Tunbridge Wells – then & now

HISTORY IN THE MAKING

David Hodginkson

SINCE SO MAGAZINES’ FIRST ISSUE LAUNCHED IN 2008, MUCH HAS CHANGED IN TUNBRIDGE WELLS, AS THE ROYAL SPA TOWN HAS SEEN DEVELOPMENTS IN A NUMBER OF AREAS. HERE, WE EXPLORE SOME OF THE WAYS IN WHICH THE AREA HAS BEEN REVITALISED, REINVENTED AND REJUVENATED OVER THE COURSE OF THE LAST DECADE

Over the past 10 years, the Tunbridge Wells landscape has transformed dramatically. Businesses have come and gone, new developments and initiatives have been implemented, and a wealth of events and attractions have weaved their way into the town’s cultural fabric, which continues to put the area on the map as a go-to destination for visitors, and one that residents can be proud of.

“The past 10 years have seen some big changes,” explains Councillor Jane March, cabinet member for tourism, leisure and economic development at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council.
“Planning permission has been granted for our new cultural hub, and we’re now waiting to hear about the funding. More of our parks are recognised for their excellence through the Green Flag scheme, and we’re making progress with our sports strategy.”

From a bustling arts and culture sector to a vibrant food and drink offering, join us as we explore some of the ways in which our town has been given a new lease of life in the last decade, and why it remains a destination of choice for so many from far and wide…

A THRIVING MUSIC SCENE
As one of the town’s most enduring exports, the Tunbridge Wells live music circuit has gone from strength to strength since 2008. Well-known venue The Forum this year celebrates its 25th anniversary, while free-to-attend festivals and events such as Local & Live, Unfest and Jazz on The Pantiles remain as popular as ever.
In addition, new musical showcases such as the Live Expressions Festival, Ultimate Tribute and Music Festival and Forgotten Fields have all taken place too, along with the likes of Neverworld, Alfresco, Livestock, Black Deer and many more in and around the area.

“Since 2008, Tunbridge Wells has enjoyed signifi cant organic growth as a cultural destination,” says music promoter Paul Dunton. “The town’s music scene is leading the charge and continues to fl ourish, with more festivals and venues hosting live vents than ever before.”
Adds Forum co-owner Jason Dormon: “The local music community goes from strength to strength, despite increasing economic pressures on the musical art sector. The harder it becomes, the stronger the bonds and passion.”

NEW DEVELOPMENTS
Among the most notable and controversial new ventures in recent memory has been the Tunbridge Wells Civic Centre. The TWBC development is set to include a 1,200-seat theatre to replace the existing Assembly Hall, alongside new commercial office space and car parking facilities on the edge of Calverley Grounds.

Elsewhere, the notorious ‘eyesore’ of the former ABC cinema site was demolished in 2013, paving the way for The Belvedere. The mixed-use development is planned to comprise a mix of living, shopping, leisure and community activities, including street-level shops, cafés and restaurants, as well as a boutique’-style cinema, medical centre or offices, and more than 100 contemporary apartments, complete with dedicated parking and a communal, landscaped garden area.

OPEN GREEN SPACES
In 2010, Royal Tunbridge Wells in Bloom, together with the council’s Love Where We Live initiative, began ‘bringing back the sparkle to Royal Tunbridge Wells’ through its aims of achieving a litter-free, cleaner and greener town.
The area’s beautiful parks, meanwhile, have undergone signifi cant regeneration, including the revived Grosvenor and Hilbert, which has been widely promoted since 2011, encouraging the local community to take an interest in its conservation, enhancement and protection.

“We’ve learned a lot more about Tunbridge Wells’ heritage over the past 10 years,” explains Ian Beavis, research curator at Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery. “We’ve also seen lots of good work on preserving the history of our open spaces, and improving them as wildlife habitats.”

TOP ENTERTAINMENT OUTSIDE LONDON
Like many sectors, the far-reaching infl uence of the last decade’s technological advancements has been embraced by the local culture and entertainment industry. As more ticket sales are made online and the live streaming of National Theatre and Royal Opera House events become an integral part of the regional offering, theatres in particular have been able to diversify their offer no end.

Considers JJ Almond, theatre director at the Assembly Hall Theatre: “Some 80% of our ticket sales are now conducted online, and people are more likely to post a comment on Facebook and Twitter than write an email.
“We still offer a truly live rather than digital experience, but in an increasingly competitive world, we need to use technology to learn more about our audiences and their cultural and entertainment needs.”