Published: 11:55, 14 May 2021
| Updated: 13:29, 17 May 2021
A boxing club is still searching for a new home after being excluded from plans for an upcoming community centre.
Maidstone Amateur Boxing Club, based at Reed Hall which is attached to Heather House, was told in October that it would have to find a new home, when plans were agreed by Maidstone Borough Council (MBC) to build a replacement community centre on the same site, when serious problems emerged with the building.
Despite months of enquiries and an Autumn deadline fast approaching, the group have still not found anywhere suitable and owner Joe Smith is worried he may to put the price of admission up for members, if their new base is more expensive.
Mr Smith said: "It's a deprived area of Maidstone and nothing there, nothing for the kids to do. We try to keep our prices low so everybody can come in and have a bit of discipline, it teaches you respect.
"We get messages from parents saying 'thanks so much for what you are doing, they are much happier at home.'"
Mr Smith wants to see more action on MBC's part to help them find a site. Heather House is owned by the local authority.
"Sometimes I don't think the council realises what we do for the community.
"They are saying there's nothing around, they have potentially said you can look at a few facilities or we could share, but we have got a ring and welded frames to hold the bags and equipment, we can't share."
One of the options put forward was around double the renting price the club currently pays.
Cllr Daniel Rose, Park wood ward member, has suggests three possible sites on the Wren Industrial Estate in Park Wood, but these discussions are in an early stage, with no certainty yet.
Before the pandemic, the club, which was founded at the end of 2017 and is run by volunteers, had about 80 members and ran classes every week night.
The club runs development, junior and senior classes, charging £3 a session for juniors and £5 for seniors. It teaches children the from the age of nine and adults.
Current Covid rules means numbers on classes are restricted. Junior classes have been back on since April and senior classes can resume on Monday, thanks to the relaxation of the rules.
The future of Heather House has been uncertain since November 2017, when council officers ordered its permanent closure.
A campaign by the Park Wood Residents Association and then ward councillor Matt Burton led to the council carrying out emergency repairs which enabled the hall to be reopened.
However, an assessment into the building's long term future found that it would cost the council £765,000 to keep Heather House going for another 15 years, with problems found in the roof, external cladding and doors.
Initial proposals were drawn up for a development of 36 new homes on the nearby Pavilion Building site, with the proceeds from this to be put towards refurbishments and extensions to Heather House.
But, in October, councillors opted instead for a new community centre be constructed on the Heather House site and 12 three-bedroom houses built on the Pavilion Building land.
Daniel Rose, Park Wood councillor, said the reason for the club not being included in the new plans came down to the cost of adding a space for the boxing club.
He said: "The more features it has the more it's going to cost. It has been a very large hurdle to find the funds for what it is now, which is pretty much a community centre which has a lot of value for the community.
"But to have a building on the side, a sports facility for the boxing club, it would be an added cost. If you aim too high it would risk having nothing at the end."
Speaking about the difficulty in finding a new site for the club he said: "Because of the market conditions at the moment there's very little commercial or recreational property available, that's not just MBC's portfolio, that's in general."
Cllr Rose added that he is exploring the options of the industrial units and wants the club to remain in Parkwood.
He said: "I am on the case, we are doing the best we can."
The club's lease at Reed Hall ends in July but MBC has said they can stay until the Autumn.
A spokesman for MBC said: “MBC recognises and appreciates the work of the boxing club within the local community and will continue to assist the club as much as possible in finding an alternative venue, should it prove that the new facility cannot cater for their required space needs.
“MBC is only able to offer the club premises managed by the council, which is very limited. The council can only make suggestions for other potential sites and has no legal jurisdiction over whether this is acceptable to any current owners of those buildings and the prices these are charged at.
"The council will be undergoing a period of consultation with existing stakeholders and the wider community shortly before any planning application for the proposed new community centre is submitted.”