THE boss of a popular seaside venue has explained what members get for £750 and why the scheme is necessary to deliver on his community-first promise.

Luke Davis has transformed the previously dilapidated site of The Venue on Hove seafront into Rockwater.

About £6 million has now been invested in the site, which boasts stunning views of the seafront and has provided jobs to 230 people.

Rockwater Hove

Rockwater Hove

However, Rockwater faced an intense backlash after announcing people could buy a year’s membership for £750.

The membership model will mean that at times non-members will be excluded from the venue’s roof terrace.

Mr Davis said this will only apply on about four nights of the year.

He said that is the price of putting on star-studded events, with performers such as Jimmy Carr, to transform the building into an “iconic” venue.

However, Mr Davis says, the cash will subsidise a series of free events and activities to deliver on his promise of investing in the community, in which he himself lives.

Asked whether he expected the backlash, Mr Davis said: “If I’m completely honest, it took me by complete surprise, which I guess is a learning experience in itself.

Luke Davis, founder of Rockwater in Hove

Luke Davis, founder of Rockwater in Hove

“I was upset that I had got it so wrong, perhaps I didn’t communicate it properly.

“I honestly didn’t think that what is essentially an events package, or a networking community within Rockwater, would upset so many people.

“But obviously, I’ve read the comments, I understand that people have got emotionally invested in Rockwater a lot along the way.

“I understand that they felt they were already members, so I understand why people were a bit taken back.”

The venue’s retractable roof was subject to planning permission. Council officers recommended that councillors refused to the scheme.

But, councillors went against the advice after an overwhelming amount of support from the community, who wrote letters backing the plans.

The membership model includes member experience away days, two supper clubs with special guests, brunch events, live music events, comedy events, film screenings, and audiences with guests.

Those that have supported the venue are anxious they will be excluded from the roof due to the members-only events.

Mr Davis said: “That scenario will probably only happen four times a year .

“The only reason it wouldn’t be open to someone walking in off the street is because the entertainment would cost somewhere between £40,000 to £80,000.

“That’s the reality of it. If I ticketed it, each ticket would have to be so expensive it would be ridiculous.

“Every step of the way we have been criticised and people have said we are this and we are that... potential noise problems, that we were going to be a nightclub.

“Each time we have delivered and we’re not doing what everyone feared.

“The same will be true about the membership as what that money allows us to do is invest back into the community.”

The community investment includes money for several local sports clubs and tens of community events... some ticketed, others totally free.

Also on offer are chess, running and writing clubs and drop-in meetings and activities to help with mental health.

All of this, and community-focused plans for the future, are subsidised and made possible by the membership, he said.

Asked why the fee was £750, he explained: “It gives us the budget to reinvest into the community.

“I wanted to limit the members to 500 so it wasn’t too diluted and that gave me roughly the revenue I needed to put on the events I want. The launch weekend is costing £150,000.

“It’s a combination of the maximum number of members that I would want as well as how much money I would need to invest back into the community and into the events to make it viable.

“The main thing with the membership, I guess, is I don’t want to alienate the community because it’s the community that’s going to make this business a success and it truly was the reason to set this up.

“That was the opportunity I saw, if you go the community to engage with this place, it could be a really, really successful business.

“People are going to have to watch and see what I do next. I think the community will be happy with what we’re doing with the revenue we’ve generated from the membership.”

There is currently a waiting list for the membership offering, which starts after the launch event at the end of June.

The business is currently in a “soft launch” with stunning retractable roofs on the roof itself and on its outside building on the northern side, known as The Lodge.

The “soft launch” has come with teething issues, Mr Davis said, but business has been booming.

“It’s been an eye-opener for me,” he said. “You’ve had the drama of Covid, which everyone knows, but then on top of that you’ve got a start-up company that’s going from zero turnover to many, many millions overnight.”

Between the Shacks by The Shore, the outside seating, inside lodge and roof terrace, the site has established itself as a destination point on Hove seafront.

Asked whether this is what he was aiming for, Mr Davis said: “Absolutely 100 per cent, that was exactly the aim of it.

“I wanted to make this place an iconic destination and we did that in a small way by putting on events on the beach. I subsidised that out of my own money. That was to showcase what I wanted to do with this building.

“Part of the reason people got excited about this business is because of what I’m trying to do with it and it’s just unfortunate that some of that stuff needs to be paid for.”