A town guide to Ashford
PUBLISHED: 09:18 13 January 2017 | UPDATED: 13:23 13 January 2017
It's a town rapidly changing and expanding before our eyes. With so many big new projects going on, exciting times are ahead for Ashford. Words by: Caroline Read. Pictures by: Manu Palomeque
There is so much happening in Ashford that it’s practically a full-time job just keeping up with all the plans, the latest developments and the new buildings going up. With dizzying speed this medium-sized town, blessed with a useful central location within the county, has grown to into a bustling hub for business, leisure and education – with the resulting creation of new jobs and thousands of new homes.
Meanwhile, town-centre retailers are enjoying booming trade due to the expansion going on around them. In fact, Ashford is bucking the national trend.
While many town centres across the UK are struggling to survive, Ashford’s renaissance is gathering momentum as it continues to attract big-name retailers.
The County Square shopping centre, which is home to major brands such as Debenhams, Next and River Island, continues to see visitor numbers rise and Ashford’s high street is also enjoying a revival thanks to Mary Portas, who identified Ashford as part of her Portas Pilot scheme to regenerate flagging town centres.
Since receiving £100,000 in Portas funding, which was match-funded by Ashford Borough Council, the Town Team has forged ahead with a number of innovative projects, including launching a Farmers’ Market, transforming the town’s appearance and creating a dedicated website called LoveAshford.com.
One of the projects has been to turn around the fortunes of the smaller Park Mall shopping centre. Bought by Ashford Borough Council in June 2015, the struggling retail centre has been rejuvenated, with a fresh focus on small independent businesses.
Most of the vacant units have been filled and the centrepiece is the Made In Ashford store, a shop run by Ashford Council and LoveAshford.com as a showcase for a number of local independent start-up businesses.
Cllr Graham Galpin, Ashford Borough Council’s portfolio holder for the town centre, says: “To think how far Park Mall has come in such a short space of time is testament to the drive of the young businesses that are enhancing its reputation and shows that the council was right to invest in it. “The council is very much a commercial operation and that is the approach with Park Mall. These really are positive times for Ashford.”
Positive times indeed. Taking cinemas as just one example, Ashford will soon be spoilt for choice. Alongside plans for the proposed six-screen town-centre cinema in Elwick Place, Ashford’s existing out of town leisure development is also expanding. The Cineworld complex at Eureka Leisure Park is adding three new screens and will include an IMAX screen – only the second in Kent.
To top it all off, the Halifax has recently listed the top 50 places to live in the UK, and placed Ashford at number 38.
Leader of Ashford Borough Council, Cllr Gerry Clarkson, says: “It echoes everything residents have told us about the borough as a desirable place to live.
“We have the lowest council tax in Kent, we have the most improved recycling service in the country, and the borough is attracting large-scale investment.
“There is much more to be done, but that work will only enhance Ashford’s attraction as a great place in which to live.”
Eating and shopping
In Ashford itself, some of the most popular places to eat include Italian restaurants Amici (01233 666945) and Trattoria Romana (01233 638033), as well as impressive Indian restaurant Everest Inn (01233 643643). In the surrounding villages there are a great many pub restaurants to choose from, including The Old Mill in Kennington (01233 661000), The Rose and Crown in Pluckley (01233 840048) and The Duke’s Head (01233 732210) in Hamstreet.
When it comes to shopping, it’s currently Ashford Designer Outlet Centre that is still the biggest draw, with big name brands at discount prices, and there’s also the popular County Square shopping centre. But for independent shops look no further than Park Mall and especially the lovely Made In Ashford shop which features the work of local artists and makers.
The Big Eight
Ashford’s development is being driven by the Ashford Strategic Delivery Board, which is co-ordinating key projects, known as the Big Eight, identified by Ashford Borough Council.
1 The Commercial Quarter. A new office campus adjoining Ashford International Station with the potential to deliver up to 590,000sq ft of office space, 150 homes and several thousand jobs
2 Elwick Place. A town-centre cinema with places to eat and drink around a new square and meeting place, along with a hotel, car park and apartments
3 Expansion of the existing Ashford Designer Outlet
4 Ashford International college campus. A new campus for Ashford College
5 Junction 10a. Providing a new motorway junction to support expansion and improvements
6 Jasmin Vardimon International Dance Academy. Developing the company’s existing offer in Ashford, which includes performance space hired out to other local groups
7 Ashford International signalling. Allowing access for new intercontinental trains to stop at Ashford
8 Chilmington Green. A new community with 5,750 houses, extensive business, retail and restaurant capacity, schools, open space and community areas
Ashford and its villages are still an affordable part of the county to buy property. Expect to pay around £130,000 for a one-bedroom flat, between £170,000 and £250,000 for a two-bed terraced house and between £210,000 and £370,000 for a three-bed semi. Larger detached houses are available for up to ££1.8million. There are many new housing developments to choose from if you’re looking for a new-build.
Ashford is conveniently located just off the M20 at junction 9. With an international train station, it is probably the best connected town in Kent and offers a quick 37-minute trip into London. Sat nav: TN23 1YD.
Postcard from Ashford
I’m Russell Geen and, along with my wife Jacqui and our three children, I run The Little Teapot - an independent tearoom in Park Mall shopping centre. We opened the doors in July last year and our tearoom offers a quintessential, vintage English tearoom experience, complete with drinks served in dainty cups and saucers, hearty homemade cakes, and wooden tables decorated with adorable lace-embellished jam jars. We play 1940s music and like to think the service is friendly and welcoming. We serve lunch snacks, hot and cold, and people also pop in for breakfast; we have pastries, hot baps and what we call ‘posh porridge’. We especially delight in serving our ‘high teas’, served on a three-tier stand - it’s a real treat!
Park Mall was purchased by Ashford Borough Council in the summer of 2015, and they have encouraged a number of local, independent businesses like ours to open, to revive and make the area more interesting and unique. We are very proud to be part of this regeneration and the growing buzz that the fresh, new independents offer. First there was Made In Ashford and Emporia Fabrics and Crafts, then came Glam-R-Us, Happy and Glorious, and most recently Snap Jewellery and the record store.
The support we have received has been amazing and the community has made us feel very welcome. We are very grateful for everyone getting behind us with our exciting new venture.
We spend most of our time now at the tearoom, working and chatting to our customers. When we do manage to sneak away we like to look in the other independent retailers, shop in the town centre or at the outlet centre and we love the monthly farmers’ market. Our youngest enjoys trips to the cinema and time with friends in Victoria Park.
Wish you were here!