THE PROJECT  1996  -  2015

In 1996, John & Liz Day and Tony Mulcuck proposed at a meeting of the Ditton Parish Council that a small committee be formed to look into the feasibility of creating a heritage centre for the parish. The suggested location for the centre was the small, unused, crumbling Kent Ragstone Victorian Classroom at Ditton Junior School in New Road.  The Parish Council agreed and the three proposers together with Ann Throssell and the Parish Clerk, Eileen Jones were formally elected to the committee.  Subsequently it was decided that the project would be better served if the group was separated from the Parish Council (although they would continue to be supported by it) to make it easier to apply for grants etc.

The committee recruited more members from the village and commenced raising funds to restore the building to its former glory. The first stage of the project was  to raise approximately £10,000 to obtain a lease from the Rochester Diocese who owned the building. By this time Eileen Jones had retired and Maralyn Mulcuck joined the committee taking over the job of secretary.  The initial fund raising included  applying to numerous charities for grants, events such as a fashion show, raffles, bring and buy sales, boot fairs until in 2001 the heritage group were able to obtain a lease on the building at a Peppercorn fee of just £1 per annum.  Two very generous grants were then received one for just over £50,000 from the Colyer Ferguson charity  and the second of £10,000 from the Rochester Bridge Trust, this enabled the old swimming pool to be removed from the building and repairs to be started. The schedule of work covered exterior repairs which included re-tiling, new windows and doors and re-flashing the chimney to make the building weatherproof plus electrical work and a new water supply.

The next stage of the project was initiated with the demolition of the old toilet block at the rear of the building which was beyond repair. With further donations from the local Dictune Trust via Simon Webley and a grant from Awards for All plus money raised by the tremendous efforts of the committee and supporters it was possible to install a beautiful new wooden floor and partition. By this time it had been agreed that the project should include the creation of a Victorian Classroom within the Heritage Centre, hence the need for a partition to divide the room. The Heritage Centre had by now been donated children’s desks, benches, maps etc, a teacher’s desk and seat and a blackboard on a movable easel to furnish the school room. Gradually after a lot of publicity the collection of photographs and memorabilia from the villagers grew allowing the heritage centre to set up permanent displays which members of the public were invited to come and view. The response was wonderful and ‘Open Days’ are a continuing feature of the Heritage Centres activities.

The most recent part of the project is the construction of a new toilet block which includes a small kitchen and storeroom. The new toilets although modern have an authentic feel with replica high level Victorian cisterns. The main wall in the kitchen has been tiled with a wonderful set of tiles painted by children from the Junior school.

The Heritage Centre and Victorian School Room finally opened officially in September 2014. Fundraising continues as display boards are still required and there are ongoing repairs and maintenance to pay for. Carole Yearsley a qualified teacher has taken on the role of our Victorian Teacher and runs the ‘The Victorian School Experience’. The feedback from the schools and groups who have visited so far has been very positive which is encouraging as it will form  a major part of the Heritage Centre’s future income.

The committee would like to thank everyone who has supported them, the Parish Council, Colyer Ferguson, Rochester Bridge Trust, Awards for All, Tonbridge & Malling B.C., the Dictune Trust, the residents of Ditton and further afield, past committee members and of course  the current long standing committee  -  Tony & Maralyn Mulcuck, John & Liz Day (sadly John passed away in 2014), David Stevens, Ann Throssell, Jane Thwaites, Gerald Phillips, Carole Yearsley, Carol Grant, Richard Fury and Sue & Colin Finnis who joined recently. Special thanks go to the Architect/Advisor Derek Hudson and builder Mike Clifford and his team and also Bob Holder, Head Teacher (Retired 2013) of Ditton Junior School.