LITTLE STARS Local children have helped out in the fundraising effort at Variety Performances

FUNDRAISERS are celebrating after the Calverley Adventure Grounds project reached its massive fundraising target with 24 hours to spare.

The £225,000 playground will allow Tunbridge Wells’ children and dedicated parents to see their dream become a reality.

After more than two years of hard work it was feared that the scheme might have to be abandoned or scaled down, as it faced a shortfall of just over £2,000 going into the final day.

Two of the major grants totalling £75,000 have timeline conditions for the appointment of contractors, which meant that the overall cost had to be found by March 16.

Local supporters had raised £190,000 in less than 12 months for the project in Calverley Grounds and were fearing the worst that all their hard work might come to nothing.

The culmination of the fundraising initiative was the staging of two variety performances at the Assembly Hall, which featured more than 300 acts, including some as young as two years old.

Assembly Hall Director JJ Almond gave Friends of Calverley Grounds the theatre free of charge and TV celebrity Davina McCall pre-recorded the introductions.

The event raised more than £20,000 but the fundraisers admitted it was not enough to meet their target.

Spokesperson for the campaign, Kate Roberts, said: “The playground is all about inclusivity, collaboration and the community coming together to make a positive difference – we’ve had hundreds of people involved in this – and the variety shows are like that too. It was a massive opportunity and incredibly exciting.

She added: “It’s a way for children to get on stage who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity.

“The dance group This Is Us took part and they are a great example of inclusivity; 11 out of 13 performers have a disability, and the group doesn’t have the funding to hire a theatre. They would never normally have a chance like that.

“They wrote to me saying: ‘Our dancers are extremely inspiring and passionate about what they do. The potential within the students is phenomenal. We are searching to spread the word for inclusive dance in Kent. These children are inspirational. To have the opportunity to perform at this platform would be fabulous for us.’”

Kate was assisted in putting on the shows by Marianne Amos from Dance Studio, Mary Stoner from the local website Tunbridge Wells Kids on the Go and Anna Brandon who helped arrange the business launch a year ago.

She explained why the target had to be reached this week, saying: “We have to bring the fundraising campaign to an end as we have to appoint the contractors to start the project to comply with the terms of the grants we have been awarded.”

The fundraising drive was boosted by two large grants and the proceeds of several successful community events. The initiative received a £50,000 grant from The Veolia Environmental Trust and a further £25,000 from the Suez Communities Trust, both through the Landfill Communities Fund.

The organisers also ran a Great Jam Jar Challenge last summer, started by six-year-old Harry Bourne, in which schoolchildren raised £6,000 by filling jars with coins. Some £3,000 was collected by Claremont Primary School pupils alone.

A black tie event at Salomons for 200 guests in October contributed £28,500, of which Barclays Bank in Tunbridge Wells donated £5,000. And last year’s Easter Eggstravaganza raised £3,000 with more than 1,000 people taking part.

The playground will be built on Calverley Grounds bowling green, which has not been used since 2005 and has since fallen into a state of disrepair – and had fallen victim to anti-social behaviour.

It will provide a much-needed amenity for children in the centre of town, where there are no other options on such a scale. Calverley Grounds already has tennis courts and a basketball court for older youths.

It was designed by local award-winning landscape architect Jennette Emery-Wallis, who also created the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens and the Tumbling Bay at the Olympic Park in Stratford.

She signed up for the project within an hour of being contacted about it, and has been closely involved with the organisation throughout – she was even selling popcorn at the Variety Performances.

Her design was inspired by the heritage of Tunbridge Wells, and features small timber huts inspired by The Pantiles, a Chalybeate spring and wooden sheep grazing beneath apple trees.

Timberplay, who are making the equipment, have donated two pieces while a further eight pieces have been sponsored by local families or businesses. It will all be made out of natural materials.

There will also be a Community Wall in the grounds, featuring the names of donors, which has raised £21,000. It is made out of corten, a tasteful, dark-hued material which brings to mind the iron-rich Chalybeate spring.

The wall will be constructed by the acclaimed public artist Gordon Young, who also created Blackpool’s Comedy Carpet and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park’s Walk of Words.

Mrs Roberts also said: “The Times has been incredibly supportive of the project since we took the plans to public consultation back in October 2015. I am immensely grateful as it has made a real difference to the campaign.”