Now the Sheerness Dockyard Preservation Trust (SDPT) is working to restore and adapt the Church as a much-needed Enterprise Centre to support young people to develop and run their own businesses. Since the Navy vacated the Dockyard in 1960, dealing a massive blow to the local area, the Isle of Sheppey has been one of the most socially and economically disadvantaged areas of Kent. Eleven local neighbourhoods are within the 20% most deprived nationally, including several in Sheerness, and a lack of opportunities for young people is a pressing concern, with significant numbers not in education, employment or training. Operating through a partnership with the Kent Youth Support Trust, the Enterprise Centre will provide young people building businesses with premises, mentoring and training to get started and grow. Alongside this incubation hub will be a community cafe and event space, plus a changing display of Rennie's spectacular model, telling the story of the Royal Dockyard, a source of pride to local people. It will therefore provide a new destination in the town, encouraging footfall and the potential for tourism.
This project demonstrates that, with creative vision, heritage buildings can find a new purpose that meets critical needs within their communities in the current day. In this case, forging a successful partnership between organisations each with a distinct mission but a united concern for the locality, was the key to unlocking the future of this long-abandoned building.
The AHF supported the SDPT with a series of three Project Development Grants that helped them develop their plans and ultimately secure a £4.2 million award from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, plus over £3m from trusts and foundations, a huge fundraising achievement. The most recent AHF grant enabled the development of detailed tender documentation in preparation for starting on site later in 2020, taking into account the need for safe working in relation to Covid-19.