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United Church in Herne Bay has high hopes as it eyes the big…

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HERNE Bay will be getting a bigger, brighter and better “second” events venue if plans at the United Church come to fruition.

Restoration has already begun on the site in Mortimer Street, but this is only the beginning as the church looks to expand its capacity and ultimately host an enhanced range of performers and events.

Formed just over 13 years ago through the merger of the town’s United Reformed and Methodist churches, it has already put on concerts through its Music In Mortimer Street programme and there are ambitions for bigger productions.

The Reverend Hugh Sheehan has retired from his full-time work with the church but is still involved with its plans.

He said: “The exciting thing for us is that we’re able to give concerts.

“We’re restoring and increasing the capacity of the upper hall and we would very much like this to be seen as a community centre as well.

“Our motivation as much as anything is to make this place accessible to the wider community of Herne Bay.

“We’re in the process of renovating the upper hall to a high standard and this will increase what it can legally hold from 60 people to 250, while the lower hall will stay at capacity of 125.

“We’re putting in a lift, as well.”

With an acting area and improved toilets in place, it is hoped that the site could host stage productions and events such as wedding receptions.

The ambition is impressive but, as ever, such plans cost money – in this case some £600,000 for the whole project.

So far a total of £225,000 has been raised from such traditional sources as the hosting of concerts to the more daring, for example two church members abseiling down St Anne’s Court in the town.

The search for grant money is also beginning in earnest.

One potential issue is the winning of planning permission from Canterbury City Council for the entire scheme.

The Reverend Sheehan said: “We haven’t got permission for what we want to do at the front of the building, but we can start at the back.

“We would like a glass frontage leading on to small piazza, where people could stop for a coffee. The piazza is, though, considerably smaller than what one would normally consider a piazza.”

The intention was that glass doors would allow people to see right through into the building and feel more welcome to enter.

“Again we want to emphasise that this is a community asset. Once it’s completed, it will be the biggest events venue in Herne Bay, after The King’s Hall.”

A revised planning application is expected to be submitted soon.

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