Ambitious plans to build a Boxpark-style youth hub with a Virtual Reality zone would provide “a much-needed" venue for young people, bosses behind the project claim.
The scheme would be built on council-owned land next to the Wilko building in St George’s Street, Canterbury.
Built out of shipping containers, the design takes inspiration from similar successful “hipster” Boxpark designs such as those seen at Shoreditch and Wembley.
And in documents submitted to Canterbury City Council, community interest company City Impact says young people “want a place to hangout with friends with free wifi, cheap snacks and some activities”.
“This facility will provide a much-needed entertainment and meeting venue for the youths of Canterbury providing them with somewhere to meet friends, to socialise and to obtain support and advice,” the firm said.
“City Impact is helping to solve the issue of anti-social behaviour and safety of young people in the city centre on their way home from school by creating a city centre youth hub close to the bus station and McDonald's.
“The site presents an opportunity for the regeneration of this area which is regularly used by rough sleepers and attracts high levels of anti-social behaviour.
“The proposal will provide a new focus for the youth of Canterbury providing them with a meeting and entertainment hub in a controlled environment within close proximity to the city centre.”
If given the green light, the two-storey structure would boast an impressive range of activities, such as karaoke, gaming and even a Virtual Reality (VR) zone.
Opening hours are currently pencilled in to be 2pm-6.30pm Monday to Friday.
Plans are in place to roll out ‘Phase Two’ of the project if the facility is well-received.
The second half of the project would see the centre open its doors between 11am and 4pm on a Saturday and would look at renting out the space to people such as street pastors.
It is hoped that the opening of the hub would create three part-time jobs along with various volunteer positions would open up, with scope for further employment should the project be successful.
The innovative idea comes as officials look to ease residents concerns and tackle the violent crime and anti-social behaviour that has blighted the city in recent years.
Canterbury made international headlines in 2019, when 17-year-old German tourist Daniel Ezzedine was attacked in the city centre by a gang of teenagers, leaving him brain damaged and severely disabled.
And on multiple occasions, police officers have been assaulted in St George’s Street, with the city’s McDonald’s proving to be a particular hotspot for troublemakers.
St Stephen's councillor Mel Dawkins has been working on the scheme with City Impact and says she believes the project can be part of the solution.
She told KentOnline: "I’m very excited to be part of finding a solution to the lack of places for young people to go in Canterbury. Currently there is pretty much nowhere and young people are forced to hang out wherever they can find.
"The idea to have it in this location came out of research carried out by City Impact. They surveyed several hundred young people to find out what they wanted.
"They want it to be in the city centre near the bus station, McDonald's and Dane John Gardens. They want to feel safe in a modern environment with access to wi-fi and where they can sit with their friends.
"If there is not anywhere for young people to go, what can we expect? There should be a place that young people know is there for them.
"Out of this building will come so many opportunities to engage with the local business and the community."
Meanwhile, Westgate councillor Michael Dixey welcomed the plans but warned that obstacles would lay ahead for the project.
"There is a real need for more facilities for younger members of our community," he began.
"But being in a conservation area, I think there might be some planning issues, that would be my big concern.
"However, I am very much in favour of that sort of facility and I believe it would be more a planning issue than anything else as far as I'm concerned."
Founded in April 2018 with “the aim of impacting the city of Canterbury through life-changing community engagement activities”, City Impact says it wants to help solve the issue of anti-social behaviour.
It had previously operated a youth hub every Tuesday at The Big Drum in Rose Lane before the cafe/community centre hybrid closed its doors last November.
The group also counts a community gospel choir, coffee mornings and a low-cost counselling service as some of its success stories in its mission to build better communities.
When asked about the plans, a council spokesman said: “This planning application is live and we are in the public consultation phase.
"As it is our role to determine it in due course, it wouldn't be appropriate to comment further at the current time."