Aylesham Hub: Designed by local people to meet the needs of local people

Aylesham Hub Ltd is a group of local people who share the aim of building a new community centre as a social hub for the residents of Aylesham, Snowdown and the surrounding villages in East Kent.

Aylesham was built in the 1920s, in an area of Kent that was open farmland until the discovery of coal there in the 1900s. The rapid expansion of the coalfield led to renowned town planner Sir Patrick Abercrombie designing Aylesham as a mining “town”, his inspiration coming from new towns such as Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City. Many miners travelled south from northern England and Wales to work in the East Kent coalfields and a unique community evolved in the village which still retains much of its diverse culture and traditions, including its male voice choir, brass band and rugby pastimes.

The closure of the coal mines and slow development of alternative industries, the closure of local schools and changes to the transport links to London have all had an impact. Over the years the area has lost facilities where local people can meet and enjoy a social and community life. A further change is coming to Aylesham in the form of large-scale expansion, in the range of 1,200 new housing units.

Over the next few years, the population of Aylesham is expected to double and while some local amenities may be regenerated as part of the housing developments, there is a concern that plans don’t include the creation of any new social spaces. The Aylesham Hub project is about creating an exciting, new, flexible space for the entire community, for existing and new residents alike, which is driven by the local community itself: the residents, local groups and service providers.

See the Aylesham Hub website

The Bright Ideas Fund has enabled Aylesham Hub to carry out a pre-feasibility study, including consulting local people via initial surveys, holding listening events and building partnerships with local groups, organisations and individuals, including those who currently provide services and activities in the village.

The aim has been to find out how the new hub could work with existing facilities, fill the gaps identified by local people, and meet the needs of the rapidly expanding village.

Applying to the Bright Ideas Fund

In early 2018 a group calling itself the Aylesham Village Hall Establishment Committee applied to Bright Ideas Fund for business development support. Formed to explore possibilities to help meet the village’s future social needs, the group had begun reaching out to other village groups and residents and had concluded that a dedicated community hub was needed to provide a venue for:

  • family celebrations
  • arts and education
  • business meetings and events
  • social events for the young and elderly
  • local organisations

What they felt they needed at this early stage was help in developing their ideas so that they could confidently approach local authorities and grant-giving organisations, but first, they would need support to:

  • establish a legal entity that would be able to develop their plans, build and ultimately
    manage the facility.
  • plan a programme of effective community and stakeholder engagement and consultation.

It is hoped the land for the Hub will be provided by Dover District Council, with the building and ongoing costs met through an extensive funding programme.

From initial development to the building being ready for use is anticipated to take three to five years, with the first phase concentrating on demonstrating the need for new community facilities and engaging local people in shaping the project.

What happened next

The Bright Ideas Fund awarded 12 days’ advisory support and the opportunity to apply for a grant up to £10,000. Meetings began with the Bright Ideas adviser and within a few weeks, the group had settled on becoming a Charitable Community Benefit Society. This society model appealed due to its co-operative roots and as it enables community participation in all aspects, including financial (community shares will be issued as part of the fundraising programme), while also having charitable status.

The project was scoped and the grant was awarded to cover:

  • the costs of incorporation
  • an architectural feasibility study to explore the options, alongside community consultation
  • the development of a community engagement and communications plan.

In summer 2018 the new legal entity called Aylesham Hub Ltd was registered as a society with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

Following a discussion with the School of Architecture at Canterbury’s University of Creative Arts, a small architectural practice, MUD Architects LLP, was appointed for the architectural feasibility study. The Hub team chose them based on their enthusiasm to engage creatively with the Aylesham community, and because their illustrative drawings reflected the local 1920s industrial architecture.

To work on the communications plan, the team chose Gemma Pettman PR. With up-to-date experience of the sector and living locally, Gemma was able to be hands-on and develop best practice with the team during the community consultation.

MUD and Gemma worked alongside the Hub team and jointly delivered survey results in early 2019 culminating in a First Stage Report published in May. There is also an extensive 138-page highly detailed architectural feasibility study to strengthen the next stage of planning and consultation with local authorities and funders.

Challenges

Aylesham is in the top 20% nationally of the Indices of Deprivation, including low education attainment, skills and qualifications, and poor health. The closure of its secondary school in 1988 and the Youth Club ten years ago has undermined the community, with young people particularly feeling the loss. Added to these challenges is the task of integrating an additional 3-4,000 new residents over the next few years with potentially inadequate social facilities in which to meet and mix with the established population.

One of the problems immediately facing the Hub was to find willing team members representing all corners of the community.

Achievements

Identity
The team lost no time in developing a strong visual identity, a regularly updated Facebook page and a good website.

Consultation schedule
Aylesham Hub’s team was aware that paramount to exploring the feasibility of a new hub was the involvement of the local community. They aimed to do this throughout all of the stages of the design process, through survey participation, ‘listening events’, the involvement of schools, groups and societies and inviting volunteers to join them on a community engagement panel, and a timetable was drawn up for the process.

Surveys
Two initial surveys were carried out – a general survey for all local residents, and a separate version for young people – and results published on the new website and Facebook page.

Listening events
Aylesham Hub held two well-attended “listening events” to gather residents’ opinions. MUD Architects provided cut-out drawings for people to position to create their own building designs, plus photos for various community activities (dancing, cinema, restaurant etc.), underneath which people could insert ticks on what they felt was needed.

Living Noticeboard
Fifteen local groups took part in a community exhibition, called the Living Noticeboard, in April 2019 which was organised by the team behind the Aylesham Hub project.

Throughout the afternoon residents called in to chat with the local groups and to speak with Aylesham Hub volunteers about the plans for new social facilities. Hub Secretary Jon Flaig said: “Several local organisations had told us they find it hard to promote what they do or attract new volunteers, while some residents have said they aren’t sure what’s on offer in the village. The event aimed to see how we could work together to help promote each other.”

The Living Noticeboard marked the end of the first phase of Aylesham Hub’s local consultation.

Architects’ Limited Feasibility Study
MUD Architects have produced a limited feasibility study in response to the client brief, site information and context, and the community engagement and consultation process (working with Gemma Pettman PR). In it, they have outlined strategies for the proposed building, suggested layouts, design and sustainability aspirations, that will form the basis for the next stage of development.

The images that MUD have created, showing what the building could look like by following through two ideas that emerged from the consultation, are summarised in the First Stage report.

Launch of First Stage report
Aylesham Hub held a public meeting in May at which the Hub team launched the progress report, discussed the results of their initial survey, shared illustrative plans and explained the next steps in the project. The architects did a walk-through of the different ideas and presented the progress in a very accessible and visual way.

Creating partnerships

In addition to working with other groups on the Living Noticeboard, the Hub team have spent much time and energy on developing good relationships with other community organisations, and with outside influencers, stakeholders and potential partners, e.g. the Architectural School at University of the Creative Arts Canterbury has become involved, with the students using Aylesham as a basis for a design project, and this association is expected to continue. As part of this developing relationship, the UCA students visited Aylesham to meet the Hub team and visit the Heritage Centre.

What happens next?

It has been a remarkable year for Aylesham Hub but they know they have a long way to go. In the design process, the Hub project is currently at Stage One of an 8-stage building, design and construction process as laid down by RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects).

The Hub team over the coming months will be:

  • progressing with scheduled discussions with Dover District Council about the site
  • working towards detailed business planning, including costing out various options
  • developing the fundraising strategy
  • establishing the community panel to complement and empower the team
  • seeking further development funding.

What does Aylesham Hub say?

“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.

Bright Ideas has helped us leap forward organisationally, and grown our confidence immeasurably.”

 

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