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Fresh start for boatyard site as Sandwich Medieval Centre opens its doors

Tomorrow marks a fresh start for the ‘historical boathouse’ on the Quay in Sandwich after £88,000 of tax payers’ money helped recover the site.

Registered charity Sandwich Medieval Trust (SMT) will open the doors of the newly named Sandwich Medieval Centre on Saturday as part of Le Weekend.

It will be a medieval visitor centre and as a living history and educational project focus on the 150 year period from 1330s to 1480s when Sandwich was a major seaport and the leading Cinque Port.

Trustees Dave Batchelor, Bob Martin, Paul Damon, Julia Baxter and chairman Steve Lastlett
Trustees Dave Batchelor, Bob Martin, Paul Damon, Julia Baxter and chairman Steve Lastlett

The long awaited opening comes after a turbulent three years in which Dover District Council incorrectly granted a lease for the building to a company solely owned by Bob Hill rather than a not-for-profit trust - who intended to open it as a visitor centre and boat building workshop.

An independent review found that the authority had ‘not carried out adequate due diligence checks’ and were forced to pay £87,515 to surrender the lease from Mr Hill. He is no longer involved.

New terms have now been agreed with an entirely separate trust which will be chaired by Steve Laslett.

The newly named Sandwich Medieval Centre
The newly named Sandwich Medieval Centre

He said: “The original objective to build a replica medieval boat will still go ahead.

“What is significantly different is that the project will now include a broader range of medieval skills to include land based as well as maritime crafts.

“The object of the Trust is essentially educational.

“The building is now named The Sandwich Medieval Centre and will be open to residents and visitors alike as a living history project.

“Dover Council has accepted our business plan which focusses on growing the project into an important visitor centre over the next three years.”

Mr Laslett, who gave an update on the project at the annual town meeting on Friday, said the skills and crafts being demonstrated and taught by reenactors will still include boat building but also embrace skills as diverse as metal working, baking and calligraphy.

The inside of the medieval centre is being renovated ahead of this weekend's launch
The inside of the medieval centre is being renovated ahead of this weekend's launch

A small working forge and oven have been installed so that all skills can be taught with a special focus on engaging with younger people.

As part of the opening this weekend, trustees Dave Batchelor, Bob Martin and Julia Baxter are delivering an Anglo-French medieval experience weekend on the Quay Green.

The trio have been involved in medieval history in Sandwich for decades.

Bob Martin, who was associated with the original boathouse project, said: “It was a great disappointment to the team when the historical boatyard project stalled.

“We have been waiting patiently for this opportunity to re-group and re-open as the Sandwich Medieval Trust.

“We have an ambitious programme ahead of us and look forward to everyone in Sandwich who has an interest in this historically rich 150 year period of history in Sandwich joining us as members, supporters or visitors.

“We will not be able to fully show off the new centre for some months, there is so much to be done.

“However, by opening the doors to the public as part of Le Weekend we can make it clear that at last we are on our way.”

Bob Martin remains involved with the project
Bob Martin remains involved with the project

The Sandwich Boatyard Action Group (SBAG), a campaign group who demonstrated at council meetings over the lease blunder and called for the independent review, has welcomed the new beginnings.

SBAG member Nicholas Gray who has also joined the maritime team of SMT, said: “SBAG welcomes these proposals and was pleased to have assisted in the resolution of the problems associated with Mr Bob Hill so that the project could get back on track.

“The purposes for which SBAG was established have now largely been satisfied and we are sure the whole community of Sandwich will welcome seeing the building on the Quay being occupied and properly used.”

Trustee Paul Damon has been helping the Trust with the building modifications needed for the expanded programme whilst trustee Lynne O’Donoghue will help develop the visitor learning experience.

Find out more about the project and membership at sandwichmedieval.org/

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