Happy New Year and welcome to 2016 everyone! There is an air of excitement in our office as after years of planning, British Airways i360 is opening THIS YEAR!
This is a great time to reflect on all that we have achieved in the past year. We started 2015 in the ground diverting a Victorian sewer and pouring our foundations, and ended the year 162 metres into the sky having built Sussex’s tallest structure! In 2016, we continue skywards as our first “flights” will take off this summer!
One of the most memorable days of the year for me was 11 June when the steel cans arrived from Holland on Brighton beach. My day started at around 5am on the beach watching the barge arrive, along with my team and the entire office from Marks Barfield Architects.
David and Jenny who run the Ice Café, next to us on the beach, kindly opened up early so we had delicious Small Batch coffees waiting for the barge to unload.The day was a whirl wind of live media interviews and talks. The sun shone and well-wishers and supporters joined us to celebrate the start of the tower build at Alfresco including Mayor, Cllr Lynda Hyde, and the High Sheriff of East Sussex, Juliet Smith, our neighbours, members of the business community and councillors.
A week later, I danced the Charleston in a ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ style competition at the Rockinghorse summer ball, with head judge Zoe Ball. We raised an incredible £100,000 that night for a great cause. My co-dancers included Barry Carden from Cardens Accounting, my dance partner Dave Samuel from Paddle ‘Round the Pier (who has joined the team as our Operations Manager), and Nicola Hume and Tom Evans from Heart Sussex Breakfast Show.
Then – in an incredible feat of engineering – Hollandia bolted the 17 cans together and completed the tower in just 10 weeks. The steel tower can now be seen all over the city and even from the windows of airplanes landing at Gatwick! My team and I had an incredible view of the tower construction from our office in a Portakabin and we particularly enjoyed watching the tower levitating in the sky, as it was lifted up on the jacking tower to insert the steel cans at the bottom. I cannot wait to see it finished when we add the glass pod, lighting scheme and two 1866 West Pier toll booths in 2016.
For me, one of the high points of my year (literally and metaphorically) was going up on to the top of the 60 metre high jacking tower with ITV Meridian. The view was absolutely incredible stretching out along the Sussex coastline, over to the downs and the city. I cannot wait to see the views from the BA i360, which will glide up to 138 metres where you will be able to see up to 26 miles!
The other major high point for me was announcing our partnership with British Airways. I was delighted to secure such a prestigious brand as our sponsor.
I cannot think of a better fit than the national flag carrier, which is already promoting the i360 around the world and is such a major regional employer at Gatwick. It is great to be delivering on our business plan, as naming rights sponsorship income was always part of our plan.
In my New Year’s blog this time last year, I mentioned that we had already paid £850,000 to the city. A year later it is great to see the money generated by the BA i360 being reinvested into the seafront. We look forward to seeing how the money gets used in future, as the Council is set to earn over £1 million a year once we open. We announced a half price ticket scheme for local residents (along with free entry for children attending a state school in Brighton and Hove) – and this is just one of 26 ways the BA i360 will benefit the city.
As well as working with British Airways, we were also thrilled to announce that we will be working with the talented Sussex-based chef Steven Edwards who won MasterChef: the Professionals. Steven will be the Executive Chef in our brasserie and shares our vision to serve food that has been grown, reared and caught in the 26 miles you can see from the BA i360.
As well as the tower, J T Macley has made lightning progress with our beach building, and it has been brilliant to do hard hat tours regularly to see it progressing (including hosting visits from author Peter James and DJ Norman Cook AKA Fatboy Slim). The concrete frame is complete and the walls inside have also gone up so you can now walk into the different rooms and see the brasserie, kids play zone, exhibition, beachside hospitality rooms, gift shop, customer toilets and our offices. It is amazing to see years of planning becoming a reality!
We also achieved a few marketing milestones in 2015, launching our new web site with help from local web designers, Tilt; a promotional film made by local film maker Robert Dee from the Ideas Factory as well as one Introducing British Airways i360; and launching gift vouchers for sale just before Christmas. Meanwhile on social media, our Facebook likes topped 7,600 and Twitter topped 5,000. We are now regularly reaching over 200,000 people a week via social media. Our marketing team grew and is now made up of Sean Watkins who leads the team, Anna Prior, Georgie St Clair and Ruth Chapman.
We have enjoyed seeing local artists engaging with our project. In August, local graffiti artist, Aroe and 13 other artists painted our site hoardings. Cartoonist Lisa Holdcroft has been documenting the build in hew own unique style, artist Patrick Turner-Lee has been painting oil paintings of the tower, and dozens of talented photographers have been sharing their images on social media. Brighton-based Latest TV, along with our photographers Kevin Meredith and Gary Eastwood have captured the build on film and print.
We had an incredibly successful World Travel Market securing lots of international business and meeting lots of travel bloggers. Our sales team Pippa Atkinson and Sophie Shepherd took our first group and event bookings for 2016. We also announced we are working with Brighton accountants Spofforths and Sussex-based law firm DMH Stallard. We will be announcing many more commercial partners in the months ahead.
The BA i360 has been in the media virtually continuously with lots of visits from BBC South East, ITV Meridian, local journalists, as well as national coverage in the Guardian, Telegraph, The Times, The Financial Times, the Independent and Observer. We have even had major international coverage in Holland, Germany and France. In 2015, I also started my weekly column in Latest Homes magazine.
Looking ahead to 2016, during the first quarter I’m looking forward to seeing the glass viewing pod completed. Judging by the photos taken during its trial assembly by Poma in France (shown below), it will be stunning! It will be really exciting to see the first test flights in the spring initially with sand bags before we get a chance to fly!
It is set to be a very busy and exciting for my team and me as the vertical cable car, restaurants and gift shop will open this summer. We will barely get a breather before the exhibition and children’s play zone open in the autumn, and we will also start hosting our first events and weddings in the beachside hospitality rooms. Thankfully our team will grown to take on this extra work, and we will move out of our Portakabin into our offices inside our beach building (although we will miss the lovely West Pier views and unbelievably loud bangs when seagulls land on to the cabin!).
The countdown is well and truly on until launch this summer!
Eleanor Harris, 1 January 2016 (Twitter @Eleanor_Harris)