West Wittering Beach Cafe

    Redevelopment Newsletter

April 2017


The Board decided early last summer to appoint a new café committee with a simple brief – to look with fresh eyes.

The Estate’s previous café plans were initiated several years ago. As we begin afresh, we are fortunate to have a new Chief Operating Officer to work alongside and the experience of new-style summer catering operations – not forgetting eight years of in-house hands-on management of the current café – to draw on.

With no preconceptions and a desire to really understand what people want, we had a lot of research to do! We surveyed parish residents, season ticket holders, hut owners and shareholders. We also engaged with winter visitors over a two-week period in October. Ruth Betts discusses the findings in more detail.

As well as answering our formal survey questions, many of you gave us a broad range of detailed comments. We read all your feedback and made visits to some of the other cafés you said you liked. Anna Hardy describes what we found on our visit to Hengistbury Head.

In addition, we undertook a review of our catering operations in summer 2016. A mobile catering unit was part of the solution. In fact, it proved a revelation and has provided valuable insights into our future operational requirements. James Crespi gives more detail about this.

Armed with these findings we were able to set out the key aims we needed the new café to meet. We developed a document to brief potential architects – a ‘design brief’. This does not cover specifics like design, location or layout, but allows an architect to understand our high-level objectives and operational requirements. We considered a public design competition, but felt that choosing an architect who could work with all our varied views and provide a sensitive (and possibly imaginative) solution was a better route.

After interviewing four short-listed practices, we have appointed Morgan Carn Partnership, whose strengths we hope include the ability to listen, understand the context of our wonderful beach and neighbouring land, and communicate a way forward.

So what can you expect next from us?

While we have no detailed timetable yet, we aim to brief Morgan Carn, undertake a design process, review proposals and run local consultations over the course of 2017, and hope to have a planning application submitted by this year end.

The café committee are excited to see plans develop over the coming months. We will aim to keep all interested parties informed through further newsletters and other activities. If you have any questions, comments or concerns please do not hesitate to get in touch via our email address:


Julian Hall

West Wittering Estate Café Committee

Julian is a keen windsurfer and sailor along with the rest of the Hall family; Rachel, Eleanor, Samuel and Isabel. We have been lucky to have enjoyed West Wittering Coastguard Cottages since 1963 and to have a wonderful view of the café! We look forward to many more years.

Here Anna Hardy introduces the architects we will be working with on the café development, and explains in more detail how they were selected.

We were not only looking for ‘the best of the best’ in terms of creativity, but we also sought a firm who would be truly responsive to the fragile and sensitive, natural character of West Wittering Beach. This meant that proximity of the architects was not a primary concern. However, we were lucky to find the firm Morgan Carn Partnership, located in Brighton, who have been commissioned to work with us on developing our new café building.

Our key conclusion from our research, and our observations of the last summer season, was that any new café has to provide two very different things: flexible, external catering to deal with the peak season crowds and a smaller permanent café for winter visitors. It should be a flexible space offering a cosy place to sit and enjoy quality coffee and snacks with an atmosphere and experience unique to the Beach.

Most importantly the café building must blend effortlessly into the natural environment, hopefully harnessing some of the wonderful views. It needs to fit into our unique and delicate area in a subtle and tasteful manner while celebrating the rich history and natural environment of the Estate.

These form our key objectives of the project and will be our guiding principles as we begin working with the architects. They may appear obvious or simple but they will be fundamental to everything we do and we will continue to refer back to them at every stage of the decision process.

We selected a shortlist of four architects, whom we met and considered on the following criteria:

Experience of working in an environmentally sensitive site or beach location, SSSI, National Trust AONB etc.

Experience in catering, retail and/or leisure

Experience and success in managing sensitive and mixed views between locals, shareholders and visitors

Experience with creating an environmentally friendly build: appropriate choice of build materials, renewable energy etc.

We travelled all the way along the South Coast over two days to interview our potential candidates.

Morgan Carn were chosen because, apart from meeting all of our selection criteria, we were impressed by their keenness to listen and their appreciation of the context of our wonderful beach and neighbouring land.

The partner who will lead the Morgan Carn team is on the Design Board for the South Downs National Park and hopes that he will help fly the flag for a truly environmentally-sensitive solution, both in design and execution.

Although Brighton-based, they are familiar with West Wittering, one of their lead architects having lived in Chichester for 12 years.

     2016 — Phew!

James Crespi, our Chief Operating Officer, describes a busy year for the Estate during which a temporary café solution proved a cracking success.

Last year was an extraordinary year at the beach and for the first time in the company’s history we parked over 200,000 paying cars in a single year.  The website, radio announcements and digital sign at the Stockbridge Roundabout gave our visitors live traffic information so they could plan their journey and think about turning around before the Witterings if the car park was full.

A second lane running through the northern section of the Estate allowed us to filter cars far more effectively at the end of the day and brought an end to the dreaded ‘two hours to leave’ problem.

The year finished with a busy Christmas period which saw us park some 2,200 cars on Boxing Day and the same again on New Year’s Day.

The Lifeguards had an extremely demanding summer. Reviewing their daily logs at the end of the season really told a story. From May to September, nearly 4,000 preventative actions were taken by our Lifeguards and 644 missing children reunited with their parents – 80 of these on a single day. Hats off to the Lifeguards for keeping everyone safe.

For nearly six weeks over the summer period we were busy every day and saw as many weekdays with over 3,000 cars as we did weekends. Clearly the population aren’t working hard enough!

While cars were parked and swimmers were watched we also operated a flexible, temporary catering solution to meet the demands of the summer peak. Based on my experience of event catering, a mobile catering unit outside serving hot food seemed to offer a good potential solution, with our own café then able to focus on hot drinks, sandwiches and ice creams.

These two sides of the solution perfectly complimented each other. In fact, the performance of this temporary approach over the summer has been a revelation. Not only have we been able to deliver better quality all round and reduce queue times, our catering revenues have also been higher. Most important, our experience with this temporary solution has brought into sharp relief the different catering demands we face during our peak “sunny days” and what is needed off-peak.

As we start to work with our architects to develop ideas for the new café it will be helpful to have the experience of last summer to draw on as well, of course, as our 8 years’ experience of managing the café in house.

Flexible self-contained mobile units, carefully designed to sit comfortably in the landscape, could well be part of the overall catering solution. They offer the distinct benefit that the larger-scale food and beverage operation required in the summer need not impinge on the unspoiled nature of the Estate during off-peak times. This approach also means that the new café building can be designed to support the mobile units in summer and be appealing as a stand-alone, permanent café for our off-season visitors.

     Your Opinions Please….

Here Ruth Betts discusses the key findings of the market research we have undertaken since the summer to help shape our plans for the replacement beach café at West Wittering Beach.

It was clear to me that gathering views from all interested parties, in a dispassionate and scientific manner, could be a helpful first step as we started to put together our thoughts on what a new café should be like.

We identified a range of audiences for the research, and prioritised contacting our neighbours in the parish of West Wittering. We felt it was important to give the whole village the chance to tell us what sort of café they would like to see at the beach. This seemed right given the company was originally set up, and remains largely still owned by, local people.

Analysis of data from the Estate’s barrier system is extremely revealing. This demonstrates that our pass holders, who are largely local residents, account for over four in ten of our visitors in the winter months – a greater proportion if you just look at week days. [Figure 1]

As we think about what a new café should offer, this gives further evidence that the needs of locals should be front and centre: we wondered whether there may be opportunity to improve our contribution to the local community, especially in the off-season when locals have our lovely beach more ‘to themselves’.

We built these and other ideas into a questionnaire which was distributed to 1,690 households in the village. Over 300 (303, or 18%) completed the survey and returned their forms to us. Compared to market research industry standards this is an excellent response rate. Many commercial surveys of this nature struggle to achieve a response rate of 10%.

In addition to the survey of the parish, we also invited nearly 1,400 season ticket holders, hut owners and shareholders to complete an online survey. 356 of these responded and 545 ‘paying’ visitors were surveyed at the end of October, as they entered the estate.

So, what have you told us?

First, it is encouraging to the new café committee that your feedback gives us evidence that locals appreciate some of the challenges we face in building something appropriate. As one West Wittering resident put it:

“The high season demands are very different from out of season. How to accommodate that? I do not know. Good luck with that one!”

An interesting and important learning from the research is that so many of our ‘core’ winter users already eat out regularly in local cafés and restaurants. [Figure 2].

However, few use the beach café in the winter.

Nearly half (43%) told us that they don’t use the café at all, despite the fact that half are typically visiting the beach at least once a week in the winter. Partly this will be driven by the fact that, during our off-peak season, the café generally has not been opening weekdays lately. However, it’s clear there is opportunity to offer a pleasant place to eat and warm up at the beach for those who visit, and indeed several who gave feedback in the survey agreed:

“We‘ve always felt the café is a big missed opportunity especially in winter. We've only visited occasionally but would be regular visitors if the quality of the food, service and ambience was more appealing. “

“Ideally, the building could adapt itself to create a more cosy space indoors for winter walks, to warm up and eat/drink.”

Survey results confirm that there is greatest interest in a good quality coffee shop and a place to meet friends. Demand is for simple, healthy food and snacks and great coffee with some interest in all-day breakfast and Sunday lunch. This is very helpful in planning things like the kitchen space and equipment we need to deliver this relatively simple food and beverage service.

There is also interest in a connection with local conservation, nature and the environment – something we hope to be able to build into the café design, perhaps interesting displays which can change with the seasons. Anna talks about the success of this approach at other locations in her article.

Our survey findings also confirmed that being ‘dog friendly’ is an important consideration for the design and layout. During off-peak months, about half of visitors to the beach (51% in our survey of locals and pass holders, 47% in our survey of winter ‘paying’ visitors) are walking their dog. We will certainly be sure the fabric of the building will stand up to sandy, soggy dogs!

Most important, many people from all audiences were keen to tell us that maintaining the natural, unspoilt nature of the beach is a high priority. Here is what some people had to say on this:

“Don’t change the natural feel of the location - you will spoil it!”

“I think keep the facilities simple. Otherwise it becomes too commercial and too busy which then puts you off coming.”

“It is important to keep the estate as free from development as possible and preserve its natural beauty. Any replacement building should be modern, simple and in keeping with its environment.”

“Please build something with some coastal character rather than a modern box.”

“The new café must not affect the tranquillity of the area or wildlife.”

So, as we begin talking to architects about what the café could look like, this will certainly be top of the list of requirements. A building which is literally ‘invisible’ may be a bit too much to ask, but we should certainly be able to improve on the current white box!

Ruth has lived in West Wittering since 2013 and has been a director of West Wittering Estate since September 2015. She has worked in market and opinion research for over 30 years.

     In Search of Inspiration - A Road Trip!

Here Anna Hardy shares the experiences and key findings from our road trip to visit other similar and potentially interesting sites.

My past experience in design and project management was telling me there is often a lot to be learnt from similar projects that have gone before. In our survey we asked whether you had ever visited any other cafés that you found inspiring or particularly liked, and goodness you delivered!

You mentioned places as far afield as New Zealand, Australia and Greece. Sadly our travel budget wouldn’t stretch quite that far, but we did head over to Hengistbury Head and to The Beach Deck in Eastbourne to meet owners, project managers and catering managers.

Hengistbury Café, although busy all year round, is 70’s in style and uninspiring in design. However, their manager provided us with some interesting insights when asked about the key factors to a successful and smooth-running beachside café:

Open all year to provide customers with continuity or ‘representation’ as he called it.

Simple functional design so as not to deter dog walkers, muddy boots and sandy children.

Simple but good quality, affordable food.

Flexible space with the opportunity to expand outside in the summer.

‘All day breakfast’ in the winter and Sunday lunch were their most popular offering.

A large pool of loyal, flexible, well trained staff, recruited at 16 as students.

These thoughts were virtually mirrored by the manager of the Beach Deck, and it’s interesting that ‘all day breakfast’ and Sunday lunch were popular among people who completed our survey too.

We also spent time meeting the project managers for the newly opened visitor centre at Hengistbury. Like West Wittering Beach this is a highly sensitive site, and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). They have achieved an innovative and intelligent building which blends into the landscape thanks to use of sympathetic materials. I particularly liked the garden which surrounds it to provide a natural screen to the car park.

Much of what we saw could be considered for our café development.

The helpful people we met at Hengistbury also gave us some great pointers about managing a large number of visitors at a site where protecting the environment is key:

You will never stop 1 million visitors coming, but there are important opportunities to educate and manage them better.”

“Vending machines create rubbish. China cups create good behaviour.”

Definitely some important food for thought, and well beyond the basics of our food and beverage offering.

We learnt a lot about the operations of a successful café on this road trip but more importantly, our time at Hengistbury Head made us realise we have an opportunity to subtly influence and educate visitors to our beach through thought-provoking design and informative displays, and by generating a generally pleasant ambiance within the space.

 Anna became a director of West Wittering Estates last year. She lives between her family’s smallholding on the South Downs and their cottage in Coastguard Lane and has spent the past 9 years developing the junior section of the West Wittering Sailing Club

     So What’s Next?

We have no detailed timetable yet, however over the course of 2017 we will be:

We hope to submit a planning application by the end of the year end.

Public consultations will be an important part of this process and we will be announcing when there will be opportunities for all interested parties to give their views through further newsletters and on the West Wittering Estate website (www.westwitteringbeach.co.uk).

In the meantime, if you have any questions, comments or concerns please do not hesitate to get in touch via our email address: wwecafecommittee@googlegroups.com

     Can you help?

We really enjoyed seeing the picture used on the front page of this newsletter, showing Julian with his father on the beach back in the 60’s. Do you have any photographs of West Wittering Beach in days gone by which you would be happy to share in future newsletters? If so, please let us know.

Litter picking

West Wittering beach c.1962

Ian Walters (pictured litter picking) now lives in Hong Kong. He visited the Estate in 2016 and said “My paper-picking days at West Wittering Car Park ran from Easter 1962 to end of season 1968. Best job I ever had. Best job satisfaction. Best environment. And seven quid a week too!”

Ian had many interesting tales from his time here including having to count hundreds of old pennies from the toilets (yes, you had to spend a penny in those days!), nudists on the beach early in the morning and on 3500 car days, traffic jams back to Lavant (long before the A27 was built).

A few things have changed since those days. We no longer charge for the toilets, the wages are more, and iPhones have replaced the transistor radio!