A newly opened art gallery is hoping to be at the forefront of a reinvention of the High Street which falls ‘north of the Big Bridge’.
The ArtSpring Gallery, located opposite Fosse House, held its introductory ‘First Thursday’ last week. By opening until 8pm on this day every month, the art collective is aiming to attract more commuters and late workers to the north end of the High Street, with the hope of inspiring more businesses to do the same.
And their efforts have been boosted by the announcement that Fuggles Beer Café is coming to Tonbridge High Street.
The gallery’s Chair, Hildegard Pax, expressed excitement at the potential of the ‘on the up’ area, revealing that they are in talks with surrounding businesses to join them in their late openings, including The Bakehouse, Gift Box and Country Garden.
She explained: “Ultimately we are trying to get a buzz going north of the bridge. We are not just about our art, we are about being part of the community.”
Mr Books owner Mark Richardson, whose outlet is near the gallery, welcomed the idea.
He said: “I’ve already been opening late on Thursdays for the last 11 years. It’s really worthwhile, it allows people to come in after work.”
With premises next door to the ArtSpring Gallery, Fuggles – the popular Tunbridge Wells bar – is looking to join what owner Alex Greig calls, ‘the burgeoning food and drink scene in Tonbridge’.
The premises’ alcohol licence was confirmed last week and Mr Greig aims to be welcoming customers by March 2017.
He said: “I’m really excited to be part of the regeneration that I see going on in Tonbridge.
“We had been thinking about Tonbridge for a year or two, then the site at 165 High Street came up and we decided to jump on it.”
The Fuggles owner is hoping to replicate the success he has enjoyed in the neighbouring town. He said: “It will definitely have a similar scale and style – a pub-come-café. But Tonbridge will have its own feel and character, like all pubs do.”
But although he is ‘enjoying the good times right now’, Mr Greig is cautious about the post-Brexit future, which he believes will have a ‘massive effect’ on the alcohol industry.
“The majority of hops are imported from Europe, as well as a lot of other ingredients. The exchange rate is knackered and we’ve already seen our first price increases come through as a result,” he explained.
However, he is hoping the expansion will eventually enable him to raise wages for his staff.
Mr Grieg said: “The job is highly skilled and requires a lot of specialist knowledge.”