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Hadlow College is due to begin work on the first phase of its £40m regeneration of the old Betteshanger Colliery in June.
For finance director and project mastermind, Mark Lumsdon-Taylor, making it a success is personal.
Midway through a powerpoint presentation to a room full of construction industry bosses from Kent, the tone of Mark Lumsdon-Taylor’s voice softens.
“On a personal note, my family are from the North East and would have been really proud of what our institution has achieved by giving this a chance,” he told the Kent Construction Focus Group, gathered at the Village Hotel in Maidstone.
Hadlow College’s finance director has been through a four-year labour of love to get the Betteshanger Sustainable Parks project off the ground.
It is now poised to transform the 121-hectare colliery site near Deal which closed in 1989.
Mark spent his younger years watching his hometown of Sunderland gutted by the closure of mines and shipyards in the 1980s – which is why it felt personal as he submitted a planning application for the first phase of development to Dover District Council last month.
He said: “Sunderland had some huge pits. My family watched what happened to the local community as the colliery and shipyards closed down.
“It was a very tight-knit community and then skilled blue-collar work just disappeared.
“I remember going through Sunderland High Street and seeing huge department stores go under after the mines closed.
“Sunderland really suffered. Even now the city is nothing like it was. That heritage and history is worth fighting for.”
That memory is why Mark persevered with this £40m project, set to create a green-technology businesses park, a research and development centre and a visitor attraction celebrating the area’s mining history.
Creating 1,000 jobs and bringing 100,000 visitors to east Kent each year, it will regenerate the largest brownfield site in the county, which has laid dormant since the pits closed.
Mark said: “It’s really great to be a part of a project that is going to help redress that black hole, even though it is 20 to 30 years on.
“The board of governors at Hadlow took an enormous leap of faith to take this forward.
“We know the Dover area is deprived. There were huge job losses when the colliery closed. It needs a focal point for something innovative and different.
“It is fantastic to watch the regeneration of east Kent with the Betteshanger Project, in the same way the North East has been regenerated through the service industries.
“My mother will be very proud of what we have achieved.”
Mark has lived in Kent since 2003, shortly after being seconded to Hadlow College by his London law firm MacIntyre Hudson.
More than a decade on, he is still there, and has helped transform it from a failing institution to a profit-making one with outstanding Ofsted inspections.
He was named UK financial director of the year in the Business Finance Awards last month.
His success is little surprise considering his business pedigree. His late father James Lumsdon-Taylor owned Luxdon Launderies, a famous Wearside firm founded in 1884.
His great-grandfather James Taylor and grandfather Henry Lumsdon-Taylor were also owners and captain’s of industry in the area.
He said: “When I hear people saying they don’t agree with what we are doing at Betteshanger, I say ‘what would you do then? What’s your game plan?’
“What we have achieved is something really unique.
“Betteshanger will make a big impact in east Kent.”
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