Thousands of people are rallying in support of a campaign to reopen a beloved community centre.
The Community and Arts Centre Hextable offered a variety of dance, music and other performing-arts classes, as well as playing host to yoga groups and health clubs such as Slimming World.
Locals aged between two and 96 flocked to the centre each week, with other enthusiasts from across the county also drawn to its impressive range of facilities.
However, the centre has closed after the company that leased the building – South East Dance – withdrew.
Vikki Aldridge has been running the Dance Act Theatre School from the centre’s studios since it opened 12 years ago, and is leading the fight to reopen it as part of the caTch Consortium.
“I have 250 children attending classes at the studios weekly and these children deserve their classes to continue,” she said.
“We are appealing to Kent County Council to make a decision in favour of the consortium running the building and keeping our studios open to benefit our community and beyond.” Vikki Aldridge.
“Not only do we offer classes for pure enjoyment, but we also provide a platform for those who wish to continue on to professional full-time dance establishments.
“We are appealing to Kent County Council to make a decision in favour of the consortium running the building and keeping our studios open to benefit our community and beyond.”
The centre is owned by KCC and has been leased by two companies since it opened — Hextable Dance and South East Dance.
South East Dance announced its decision to withdraw its lease in December and has since left the venue unoccupied.
Vikki said: “We set up a non-profit organisation to enable us to take over the lease and manage the building, and were led to believe KCC were in favour of us keeping the studios open for the community.
“After nearly three months of waiting patiently for a decision, the studios are now closed and we still have nothing in writing from KCC as to when they will reopen.”
The caTch Consortium has received support from MP Michael Fallon, and parish and district councils, and has submitted a business plan and raised funding to continue operation.
In a statement, a KCC spokesman said the council was making arrangements to meet with the consortium to discuss the potential reopening of the studios by September.
He said: “We had hoped to put in place transitional arrangements, potentially with a consortium of local users, which would have enabled the building to remain open.
“We had hoped to put in place transitional arrangements, potentially with a consortium of local users, which would have enabled the building to remain open." KCC
“A combination of factors including the time needed to appoint contractors to undertake detailed inspections of the building and systems, and the need to have a new operator ready to move in, has meant we were unable to achieve this.
“KCC is also reviewing alternative proposals for management of the studios put forward by other parties.
“A period of closure will also allow for this to be completed and for all proposals for management of the studios to be fully considered.
“We hope to have more clarity on a way forwards following this process and our meeting with the consortium.”
The consortium said that KCC was yet to set a date for a meeting, and accused the council of ‘dragging their feet’.
You can sign a petition in support of the campaign to help the consortium keep the centre open at http://chn.ge/1q3uy4X.