This Sunday, was a fantastic day at the Westgate Hall– a huge community celebration with all ages having a good time at Canterbury’s Big Lunch — and real excitement about the Trust’s proposed business plan and partnership with corporate sponsor Curzon Cinemas!

Proving the Trust can run this 100-year-old drill hall and raise the funds needed to refurbish it has constituted the core of the Trust’s work since Fabruary 2010. It became clear early on that without formal tenure of the Hall the Trust would be ineligible for funds from grant-making bodies. In order to break this “chicken and egg” situation, the Trust has pursued additional funding sources with significant success.

The Trust’s proposed plan presents a unique collaboration between the voluntary, public and private sectors, and, as such, a model for localities nationwide. It’s the product of a huge team effort of three “C’s” since March 2010: Council, Corporate, Community. The lynchpin: community.

If the Council agrees to our plan and transfers the Hall to the Trust’s control, Westgate Hall will be transformed into a financially self-sustaining community resource which will make the centre of the city more resident-friendly, and a contributor to Canterbury’s economy.

The Trust will run the drill hall side of the complex as a ‘village hall’ and sub lease the two-storey conference side of the building to Curzon Cinemas. As part of the agreement, the Curzon will pay a lump sum towards the Hall’s refurbishment.

Curzon Cinemas would provide three art house cinemas and a bar. These would attract people to the Hall as a leisure and community resource as well as complement the Council’s cultural regeneration of the city centre, evidenced by its commitment to the new Marlowe Theatre and the Beaney Museum for which it was acknowledged nationally in 2010, receiving the Best Business Award for Best Local Authority. It would also provide employment.

However, what drives Curzon is working with and adapting to the communities where its cinemas are located. Our community began to explore Curzon’s offerings today and the vast majority liked what it saw, including the artist’s impression of how the Hall could look in the future.

While we won’t find out until the end of July whether our business plan will meet the Council’s criteria and fit its broader vision for Canterbury, we do know that the process of saving has already had an impact in terms of building community, as attendance at and participation in our events demonstrates, and the pictures on our website so eloquently show.

It was then particularly fitting that this year’s Big Lunch took place during Volunteers’ Week. More than 60 people have given their time and effort, some of them in huge amounts, to getting us this far. Our Facebook and Twitter followers shouldn’t be forgotten.

And then 2011 is the Year of European Volunteering. 1911 was the year the Territorial Force Association of the County of Kent bought the land on which the Westgate Hall now stands. The building itself was built by public subscription. Community has therefore defined this building for 100 years.

We’re looking forward to the next 100!