Ashford Borough Council has announced that following a decision by the Bockhanger, Bybrook and Ashford South Advisory committee on 8 March, the community centre is to close at the end of March.
The hall, located in a shopping precinct off Bybrook Road in Kennington, is owned by Ashford Borough Council and has been leased to the Bockhanger Community Association Trust, which has managed the facility since 2003.
The building is more than 50 years old and is now clearly beyond economic repair, with the council having kept it open beyond its expected design life.
Although over the years it has been used by the Bockhanger Monkeys nursery and the local community for birthday and wedding celebration parties, at least three wakes plus a regular number of dance and sports groups, in recent years the main use of the community centre has been to house a KCC library, the nursery and three sports clubs hiring the space in the evenings.
The nursery had previously announced it is relocating to new facilities at the neighbouring Phoenix Community Primary School after the Easter break, leaving the three club users occupying the building for only three evenings a week.
Representatives from Ashford Borough Council have met with the trustees and after careful consideration it has been agreed that the hall will be closed from 29 March.
The council has pledged to work with the sports clubs to help find them alternative venues in the area and to assist the trustees with winding up the trust.
Kent County Council operates a library in part of the building and it is expected to continue to do so for the foreseeable future while Ashford Borough Council considers the best future use for the site.
Cllr Graham Galpin, Ashford Borough Council’s portfolio holder for corporate property, said the centre, built in the 1960s, is approaching the end of its design life and is in a poor condition.
“Recent inspections have revealed a long list of urgent repairs, including a leaking roof, outdated electrics and wiring, gas heaters which have been condemned and taken out of use, and faults with the water supply. The hall’s thermal properties are also very poor, meaning it’s costly to heat.
“In recent years we have had to undertake some urgent works to the community centre to keep it operational. Initial estimates are that it would cost more than £250,000 to bring the building up to an acceptable modern standard, including re-roofing, insulation and new windows and doors.
“Based on the structure’s poor condition and the limited use that is being made of the facility, demolition is a real possibility. A working group of local councillors is considering options for the site and its recommendations, which have my full support, will be going to Cabinet shortly. Details will be announced in due course,” added Cllr Galpin.
As volunteers, Trustees Mick Hubert and Shafi Khan said that running the centre for the past 15 years had been “lots of hard work but hugely enjoyable”.
Mick said: “The centre has been at the heart of the community for a long time. The building has come to the end of its days and it’s sad to see it close but we can take a lot of pride in what has been achieved here.”
Cllr Galpin said he was very grateful to Mick Hubert and Shafi Khan for all their hard work and dedication keeping the centre going, a sentiment echoed by Bockhanger ward member Cllr Simon Howard-Smith, who said: “The trustees have worked tirelessly to ensure that the hall has been available for local people to enjoy and they deserve huge credit for their commitment to the centre.”
Bybrook ward member Cllr Andrew Buchanan said: “It is with great sadness that we came to the conclusion that the hall needs to close. We had explored a number of alternatives, however none of them could be made viable. The upgrade to the square is high on our priority list, with a programme of cleaning and painting and provision of new planters put in place.
“These much-needed improvements will enhance Bockhanger Square to the benefit of local residents and retailers.”