The Downs is a low profile site from the point of view of marketing.
The evidence questionnaires for the Village Green application demonstrate that over 95% of the people who use the Downs are from Herne Bay. There are no signposts or notice boards to direct visitors to the town towards the Downs. Moreover, the two main areas of visitor parking in the town – the seafront and the off street car parks – are all a good walk from the Downs. The Downs is also a good walk from the train station. Even those visitors who get as far as the King’s Hall, right at the western edge of the Downs, will see no information board to tempt them to walk up the slope and enjoy the full sweep of the Downs.
We know from the 1,181 evidence questionnaires completed to support the Village Green application that people use the Downs for informal recreation. There are very few flat surfaces on the Downs and so there is no space for full-scale team games that would require a dedicated pitch. Similarly there are no dedicated running or cycle tracks on the land and few hard standing paths across it. The land therefore lends itself best to informal activities such as walking, dog walking, running, cross-country cycling, interval training, watching the sea and the boats, kite flying, painting, photography, foraging, educating children, bird watching, bat watching, drawing, cricket, tobogganing, skiing, family celebrations, picnicking and nature walks.
For the whole town
The Village Green evidence questionnaires tell us that there is a very broad age group uses the Downs – both the very young and the very old use the land. Some of the regular and more elderly users have been using the land since they were brought here as children by their parents. Now, they use it for walking, watching the view, or for playing with their grandchildren. Probably the biggest group of users is the regular dog walkers as this is the only place in the area where a dog can be walked off the lead.
Many users visit the land twice daily. Some, no longer mobile, come as infrequently as once or twice a year when someone else brings them. The 1,181 users have been using the land for an average of 24 years each. This demonstrates great loyalty to this scrubby bit of rather unglamorous but much-loved land.
In completing their evidence questionnaire, many people volunteered additional comments about the future of the land. What they want is clear. They want it to be kept as it is. There is no local mandate here for turning the Downs into a neat and manicured space. It is the semi-natural appearance of the land and the freedom that this gives people to use it as they wish that appeals to the people who use it.