Bognor Regis Creative Digital Hub | An interview with Denise Vine, Arun District Council
bognor regis, creative digital hub
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An interview with Denise Vine, Arun District Council

This week we spoke with Denise Vine, Head of Economic Regeneration at Arun District Council. Denise has worked at Arun District Council for three years and her role is intrinsically linked with the regeneration and ongoing development of Bognor Regis . In fact, it was Denise’s work in the local area that introduced West Sussex County Council (WSCC) to the space at Bognor Regis train station.

Q: Tell us how you got involved with the Bognor Regis Creative Hub?

My role at Arun District Council involves working with local businesses and liaising with Council departments and other local partners on the economic regeneration of the town. Over the last couple of years I’ve been aware that WSCC had formulated a plan to support existing creative digital businesses and local talent to create a community in a single location, with the aim of growing it into an economically and socially beneficial business sector for the future.

At the same time, the Council were implementing a new public realm scheme funded by The Coastal Communities Fund, and working with the Town Council, to improve the area at the front of Bognor Regis train station as well as in the town centre. It was clear that Southern Rail’s proposed refurbishment of the station would also make a huge difference to the immediate area and ideas for the two Victorian Waiting Rooms became a focus of conversations. The space had been vacant for years and most recently been used as an indoor market. But this had not continued and it was a shame to see such an important and prominent space not being used for the benefit of the town in some way – it needed the ‘space’ to become a ‘place’.

Initial ideas of ways to use the space were as a communal display space, or for a Butlin’s Museum. However, it was from that point that the idea to refurbish the disused waiting rooms to create a creative hub space for local talent and businesses was starting to be discussed with WSCC.

Q: What happened next?

WSCC approached Southern Rail with the idea and they’re currently working together to finalise the project terms. A big factor in convincing Southern Rail was the news that a new Engineering and Digital Technology Park is being built on the University of Chichester’s Bognor Regis campus that would attract up to 500 additional graduates a year to the area.

Q: How do you think the Creative Hub will make a difference to the area?

It’s a great communal space because of the light and high ceilings in an ideal location. I think it will bring vitality to the area that hasn’t previously been there – it could even become the business heart of town. The initial ideas would have limited the usage for the community and outside of usual office hours, the space would have been unoccupied. A Creative Hub will bring life to the space and surrounding area. Rather than an empty disused space, lights will be on, there’ll be activity and people working, which will help to improve the surrounding environment into a safer, more welcoming route between the railway station and town. Passengers will feel safer and it’ll be a more appealing place to be if there’s activity in the hub. We also hope new café’s and eateries will to attracted to the area as footfall and business activity increases.

Q: Any thoughts on the refurbishment?

The two waiting rooms are within a listed building, so care needs to be taken in developing the space, but I think the contrast with the traditional building and Southern Rail’s refurbishment of the station will create another talking point for the town. As a project for future community use it couldn’t be better. We are also very lucky to have such a prestigious and internationally recognised designer as Wayne Hemmingway leading on the interior design specifications and branding for the hub. I have seen some of the initial design concepts and they look great. I can’t wait to see the finished product. It will be a very special place and exactly the right type of creative space we hoped for.

Q: What other local area improvements are next on the planning list?

There are two key investments in the town that we’re currently working on: the Regis Centre and Hothamton car parks, these large regeneration sites on the seafront of Bognor Regis will provide a new hotel, family visitor attraction, theatre and exhibition space, restaurants, cafes, bars, apartments, student accommodation and car parking. .. These are major transformational schemes which will further contribute to the renaissance of Bognor Regis.

The University of Chichester have recently gained planning permission for their new Engineering and Digital Technology Park on their Bognor Regis Campus. This £35m project will add a further 1500 students living and studying in the town. The whole atmosphere of the place will change for the better and our evening economy will thrive.

Also, there’s an exciting project from Butlin’s who have an application in place to develop a £38 million splash pool. If planning permission is approved and once built, Butlin’s will have the biggest splash and leisure pool in the country and will attract even more visitors to the town. It’s going to be spectacular.

Q: What’s good about Bognor Regis – why should people visit?

My feeling is that we overlook the assets that are available in our local area. The town has a good mix of attractions with the Picturedrome, The Alexandra Theatre, Hotham Park and Butlin’s. There is a better quality of life, house prices are more affordable, and of course, there’s the beach, and the South Downs are on our doorstep. I think the future looks very exciting for Bognor Regis. The new regeneration of ideas and planned developments will all play a part in increasing interest and confidence in the town. My advice to any business is to get in quick before everyone else does !

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