Last year’s update was all a bit doom and gloom. The developers were ignoring us, and the building was continuing to fall into wrack and ruin. There were no signs of any new planning application. We were only hopeful that the Repairs Notice, which was finally issued by the Council in February of this year, would create some action. In the meantime we felt that the best thing we could do was to keep the building up there in the public’s attention and in the spotlight as much as we could, and all in all we achieved quite some success in this field!
This past year we applied for funding for the Archive project, and we were all absolutely delighted to hear that both our applications were 100% successful.
The project was split into 2 phases. Phase 1 was establishing the archive and building the website and online catalogue, and then the Exhibition; Phase 2 is all heritage sharing which is mostly for much needed computing and scanning equipment but included funds to develop some educational materials as part of the Heritage Sharing criteria. We are now investigating a partnership with the University of Kent at Canterbury to work with students and staff of the Special Collections and Archives to encourage participation in local heritage.
We were also, during this time, working on a fundraising afternoon involving the cast and crew of BBC Radio 4’s “Home Front” drama. One of the producers of the series, much of which was set in Folkestone during WW1, had seen the BBC SE “Inside Out” programme featuring our campaign, and they decided they wanted to do something to support us. So, after much organisation, at 5pm on Sunday 20 January 2019, in the Ballroom at the Grand (where incidentally the characters and storylines for the series had been drawn up some years before), some 20 cast and crew of the drama and a completely sold-out 120 members of the public, enjoyed a fantastic performance over high tea. After costs the Friends raised not only just over £2k in profits, but a lot of new friends along the way!
At the beginning of April Sir Ian McKellen was performing at the Leas Cliff Hall as part of his 80th birthday tour of the UK, so as he’s been one of our supporters for years, but we have never actually met him, with the agreement of Leas View Development (as Churchgate are now known) to open up the Pavilion, we invited Sir Ian to come and visit us, and to do a small piece to camera for us. To our delight he agreed, so that afternoon we welcomed him to the Pavilion where he spent probably an hour with us, which was an absolute delight for us all. For many of the shows he was performing in fairly small venues, some of which were in need of funding, so as a measure of goodwill he was donating the profits from programme sales and collections to these theatres. So when he returned to the hall he absolutely insisted that the funds raised that night must go to us. So, completely unbeknownst to us he announced from the stage that he had “had the privilege of being invited this afternoon to a wonderful little theatre just down the road from here, which is in a terrible state of repair” and that he would now go up to the foyer and “please give generously”. It really was a shock, and the cheer that went up from the audience was quite emotional for us who were there. He then spent another 40 minutes or so standing with the collection buckets, signing autographs, and having selfies taken with a long queue of people. That incredible gesture raised just under £2,700 for us.
Meanwhile, the Archive Project volunteers were knee-deep in organising the Leas Pavilion Archive Exhibition which took place for one week from Sunday 28 April. Work on this had started back in November 2018 with a Memory Café getting peoples’ memories both down on paper, or on camera or audio, of the building as they remember it. A website was then designed and a catalogue was digitised. Over 500 people visited the exhibition.
Other than that we’ve had various articles/letters in the local papers, have presented a talks to local societies; talks have been requested in the next couple of months and, as always, we continue to try to keep pressure on the Council. Our supporter Griff Rhys-Jones who performed in Folkestone the week before our AGM mentioned us during his show and urged the audience to attend tonight and to support us. We are truly grateful!
Coming back to what we are all primarily concerned with – the Pavilion itself….. Unbeknownst to us at the end of last year a big shake-up had occurred with the developers, Churchgate. The new company name for the Pavilion site, as mentioned, is Leas View Development Ltd. During the course of the last year we can happily say that discussion between us has been quite regular, but that most delays and lack of communication were mainly due to massive changes of personnel in FHDC’s planning department.
When we asked a question of full Council in September, the reason Cllr Monk gave for any delay in enforcing the Repairs Notice, or proceeding with Compulsory Purchase, was that another buyer had entered the frame earlier in the year, but he understood this had failed. Some of this is true. There is absolutely no way that Compulsory Purchase could now go ahead, as LVD have showed a willingness to comply with the terms of the Repairs Notice, but have been held up by Planning’s tardiness in validating their applications. Happily, however, another company has come forward who, since about a month ago now have an agreement with LVD; and we are pleased to say that we had a meeting with them recently and they have already had discussions with both the Council and with the Folkestone Estate. The company is based in Antwerp, and have built many developments along the coast in Belgium. One of the partners is born and bred in Folkestone, and his 6th birthday party was actually held at the Leas Club – as his mother apparently reminded him. They are very positive and enthusiastic about the potential that Folkestone is showing. Both partners we met with asked us to categorically state tonight that the Pavilion is 100% safe, and will be restored. We spoke about the possible future uses, including the results of the “what do you want?” survey sent out to members/supporters earlier this summer, which was completed by almost 500 people. They are currently talking with architects to come up with a design that they feel will be suitable, and have requested another meeting with us before Christmas. We truly now feel that things are heading in the right direction, and will now move at quite a pace.