Plans for Tunbridge Wells Montessori pre-school could transform empty shop

The cash machine is attached to the exterior of the Great Hall in Tunbridge Wells
-Credit: (Image: Google)

A new Montessori pre-school could open in the heart of Tunbridge Wells. Plans have been submitted to Tunbridge Wells Borough Council to convert an empty shop.

Council papers show the applicant is Green Cave Daycare which already operates a daycare nursery in Vale Road in Tunbridge Wells, a stone's throw from the proposed venue. It said it wanted to open a second location to help meet the "increased demand of childcare capacity created by the government's extended free funding programme".

The plans are for Sofa Workshop in the Great Hall Arcade, which is a small shopping mall within Great Hall and is opposite Tunbridge Wells Railway Station. The building many years ago used to house Carriages Nightclub.

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It is now home to BBC South East on some of its floors and the arcade is accessed by large, glass double doors. Green Cave Daycare said it wanted to convert the vacant shop to a Montessori Pre-School for children aged three to five. It will employ seven full-time staff and 10 part-time, equating to 12 full-time positions in total. It will be open Monday to Friday, from 7.30am to 6.30pm.

The plans show on the ground floor there would be an office, a new bathroom with two toilets suitable for toddlers, a Montessori room, and a cooking and art room. And in the basement, there would be a new storage room, a yoga room and a wet room. There is no information in the plans as to the use of the yoga and wet room.

Kent Police gave a two-page response to the proposals with eight key points. These included that CCTV should be installed to cover main entrances, reception and the car park. It also said any gates to a rear or side access should be "securely lockable" from both sides and that all visitors must report to reception and the receptionist at their desk should have a clear view of the waiting area. The desks should have restricted access from the public side, said the report.

The police force also said: "Due to the proposed use of the site, we would recommend the applicant review current site security and boundary treatments. We advise boundary treatments to be 1.8m in height with support beams facing inwards, any gates to a rear/ side access must also be securely lockable from both sides. It is essential that there is no unauthorised access to the rear of the site either via the side access route or via neighbouring premises."

In the Spring 2004, the Civic Society Newsletter ran a fascinating article about the Great Hall, including details of the arson attack in 1980, which ultimately led to Speyhawk Land and Estates redeveloping the site. This included the Great Hall Arcade with its Victorian style shopping arcade of 12 units and a multi-storey car park at the rear, it opened in 1985

Fascinating history

The article revealed, the building fell into disrepair in the early 1970s and Kent County Council approved plans for it to be demolished in 1972, despite opposition from councillors and members of the public. Delays with a development permit meant nothing happened at the site for more than two years. It was later saved from the wrecking ball after the scheme to replace it with a four storey complex of shops and offices was eventually blocked by Government.

The hall reopened as Carriages Nightclub in 1979 before it was destroyed by a suspected arson attack in September 1980. Plans to demolish and redevelop the site resurfaced but The Civic Society managed to fight off the proposals and the council delayed its decision. In November 1983 planning permission was granted to transform the building into 12 shops with a car park but retaining its original facade.

Carriages Night Club in Tunbridge Wells
Carriages Night Club in Tunbridge Wells -Credit:Kent and Sussex Courier Archives

What is Montessori?

"Montessori is a scientifically based education approach that emphasises independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child's natural psychological, physical, and social development. It was developed by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori," from the Montessori School of Mallorca.

You can see the plans and read the documents here