Birchington Village Centre hits 50!

After 20 years of campaigning, cajoling and hard fundraising, Birchington Village Centre was finally opened in late May 1974.

 

The man who had the original vision for a new community centre way back in 1954 was village artist David Burley. As it turned out, Birchington Village Centre would be built on land which had previously formed part of his garden.

In the 1950s, fundraising took eight years to raise just £700 from events including jumble sales and firework nights. Renewed impetus came during the late 1960s when the well-used Church House, owned by the parish, was demolished for more modern premises – a mystery donor decreeing the replacement should be used only for ecclesiastical purposes – leaving several local groups homeless.

CommunityAd Exclusive - Birchington Village Centre hits 50!

Quexpo would be unthinkable without the steam engines, and there they are displaying their paces

Keen to swell the coffers any way they could, Birchington’s community groups banded together and their work led to the hugely popular three day Quexpo traction engine and classic car events held over August Bank Holiday weekends in Quex Park from 1970 to 1986. At its height, the event attracted up to 50,000 people – more visitors than Kent County Show.

By August 1972, association President Christopher Powell-Cotton, of Quex Park, unveiled the foundation stone amid much celebration. Building hit a major snag almost right away. A three day working week and power cuts imposed during the 1973 miners’ strike caused a national shortage of bricks, putting back work by six months. Rapid inflation had seen the final cost climb from the original estimate of £19,000 to a then eye-watering £25,000.

Eventually, the grand opening took place at 3pm on 26th May 1974, performed by the Mayor of Margate Cllr John Jones and the Chairman of the newly created Thanet District Council, Cllr Harry Anish.

Half a century on, the Centre continues to thrive and its big birthday is being marked with a talk about its past by parish council Chairman Cllr Neville Hudson, hosted by the Birchington Heritage Trust, on the evening of Thursday 30th May from 7:30pm at The Centre. This is open to everyone to attend. During the evening of Friday 31st May, the Birchington Guild of Players will put on a cabaret show, also starting at 7:30pm.

There will be an exhibition of Centre and Quexpo photos and memorabilia on Saturday 1st June, opening time TBC, which will also see the launch of a highly illustrated booklet about both topics written by historian Nick Evans, in conjunction with the Centre’s trustees. It details the background to how the idea for the Centre came about and the huge community effort behind holding Quexpo for 17 years.

 

by Nick Evans

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