Aylesham’s population is set to double with the development of 1,200 new housing units. Whilst some local amenities may be regenerated, current residents are concerned that this does not include a social space.

A group of local people banded together to kickstart the creation of a new social hub for the residents of Aylesham, Snowdown and the surrounding villages. By providing a multipurpose venue, Aylesham Hub will offer a flexible space for, and driven by, the local community.

Aylesham has seen its fair share of changes over the years, starting out as a mining town after the discovery of coal in the early 1900s. As a result, many miners travelled from northern England and Wales to work in the East Kent coalfields and a unique community emerged. The closure of coal mines and a slow uptake on pursuing alternative industries, as well as the closure of some local schools and changes to transport links to and from London, have had an impact on Aylesham. Loss of social facilities in the area has also had an effect on its residents. Its second secondary school closed in 1988 and the youth club closed ten years ago – young people have felt the loss.

Photo courtesy of Dover Museum and Bronze Age Boat Gallery

How did they do it?

The Aylesham Village Hall Establishment Committee, as the group was then called, applied for funding through the Bright Ideas Fund for business development support to explore the feasibility of a centre in Aylesham and develop ideas so that the committee could approach local authorities and apply for further grants with a coherent plan.

The group needed to establish a legal entity that would be able to develop their plans, build, and ultimately manage the facility. Aylesham Hub was incorporated as a charitable community benefit society – a model that appeals to its co-operative roots by enabling community participation at every stage, including the offer of community shares, which will be issued as part of a fundraising programme.

Aylesham Hub was awarded 12 days’ advisory support and shortly after won a grant for £9,991 to get the community business off the ground. The grant funded an architectural feasibility study to explore the options, alongside community consultation, and the development of a community engagement and communications plan.

What is their social impact?

Aylesham Hub was formed to explore the possibilities of the village’s future social needs. Whilst the project still has a long way to go, the group want to provide a venue that allows for family celebrations, arts and education activities, business meetings and events, social events for the young and elderly, and a place for local organisations to call home.

How is it community led?

Since its inception, Aylesham Hub has sought to consult the community of Aylesham to find out what it really wants and what the community needs – young people in particular. Local people have been engaged with shaping this hub from the very beginning. The hub conducted surveys, held ‘listening events’, involved local schools, groups and societies and invited volunteers to join a community engagement panel which would complement and empower the rest of the team.

“The chance to join the Bright Ideas programme came along just at the right time for us. It concentrated our minds and allowed us to put real resources to work to engage with our fast-changing community. This process helped us to develop our team, set up our organisational structures and has given us the skills to translate the needs and aspirations of our community into concrete proposals and put them in front of local decision-makers in a highly professional way.”

– Aylesham Hub