The story of the former Mecca Bingo hall as the key to the rejuvenation of Ashford town centre has been closely followed by the team at BingoDaily. The historic former cinema and bingo venue is just one of a growing number of examples of former bingo halls, once central to a thriving bingo-loving community, being demolished and turned into housing, cinemas, and pubs.
Built in 1936, the historic structure known locally as Odeon Square, would be partially demolished and replaced with an outdoor screen, food and retail units and 61 homes. However, local activists campaigned to have the building listed as a historic building, thus getting protected status. The building closed as an Odeon cinema in August 1975 to be reopened immediately after as a Top Rank Bingo club, later to become a Mecca Bingo some years later. It closed its doors in July 2018.
Sadly for the activists, Historic England this week refused to grant the building listed status. Although some of the criteria were met, including its importance to the area's history and people, the former cinema was deemed not to have met the necessary requirements for architectural importance. Historic England concluded:
“though politely understated for its historic setting, the building’s architecture is not a strong or creative example of cinema design.
“The building’s interest as a little-altered provincial cinema of the inter-war period by an architect of note, is not sufficient to overcome its modest architectural quality.”
Tracey Kerly, Ashford Borough Council chief executive said of the decision:
“We’re pleased a decision has been made and we can now move forward with this project.
“We believe this scheme can help rejuvenate the town centre, enhance our cultural offer, create significant employment opportunities and help attract inward investment for the benefit of local communities.
We are currently assembling a specialist design team to help us deliver this innovative development and we are on course to have this team in place by the end of the year.”