Published: 12:00, 18 October 2016
A topping-out ceremony with a difference was delivered through pedal power at Betteshanger Country Park.
The service on Friday marked Hadlow College’s progress in creating a £40 million business, educational, history and lifestyle destination at the former Betteshanger colliery.
It celebrated the completion of the frame of what will be a visitor centre, mining museum, cycling hub and conference suite at the pit’s former slag heap, now a country park.
Energy was the theme and Hadlow College’s CEO Mark Lumsdon-Taylor said it mirrored the college’s vision of turning an industrialised old energy site into a green energy tourist and fitness attraction.
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He was joined by MP for Deal and Dover Charlie Elphicke, governor of Hadlow College Theresa Bruton and director of the Betteshanger project
Richard Morsley. They all mounted static bikes which they pedaled in front of guests, creating enough power to raise a wreath to the top rafter.
The project began in 2008 when it was identified that there could be educational possibilities at the site.
Mr Lumsdon-Taylor said: “I took one look at the site and said ‘we could do something much better than that’.”
The combined publicly and privately funded scheme will see the visitor centre, mining museum and cycling hub open in the spring. The second phase, an education and micro-business incubation zone partnered with Discovery Park, will open across the road at the former pit head in September 2018.
Mr Lumsdon-Taylor said: “Over the past seven to eight years, we’ve raised £11 million through a range of different funds. There were a lot of abortive attempts, a lot of funds didn’t materialise, there were a lot of late nights, a lot of sleepless nights, a lot of frantic midnight phone calls. There was a hard line – in 2012 we had to deliver a position, which we did, and the board said ‘right, we’re going to go for it’.
He added: “The original concept of just delivering education became a green technologies and economic and social regeneration project, where we are bringing opportunities where there were none. We took lifelessness, which is what this park is, and created life with it.”
The ceremony was attended by dignitaries from the district and county councils, Hadlow College officials and members of the mining community.
Betteshanger’s last miner, Jim Davies, delivered a summarised version of his regular mining history presentation, contextualizing the area’s past and future.
He and fellow ex-miner Terry Harrison have handed over their collections of memorabilia to the museum.
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