quite a few theatres in Brighton which are struggling. The Pavilion Theatre on the pier was always a very small theatre which these days is never going to be commercialy viable. The pavilion will probably house a restaurant and some hotel accomodaton and some retila outlets. There will probably be a performance space on the pier but it will be a flexible one which can be used for all different sorts of activities. 

Will the performance space be available for local artistes and performers to use? 

Probably, yes, probably. 

Will the pier ultimately be a profit-making enterprise?  

Yes, absolutely, without a doubt! It won't work otherwise. We can't have anything which invites subsidy. The struggle for funding has been entirely on that level. They (the development partners) are not prepared to put money into something which can't sustain itself successfully. And it is not just a matter of sustaining itself, the pier must never be allowed to slide into decline again. So it's not just a question of keeping our head above water, the pier has to be a successful commercial enterprise and that has always been a problem. 

Some local residents feel that the money that's being spent on the restoration of the pier could be better spent helping those in need in the Brighton and Hove area. How do you feel about these comments and how do you justify the restoration?  

It's easy to justify. This is the most important pier that was ever built and it's the only grade one listed pier there is! It will have enormous knock-on effects on the economy of Brighton and obviously there'll be a lot of work introduced to the town via the pier. It'll also invite a lot more investment down in the west - end of the town. Lottery money was never intended for backing up the welfare state. Personally though I have to say that I think we're presenly living though a little golden age and eventually that's what will happen. They're already syphoning off some of the lottery money into education and this is just the beginning of a slippery slope and the welfare state as we know it is probably in it's final stages.In Spain, their national lottery totally funds the health system and  I think it would be a terrible shame if it comes to that here. 

Do you envisage there being an admission fee charged for entry onto the pier? 

No, I think that's very unlikely. 

When I visited the pier in May this year there was some worry that wit the government change that the support which had been previously agreed might disappear. Has this been the case?  

Not at all. probably, if anything, the opposite. The pier represents an attractive project for the Labour government because unlike a lot of the projects that lottery money is spent on it is very accessible to the general public, just ordinary people. Not having to pay to go on the pier means that it's very much not a Royal Opera House situation and I think that's probably appealing. Having said that, the relationship between the lottery funding bodies and the government is not a simple one. It's not for me to define what the arrangement is because I don't really know exactly but the government has changed and I'm sure that's helpful. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that our funding is inevitable as a result. 

Why did you propose to restore the pier to it's 1920's incarnation rather than any of its later ones or its original one?  

Oh, very simply, because that was it's most popular period and earlier than 1920 would mean there would be no Concert Hall, for example, as that was only built in 1916. From the late twenties onwards there was a gradual decline from which it never improved. Piers are evolving structures but the West Pier is unusual in that it stopped evolving in about 1920. It's a sad thing to say but the reason why the Pier's so beautiful is that such awful things were done to it in say the 1950's and 1960's. There are lots of piers with some fairly ugly buildings on them and these tend to be the ones which were put p in the fifties and sixties. 

I understand that the West Pier is going to follow quite a different format to the amusement arcades of the Palace Pier. What sort of entertainment do you see it having? 

Lots of people who visit the Palace Pier say "Oh my god, is that what you're planning to do with the West Pier?" Of course we wouldn't do that because whilst there's room for two piers in Brighton there's not room for two piers doing the same thing. That's not to say that we don't admire what's done on the Palace Pier because it's a very successful enterprise and it's not that we disapprove of amusements because they're fantastically popular. However, our idea is to offer an experience which compliments the Palace Pier. The ideas that we've had and that our development partners approve of (none of which are set in stone) are, for example, that the Concert Hall will be a family-style restaurant and bistro/brasserie (that sort of thing) with a performance space in it. It will be available for private hire too. There'll be an Art Gallery which will almost certainly be a Brighton branch of a very well-known and highly thought of Gallery in London. There will be retail outlets - quite unusual, a bit quirky, things that you can't otherwise get in Brighton which I think is important. Probably some designer clothes outlets, a lovely flower shop, a delicatessen, those sort of things...possibly even a tailor. They (the development partners) are very keen on having things actually made on the pier. There's very much a sense of wanting it to be alive. You know how you get an awful lot of Heritage destinations which are really only trying to recreate something which is, in fact, dead. They (the partners) don't want that here. They want to make the pier into something with an identity built from truth. Personally, I think that what they are suggesting is probably the most faithful interpretation of what the West Pier should be in the 21st Century - innovative, stylish and I hope appealing to an awful lot of people from different backgrounds. 

Will there be a museum or visitors centre on the pier?  

Yes, there will be, although almost certainly not on the West Pier itself. That will almost definitely be incorporated in the new development. We're all very committed to that. 

I understand that the tours have finished for the winter...when do you plan to re-open them? 

I'm afraid we don't. Basically the tours were great. They were  great fund-raising, PR exercise but they were conditional on there being no work carried out on the pier. We fully expect the work to begin again properly in the spring which will be the earliest time we could re-start the tours and there's really nothing we can do to interrupt that. Having said that however, our chief engineer, John, thinks it would still be a very good PR exercise so maybe we will do some but not anything that will slow down the restoration process. So, at the moment, what we're doing when people ring us (which they still do occasionally), we take names and numbers, and we'll arrange occasional tours when there's sufficient demand. But it was really a bit of a one-off opportunity. 

So, when will work be completed on the pier and when will it be open to the public?  

Well, our partners would very much like to see it open and up and running properly for the millennium. I think that's hugely optimistic. I think that if we're very lucky we'll have it completed to the deck level by then so people will be able to come up on it but there won't be much to do. I think it's far more likely to need another year on top to get it fully opened, But you never know - and awful lot of it is weather-dependant, so if we get mild winters like the nice calm weather this year...but when you get storms then really very little can happen. 

I heard a rumour that you're planning to hold a millennium New Years Eve party on the pier. Is this true and will tickets be made available to members of The West Pier Trust?  

If we can then we will and, of course, I'm sure that tickets will be openly available. From now on the future plans have to be made not just by us but also by our development partners. However, it is on the agenda to sort out. 

Membership of the Trust is not just reserved to UK citizens or Brighton residents. How far a field does the membership stretch?  

All over the place. A lot of Americans, a lot of Europeans. What is quite interesting is how universally admired the West Pier is. It's not surprising that Brightonians admire it, or even British citizens, but people who come from abroad are just amazed by it and, I'm afraid, sickened by the fact that in this condition. In fact, foreigners more particularly than the British people have expressed utter dismay that we can have let this happen. It is shocking isn't it! 

Once work is completed will the West Pier Trust still exist and what will it's role be then?  

Very much so. We're still the owners. All we're doing is giving the lease to the operators so we'll always be there and our responsibility will be to ensure that it never ever falls into such a state again or anything even resembling it. So we'll be the landlords and we'll oversee the maintenance and we'll obviously be interested in it's progress and  maintaining our membership. 

Do you already have a website on the Internet?  

Yes, just! AVT very kindly designed a site for us and Virtual Brighton donated the space. You get to it via the Brighton and Hove site. I've only seen one website and this is it but I think it's good. (URL: ) 

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