Friday, 4 April 2014

Monks Clothing: Exclusive Menswear for West Malling

West Malling town centre is currently seeing a real boom in independent retailers, and Monks Clothing, a Swan Street boutique selling designer menswear, launched its flagship store at the end of 2013. Aptly named with its proximity to the Abbey, Monks Clothing perfectly fulfils the need for a menswear counterpart to womenswear store Fragolina, and childrenswear shop Soles with Heart. The Swan Street area now provides a local fashion retail venue for the whole family.

Monks Clothing - Swan Street - West Malling
Originally launched online, Monks Clothing was also keen to open a bricks and mortar store and hopes to expand further, with more shops in Kent planned within the next five years. This follows a growing trend for online fashion retailers to also open physical stores, providing multiple shopping channels and allowing their customers to handle products, try on clothing, and interact with their brands in a much more physical way than they can online.

We caught up with Amy Barker from Monk’s Clothing to discover a bit more about the products available in store, and to find out how the business is enjoying trading in West Malling:

What is the ethos behind the Monks Clothing store?

At Monks Clothing it's really important we give our customers a personalised service. We like to say we are "run by people...not computers" and put the traditional values back into shopping. Customers have the chance to browse in a relaxed environment without the stress and hassle of going to large shopping centres. All our brands are quite niche and we stock a limited amount of each style to keep exclusivity. We currently stock Religion menswear, Pearly King Clothing and Bellfield clothing and we are soon to stock Luke clothing which is a slightly more upmarket brand.
What’s your bestselling item or line?

Our best selling items are probably denim jeans. The Pearly King jeans are hand finished in the UK and are created using carefully selected threads and dying processes for a truly unique finish. Pearly King is probably our most popular line too, it's really exclusive for the area and all the garments are cut by hand and designed and finished in London with impeccable attention to detail.

Do you have any special suppliers, maybe a personal favourite?

One of our favourite suppliers is Hudson footwear. They are very helpful to work with and we can always order our customers shoes that we don't even stock.

What made you choose West Malling as the location for your store?

West Malling is such a beautiful and unique town. It has a real community spirit behind it and has so much potential. Having grown up in the town I have seen it develop and change dramatically and until recently the town had been dominated by bars and restaurants. The more different shops, restaurants, and caf├ęs there are in the town the more reasons people have to come in.

How do you find your Swan Street location?

Swan Street itself is a fantastic location and the past year has seen some big changes. Being located off the main High Street means we don't get quite as much footfall but there are plenty of reasons for people to visit Swan Street now so that is changing.

How often do you change the window displays and how important is that for passing trade?

We try and change the window display every Friday. We find the window really pulls in new customers that maybe wouldn't have come in otherwise. It’s vital to let customers know about our new stock and we are hoping to come up with some more creative and interesting ways of displaying our clothes over the next year.

How do your customers find the parking availability?

Parking is certainly the biggest issue with West Malling but it’s always possible to find a space. Customers can also park in the business car park after 3pm on weekdays and all day Saturday and Sunday.

How have you found your first few months of trading to be?

We opened before Christmas so certainly started on a high. We’ve been very blessed to already have built up a loyal customer base, with many customers from West Malling, Leybourne, and Kings Hill. We find residents of the West Malling area are very keen to support local trade which is great for us!

What do your customers enjoy most about your store?

Customers always comment on the interior of the store. I think it really sets the mood! They love the selection of clothes, the exclusivity of the brands, and the high turnover of new products we get in. We have also recently launched a loyalty scheme which is great as customers can now be rewarded for shopping with us.

We’d like to thank Monks Clothing for taking the time to talk to us, and for its part in increasing the range of shopping possibilities for local residents and visitors to West Malling town centre. We wish Monks continued success with its new outlet.

If you haven’t yet ventured into the Monk’s Clothing store why not pop in this weekend? Alternatively if you’re already a Monk’s Clothing customer we’d love to hear from you in the comments box below.     

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Challenge Yourself with the Heart of Kent Cyclo Sportive 2014

If you’re looking for a personal challenge and an opportunity to support a wonderful cause all rolled into one, then it’s time to sign up for the Heart of Kent Cyclo Sportive. Organised by the Heart of KentHospice, the 100km timed cycle ride takes place on 27th April 2014 through the beautiful Kent countryside.

Heart of Kent Hospice Cyclo Sportive 27 April 2014
Starting at the East Malling Research on Kiln Barn Road in Ditton, the circular route passes through towns and villages such as Wateringbury, Yalding, Staplehurst, Headcorn, Frittenden, East Peckham, Offham, and West Malling. In addition to the full 100km route, there are also two shorter circular routes. One loops back at Staplehurst and is 65km long, while the other loops back at Yalding and is 38km. All routes are well signposted.

Known as the cycle of care, this event is a real physical challenge due to the undulating Kent countryside. There are feed stations on both the 100km and 65km route, and participants will be challenged to achieve a specified time based on their age and gender.

On the day, registration for the full route begins at 7.30 am, with the cycle starting at 8.30am. Entry costs £35 per person. For those riding the shorter routes, registration commences at 8.30am and the cycle begins at 9.00am. The cost for participating in the shorter routes is £30. To sign up for the event, or to take a look at maps for the three routes, visit the Heart of Kent Hospice website.

The Heart of Kent Hospice 

The Cycle Sportive is one of many events organised throughout the year to support the Heart of Kent Hospice. The hospice is a registered charity that provides invaluable palliative care to people with life limiting illnesses throughout the area, including Maidstone, Tonbridge and Malling, and Aylesford. At any one time the charity may be providing care and support for up to 350 patients as well as their families and carers. They offer care, comfort, compassion, and hope during a time of great need. Services that they provide include inpatient care, family support, care at home, day therapy, and education and training.

The care and support that the Heart of Kent Hospice provides is free of charge to those that need it. However the cost of providing those services comes to around £3.8 million per year, £2.7 million of which must be financed through fundraising. This makes events such as the Heart of Kent Cyclo Sportive vital to ensuring that the hospice can continue to provide the services that are so vital to local people.

If you’re not convinced you can cycle 100km, there are plenty of less energetic events on the Heart of Kent Hospice fundraising calendar. On March 20th there is a Charity Ladies Lunch, on April 1st there is an Open Garden Scheme, and on 19th July there is a Wild West Walk. Alternatively why not visit the Heart of Kent Hospice shop on West Malling High Street for high quality branded fashion as well as antiques and collectables? However you choose to support this valuable local charity you can be sure your contribution will make a real difference to patients suffering from life limiting illness. 

Friday, 24 January 2014

The Changing Face of Historic High Streets

A recent report commissioned by English Heritage, The Changing Face of the High Street: Decline and Revival, looked into trends, developments, and changes in historic high streets and town centres in the UK. We thought its findings might be relevant and hold some valuable lessons for the town of West Malling.

Bold Street, Liverpool
The report was intended to discover the impact of social, technological, and demographic changes in
town centres, and more particularly the way this could affect historic buildings, streets, and spaces. Many historic town centres and high streets, including those of West Malling, have grown up around the evolution of trade and retail, and the health of local retail is very much intertwined with the maintenance of local heritage.

There are many factors that have had an impact on UK high streets in the last decade. Large national chain stores began appearing in every town, often making it difficult for independent retailers to compete. Gradually these stores began to shift to out of town shopping centres for more retail space and better parking, or began to close down due to the economic downturn.

This left many vacant town centre units, often in historic buildings, which were either left unoccupied, or were occupied by value retailers who could fill the large spaces. Many of the services such as banks and post offices that traditionally occupied significant historical buildings within a town began to close down, increasing the burden to maintain these properties.
A Positive Outlook for Historic High Streets 

However there is some very positive news for historic high streets and, according to the Local Data Company, independent retailers have seen a growth in floor space in the last year, compared with a decline in floor space for national multiples. Independent retailers are vital in providing a sustainable economy and a sense of uniqueness to a town.

The traditional high street has an important role to play in community identity, and many people have a strong commitment to their local town centre. The English Heritage report suggests that both locals and visitors to a town are looking for a sense of place and of individuality, which is often based upon the heritage of the town.  

Bear High Stret, West Malling
West Malling High Street (outside The Bear now The Farmhouse)

One of the prevailing findings of the report is that town centres need to be about more than just shopping, with visitors wanting a leisure experience that might include tourist and cultural attractions, places to eat and drink, and entertainment venues such as cinemas or theatres, as well as retail stores.

According to Baroness Kay Andrews, chair of English Heritage, “At a time when people are increasingly looking for a leisure experience rather than simply a range of shops to visit, such an approach can help in creating a greater sense of ‘destination’ and potentially competitive advantage.”

The report looked at a number of strategies that can be adopted by historic towns to ensure that they continue to thrive, even as retail patterns continue to change. Here are a couple of the key strategies they outlined for smaller towns:

•    Refurbishing and reusing heritage assets. Often existing historic buildings can be sympathetically redeveloped to increase footfall in the town. An example is given of the listed nineteenth century Market Hall in Bolton, which has been restored and converted to a town-centre shopping and eating area.

•    Rejuvenating the tourist economy. Heritage towns such as West Malling have a fascinating history, and a wealth of buildings or spaces that could be used as small scale tourist attractions that would give visitors something other than shopping to do whilst visiting the town. A town tour, or simple signs giving details about places of interest can work well.    

•    Providing leisure activities. Making sure that visitors and residents have something to do apart from shopping is an effective way to maintain historic centres. Apart from tourist attractions already mentioned, cafes and restaurants, libraries, exhibitions, cinemas, and children’s play areas all give people a reason to visit town centres. Casual dining is now particularly important.

•    Integrating a food store with a historic centre. Those that support local shopping may dislike the idea of integrating a food store into a historic town, but supermarkets have become experts at developing stores that fit the space and appearance constraints of historic centres, and they do attract shoppers who may well then use other shops and facilities in the town.

The report indicates that often small scale local interventions and creative initiatives can be just as effective as large scale investments, because they are owned by the community and defined by history and heritage. There can’t be one scheme that works for all historic centres; the most successful are those that recognise the need for local distinctiveness and make the best of what they have.

Market Square, Hertfordshire
Market Square, Hertfordshire
One case study in the report looks at the town of Rotherham, which has been gradually taking a number of small steps to regenerate its historic centre. These have included the restoration of the Imperial Buildings which is an Edwardian shopping arcade, the general repair and maintenance of historic buildings, improved parking in the town, a shop local discount scheme for residents, a program of outdoor community events, floodlighting local landmarks, and encouraging family friendly restaurants so visitors have a reason to stay in the town after the shops have closed.

Overall the report, which was prepared by Allies and Morrison Urban Practitioners, recognised that reviving and maintaining historic centres will never be an easy task, but indicated that there have been some positive results from innovative approaches, even in testing economic times. They suggest that small scale projects that embrace the individuality of each historic town, identify how to make the most of what the town already has, and incorporate leisure and entertainment as well as shopping, are the most likely to succeed. 

You can read the entire report at

Monday, 16 December 2013

Biffo & Spanky Special Christmas Hampers - Made to Order

Hidden away behind The Farmhouse restaurant and the car park behind the local Tesco store in West Malling High Street is a wonderful little delicatessen called Biffo & Spanky, where you always receive a warm and friendly welcome from Mick and Richard.

Mick & Richard will make up a Christmas Hamper of your choice

Biffo & Spanky offers a special made to order Christmas Hamper service with a superb range of quality foods, fine meats and cheeses, quality teas and coffees, truffles, crackers, pates, caviar, dips, bread, olives, fine spirits, wines or fresh coffee beans.

Christmas Hampers - Made to Order at Biffo & Spanky

It is impossible not to be welcomed into this lovely, little barn where you can choose from their huge selection of special foods and ask for a Christmas Hamper that is made especially to your request.

Maybe Grandad loves those special cheeses or Grandma would love some Chocolate Truffles with her favourite ground coffee beans!  Why not pop in and ask for your very own  hamper to be made up.

And once you've chosen they will put your items into a lovely wicker basket and wrap it for you!. And all service comes with a smile and the odd "Christmas Cracker" of a joke!

Enjoy a coffee while you wait or give them a call on 01732 871717 to find out more......

Friday, 13 December 2013

West Malling Christmas Gift Guide

It’s that time of year when the Christmas lights have already been switched on and we really need to give some serious thought to Christmas shopping. The great news is you don’t have to spend days trawling around Bluewater, or wrestle the crowds on Oxford Street; you can buy gifts for all your friends and family right here in West Malling!

Here are a few ideas to get you started if you’re heading out Christmas shopping in West Malling:

Christmas Gifts for Women
Fragolina Shop - Swan Street

You’ll be spoilt for choice if you’re looking for Christmas gifts for your wife, girlfriend, mother, or sister in West Malling. For something sparkly you could visit Martin Wilde Jewellery, where you can choose from a superb selection of ready-made necklaces, bracelets, and earrings, or you can have a bespoke piece designed in their on-site workshop. Alternatively P’s Jewellery stocks colourful gemstone and bead jewellery, which would be just as suitable for a teenage daughter as for a grown up sister.

West Malling shops are full of accessories for women that make wonderful Christmas gifts. For a completely unique selection of scarves, purses, and belts, alongside a range of vintage style clothing, pay a visit to Fragolina.
Katie's Candles - Abbey Arcade
For unusual handbags and jewellery from Toxic Angel, check out Beauty and Treats in the Abbey Arcade. Designer handbags from the likes of Zandra Rhodes, Fiorelli and Modolu can be found at Number 39, alongside a range of shoes and other accessories.Ladies love to be pampered at Christmas, so why not pop into MiraMira for a toiletry gift pack or a treatment voucher? Alternatively some luxurious scented candles from Katie’s Candles, in a gorgeously exotic scent such as coconut and mango, can help her to relax and unwind. If you’re looking for designer lingerie or nightwear, Josh Lingerie is the place to go. Finally, for tea light holders, lamps, and slippers, Morocco Land has a unique selection of hand crafted gifts.

Christmas Gifts for Men

Men are notoriously hard to buy for, but whatever they’re into we have it covered in West Malling. Your first stop should be the new Monks Clothing store, which stocks menswear brands such as Bellfield, Pearly King, and Religion, and can provide anything from cosy Christmas jumpers to hat and scarf sets. If your husband, father, or brother loves his kitchen gadgets, then make sure you pop into the Smith & Webb Cookshop where they sell everything from coffee machines to slow cookers.
For men that enjoy the great outdoors, Moor and Mountain is a treasure trove of gift ideas. From headlamps and compasses to waterproof jackets and ski goggles, they stock a great range of outdoor clothing and accessories. If you’re buying a gift for a keen fisherman, you may also want to check out West Malling Angling for specific fishing gifts.

Moor and Mountain
For men that enjoy their artwork, pay a visit to The Gallery in the Mill Yard. You can choose from a varied range of prints, or paintings by local artists, or you could have a special print or photograph of your own framed in their workshop. Dads and granddads would love a photo of the children for Christmas, so why not book a family photo shoot with the White Studio and have an image framed or printed on canvas?
Christmas Gifts for Children

Christmas is all about children, so we couldn’t write a West Malling Christmas gift guide without including something for the kids. For a lovely range of toys and stocking fillers, as well as activity and colouring books, pop into the Post Office. You can buy the stamps for your Christmas cards at the same time!

Childrens Shoes from Soles With Heart - Swan Street
Across the road at Soles With Heart, you can pick up colourful boots or trainers that would suit children and teenagers of all ages, as well as hair accessories, wellies, fluffy slippers, and children’s jewellery. Cater to their sweet tooth when you visit Chocolate Umbrella. Their original sweet Christmas cakes can be made to order and are guaranteed to be a success on Christmas Day. They also stock chocolate Santas, Christmas lollies, and edible decorations for your little ones to hang on the tree.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Christmas Shopping in West Malling

Christmas is a time when community spirit is at its best, so it’s a wonderful opportunity to support your local shops and businesses. We all shop and spend more in the run up to Christmas, so if that extra money can be spent in neighbourhood shops, on locally sourced products, it can help to sustain our local economies.

Walking into your local town to browse for Christmas goodies will make you feel far more festive than picking them up in the supermarket, and you may find the quality of the products in the local shops is so much better you carry on shopping there right through the New Year.

In a recent post we looked at the many advantages of shopping locally. These included the opportunity of buying fresh, local, organic produce that hasn’t travelled halfway around the world, the personal friendly service you receive in small local stores, and the environmentally friendly effect of walking into town rather than driving to out-of-town stores. All these benefits are particularly relevant during the Christmas period.

If you’d like to support the local shops and suppliers of the West Malling area when you’re preparing for Christmas this year, here are a few ideas on where you can pick up those festive essentials:

Christmas turkey. The most important item on anyone’s Christmas shopping list is a turkey for the big day. Why not combine shopping locally with supporting a worthwhile charity, when you order a delicious organic Christmas turkey from Spadework Farm Shop? Spadework is a charity that enables people with learning difficulties to develop independence and personal skills. Why not pick up your Christmas tree while you’re placing your order?

Christmas veggies. This is an easy one as there’s no better place to pick up fresh, locally produced vegetables than the West Malling Farmer’s Market. Held in the High Street on the fourth Sunday of each month, the farmer’s market is beautifully timed to take place on Sunday 22nd December. Look out for tasty cranberry sauce and chutneys alongside the parsnips, sprouts, and spuds.

Christmas cards and wrap. There’s another chance to support a valuable local charity when you’re looking for your Christmas cards. The Heart of Kent Hospice shop, located on West Malling High Street, has a stylish selection of cards and you’ll know your pennies are going to good use supporting palliative care for local people.

Christmas decorations. Nothing warms the dark days of winter like a Christmas candle, and at Katie’s Candles and Gifts in Abbey Arcade you can pick up gorgeous candles with festive scents ranging from orange, clove and cinnamon, to nutmeg and ginger. All their candles are hand poured with eco soy wax and natural cotton wicks, and are made in West Malling.

It adds an extra sparkle to Christmas when you know that all the seasonal food you’re eating, and all the festive decorations around you, are sourced locally. In a couple of weeks we’ll be publishing a West Malling Christmas gift guide, so look out for ideas about what to buy every member of you family, right here in West Malling.

Friday, 18 October 2013

West Malling Ghost Stories for Halloween

As the nights draw in and Halloween approaches, it seems the perfect opportunity for a few spooky stories and terrifying tales about the ghosts we are said to roam amongst us in West Malling.

In a town as ancient as West Malling, with its rich history and medieval buildings, it’s no surprise to find reports of ghostly sightings and frightening phenomena. Whether you take them seriously or simply see them as a bit of fun in the lead up to Halloween is entirely up to you.
The town of West Malling grew around Malling Abbey, now St.Mary’s Abbey, which was established by Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester around 1090. 
Despite the fact that the abbey has largely been occupied by Benedictine nuns, a surprisingly large number of West Malling ghosts appear to be monks. In the abbey itself the ghost of a monk was seen by a cleaner, walking towards her on a different level from the floor she was cleaning. He actually knocked over her bucket of water as he reached her and she ran away in terror.
In a sixteenth-century hall that was built on the site of ancient Abbey buildings, and is now Frank’s Mussel Bar, a ghostly monk has been seen sitting upstairs at a writing desk. The same ghost has been seen on several occasions walking across the bedroom of the building next door. Another ghostly monk has been seen further along the High Street, in the upstairs wine bar of the building that was Mackenzines and we believe is soon to be The Hungry Guest. The owner was just closing the bar at night when the apparition materialised and walked across the room. It was later discovered that the fireplace in the wine bar was once part of the Abbey buildings.
As well as monks there are also a couple of nuns reported to be haunting West Malling. A cleaner at the library was frightened off when she saw the ghost of a nun in the back room, who was thought to be linked to the former leper hospital in King Street. At the former Brewery Tap on Swan Street many of the staff reported seeing a beautiful nun who would appear in the rooms that needed to be cleaned and then disappear through the wall. An oppressive presence was also often felt next door in Abbey Brewery Cottage, in the room which shared a wall with the Brewery Tap.
Douces Manor
Some buildings in West Malling are thought to be haunted by multiple ghosts and Douces Manor is one such example. The ghost of Miss Savage, whose family used to live at the Manor, is often reported to be seen looking out of a bay window at the garden. She turns to look at anyone who enters the room. Another fair-haired apparition, who describes herself as the Merry Widow of Mereworth has been known to wake up and even speak to visitors to the Manor. Finally the ghost of a World War Two pilot is thought to haunt the cellar, known during the war as The Twitch Inn.
Douces Manor isn’t the only place where sightings of ghostly World War Two airmen have been reported. During the Great Warbirds Airshow that took place in 1982 on the former RAF West Malling Airfield (now Kings Hill) many visitors reported seeing apparitions of wartime planes and their crews around the runway and hangars, almost as if the show had stimulated their appearance. During the filming of the television series ‘We’ll Meet Again’ in the same location, the director asked for two airmen and a WAAF who were looking into the engine compartment of a jeep to be moved out of shot, but as they were approached they vanished.
St Leonard's Tower viewed from the west
© English Heritage
We tend to think of ghostly apparitions as frightening and malevolent, and there is a very old tale of a beckoning figure leaning out of the window of St. Leonard’s Tower, who is thought to bring disaster to those who see him, but there are also some very friendly and helpful ghosts around the town. In Lucknow, a listed building on the High Street, the ghost of a former housemaid is said to haunt the bedrooms, and to turn down the beds on a regular basis. Similarly, the Farmhouse Pub, formerly The Bear Inn, is thought to be haunted by a former potman who still moves ghostly barrels around the cellar.   
There are so many other ghost stories connected to West Malling, it’s impossible to relate them all here, but hopefully this spooky selection has got you in the mood for Halloween. Whether it’s ghostly knights riding down the Offham Road, spooky revellers dancing at the former Assembly Rooms on the High Street, or the ghost of the original Mr Baldock appearing at the shop counter, the many ghostly tales and legends of this town are just another part of its charm and heritage. 
The accounts in this post are taken from Ghosts of West Malling by Margaret Gadd which is available from West Malling Library

Happy Halloween 2013!