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When the Royal Navy left Chatham 30 years ago in 1984, few would have predicted it would be home to 140 small businesses employing more than 1,000 people.
The 80-acre Historic Dockyard is thought to be worth £16m a year to the Medway economy.
It sits on a sixth of the land once known as the Royal Naval Dockyard which employed about 10,000 people in its heyday.
The site has been transformed by the combined efforts of the Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust (CHDT) and property experts Smiths Gore.
Following the Navy’s departure, the newly formed CHDT set about reviewing the 100 vacant properties, including 47 Scheduled Ancient Monuments.
Many were dilapidated and in need of urgent repair.
The challenge was to bring these buildings back into use, whether for business, as visitor attractions, education or housing.
The bigger challenge was then finding the funding to make it happen. Over the last 30 years, the majority of buildings have been refurbished to meet the requirements of today’s business and it is partly home to the University of Kent.
CHDT chief executive Bill Ferris said: “We recognised that to preserve the Historic Dockyard for the benefit of the public, we had to secure sustainable income and this meant finding uses for the vacant properties.
“While not an easy task, today it is a great community of small businesses. Many, if not all of them, employ local people and each plays a part in underpinning the Medway economy.”
The Dockyard has successfully weathered the recent economic storm and is now plotting a course to attract more businesses.
Where once carpenters and welders plied their shipbuilding trades, now visitors are as likely to meet a creative designer, a solicitor or accountant, or an engineer.
The Admiral’s Offices are home to a range of professional companies, including a law firm. The Guard House is an opticians.
"The transformation has been significant yet sensitive to the heritage and historical significance of the site..." - Smiths Gore's Tim Cathcart
There is a community of creative companies clustered on the ground floor of the Sail and Colour Loft, the House Carpenters Workshop and Joiners Shop.
Traditional skills have been encouraged and the Dockyard is also home to many artisan businesses, offering woodcarving, furniture restoration and signwriting.
Smiths Gore provide property marketing and consultancy services for CHDT.
Partner Tim Cathcart said: “Having been involved with the trust for many years, the transformation has been significant yet sensitive to the heritage and historical significance of the site.
“Demand from prospective tenants remains strong and many of the existing tenants have grown since arriving and have no interest in moving elsewhere, which bodes well for the future.”
CHDT continues to bring other buildings back into business use with the upper floors of the Fitted Rigging House, overlooking the river, coming to the market to let shortly.
For information on the property available at the Historic Dockyard Chatham, call 01732 879057.
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