Ashford in Kent has grown fast in recent years, partly as a result of its station on the HS1 rail line, which has made it an appealing place to live for anyone who needs easy access to London. But the town’s cultural infrastructure has not kept pace with this rapid change in population.
Culture’s broader role in boosting the regeneration of high streets also matters to the council, as Ashford town centre, like that of many towns, is having to deal with the effects of online retail and higher business rates. The council is clear that it needs to develop its cultural offer further, to reflect the growth in resident numbers and to strengthen the town centre.
Fourth Street was asked to consider one important element of the council’s ambitions – the possible creation of a new theatre or performing arts venue. Ashford has a relatively low number of theatre seats by the standards of other towns in Kent — our job was to assess what type and level of provision might be most appropriate for the town.
We examined the local propensity to attend theatre and similar events, the current provision elsewhere in Kent, and the provision (both existing and planned) in Ashford itself. We then considered the pros and cons of differently-sized options for a theatre space along with a headline estimate of their financial implications. The resulting report has been discussed by both the council and at a public meeting and will form the basis of the council’s thinking on the subject going forward.