Published: 11:17, 17 February 2021
| Updated: 12:40, 17 February 2021
A petition has been raised to stop the closure of a start-up businesses centre.
The Stembrook Lane Shopping Arcade, at the Co-Innovation Centre in Dover, was meant to close this August but petition organiser Charlotte Cornell says that should be delayed while there is a pandemic.
By this morning it had attracted 520 names out of a targeted 1,000 after being set up on Monday night.
Mrs Cornell told KentOnline: "I think it is totally the wrong time.
"This is now causing emotional turmoil for the traders on top of the financial turmoil they have had from the pandemic."
The petition says: "We believe that this is a grossly inappropriate time for Dover District Council, as owners of the building to be evicting traders, many of whom are already struggling financially, as months of being unable to do business have taken their toll."
It says that the council should instead, at present, invest time and money into finding all the current businesses there a new, permanent home.
Mrs Cornell believes that the council can afford to do this because it last December received £3.2 million from the government's Future High Streets Fund.
News of the closure sparked anguish from the Stembrook centre's traders on social media.
Robin Burkhardt, on the Facebook community page Dover for Disgruntled Dovorians, said: "Me and 49 other traders are to be kicked out but we have been closed for six months.
"The project was set up to help small local businesses grow and move in to the high street. Covid put an end to that.
"Please support us and lobby the council'splanning department."
'This is causing emotional on top of financial turmoil...'
His post attracted 136 comments by yesterday morning.
One commentator, Louise Gilbert, said: "This is really sad news, it must feel a real kick in the teeth for all the stall holders who have brought something new into the town."
Co-Innovation was formally opened by The Apprentice TV series candidate Elizabeth McKenna in March 2019.
It replaced the site's Co-operative foodstore and was to help new small businesses get started and move on to their own premises
The first to successfully do this was Angela Hoskins who opened her clothes shop Preloved Plus in Cherry Tree Avenue, Dover, last March.
She said: "It is sad that the centre has to close in such horrid times but it was expected and we all signed our unit contracts to reflect this.
"The whole point of the project was to allow small businesses to have a go at their ideas and move onto the high street if they were viable ones."
Mrs Hoskins said during her nine months at Co-Innovation she received "fantastic" support from the council.
A Dover District Council spokesman said: "The Co-Innovation Centre was set up in 2018 in partnership with Dover Big Local and Red Zebra to encourage, and help grow, small start-up businesses, whilst plans were developed for the long-term redevelopment of the site.
"This was a short-term project, which was well-known to all the parties involved as the lease is due to end in August 2021. A report on the situation is due to be considered by the Council’s Cabinet in March."
Chatlotte Cornell was the Labour candidate for Dover in the 2019 general election, and Conservative Natalie Elphicke won the seat.
The petition can be viewed here.