It was just about this time last year that I exhibited at The Hot Tin arts centre and cafe in Faversham, Kent. https://www.the-hot-tin.co.uk/
I’d just received some samples of the Liberty London fabric printed with my designs and it was the perfect place to celebrate alongside the other three #LibertyOpenCall winners. Barman, William Ford, designed a cocktail ‘The Drunken Duncan’ (gin, lime, lovage and absinthe) specially for the occasion and we danced the evening away to Northern Soul, from DJ Ged ‘Stax Volt’ Kelly. htpps://m.mixcloud.com/XRAYSOULCLUB/ It was a great night! If you were there, you can relive it a little here: https://duncangrantartist.com/2019/05/19/what-a-liberty-great-first-night-at-the-hot-tin/
Well how quickly things can change.
Just a few days before the UK went into official lockdown, on 20th March 2020, Boris Johnson announced that pubs, bars and restaurants would close for the foreseeable future. Three months down the line, small venues like The Hot Tin are struggling to survive.
The Hot Tin (or The Tin as it is known) is the brainchild of Romana Bellinger and Mike Eden.
Their company RouteStock https://www.routestock.org/ is a non-profit Community Interest Company (CIC) dedicated to bringing communities together through art and music. RouteStock specialises in creating audiovisual content for prestigious live arts events all over the country.
Their professional portfolio includes Lost Lectures https://lostlectures.com/ which Romana describes as ‘a bit like Ted talks but funkier’, the Breakin’ Convention hip hop fusion dance festival at Sadlers Wells https://www.breakinconvention.com/ and work with live orchestras. Three years ago, they worked with the late Roy Budd’s wife to produce a restored version of the 1925 film Phantom of the Opera, accompanied by a 74-piece orchestra, which premiered at the London Coliseum.
Finding a venue
But the dream for Romana and Mike was always to create their own arts venue, to complement and extend their RouteStock projects. When they saw the Grade II listed, converted tin chapel online, they couldn’t resist.
‘The idea was always to have a place of our own, so that we could do what we love doing – connecting with people and bringing people together,’ Romana explains. ‘When this building came along it was a match made in heaven. The living accommodation was beautiful but when we saw the main hall, we just thought, wow, we can do so much with this!’
Originally, St Saviour’s Church (still the building’s official address) was a flat-pack church, built around 1885. It was probably made in the Old Kent Road in East London, and then brought down the river to Faversham on a Thames barge.
During the Victorian era, the rapid growth of urban populations , prompted the mass production of cheap, easily erected buildings to meet the needs of new communities. Pre-fabricated churches were relatively cheap. £150 would buy you a chapel seating 150 people. The size and other embellishments could be altered to meet different needs and budgets. If you are interested, you’ll find lots of technical information about these buildings here https://www.buildingconservation.com/articles/tin-tabernacles/tin-tabernacles.html
Before it’s recent transformation into an arts space, The Hot Tin building experienced many reincarnations. It remained in use as a church from 1885 until 1950, when it was deconsecrated. After that, for a while, it was used by a school for gym lessons and piano teaching, and then as a scout hut. Romana explains that the different glass in all the windows is probably down to the ball games played inside.
Over the years, the building has also been a camping shop, a printers and an antique furniture showroom, before being used as a joiners for 30 years. Romana and Mike bought the building from Nick Kenny, who had converted the back of the building to living accommodation and used the main hall to build bespoke kitchens and bathrooms.
Because The Hot Tin is a Grade II listed building, remodelling possibilities were limited but that suited Romana and Mike. ‘We didn’t want to dress it up and make it prettier than it was, because the building has its own beauty,’ Romana explains. ‘ We painted to some extent and opened up an area that had been blocked off.
The main thing was cleaning the ceiling. It was in a terrible state. So we had one of those telescopic cherry pickers and we were up there with Henry the Hoover, for about a week, cleaning off layers and layers of wood dust.’
Because it is a tin building with no insulation, The Hot Tin gets very hot in the summer – hence the name – and cold in the winter, so Romana and Mike researched a way of heating the big space that would be as efficient and sustainable as possible. Now infra red heaters keep The Tin hot all year round. Future plans are to restore the building, rather than to change it.
A new arts space and cafe
For 18 months before the lockdown, The Hot Tin was thriving. The cafe, with its art exhibitions and workshops, locally sourced coffee and homemade vegan food attracted families, local businesses and other residents during the day. And in the evening, live music, DJ sets and films attracted a broad spectrum of people from around Faversham.
The cafe is now an important and integral part of the business but it wasn’t always in the business plan.
‘When we saw the building, we immediately thought arts space and we started to apply for our licences,’ explains Romana. ‘But because some people in the area just didn’t understand what we were doing, we got a lot of opposition. So we thought maybe we should have a cafe. That would support our events and allow people to get to know us and to understand who we are and what we are trying to do. ‘
Local resident Debbie Lowther was one of those who was sceptical at first. ‘When I first saw the planning permission for turning the Tin Chapel into an entertainment venue, I couldn’t see how it would work,’ she says. ‘ But work it does… for quiet coffee meetings or lunch during the day and for its music, great art and yummy cocktails, all unique in Faversham. I love it!’
Griselda Cann Mussett, who also lives in Faversham, agrees. ‘The Hot Tin has become something of a marvel with excellent food, art exhibitions and occasional music and all so well-run. It’s an imaginative use of an unusual and special building,’ she says.
‘Our main ambition is to provide a one-of-a kind venue for live music, performance, films and the arts,’ Mike says. ‘We want to promote musicians and artists from around the world and around the corner.’
‘What we strive for is to be a place that is inclusive and where people feel comfortable,’ Romana adds. ‘Everyone is welcome here. We want to bring these sorts of arts events to the people of Faversham in their own town, so they don’t have to go to London for them. We want to make The Hot Tin a resource for the community again, which is really what this church was built for.’
Although it has only been open for 18 months, The Hot Tin has hosted some classy acts. These include Switzerland’s urban folk band Black Sea Dahu https://www.blackseadahu.com/ French-born Tucson singer Marianne Dissard (who now lives in Ramsgate) https://www.mariannedissard.com/ local electro-acoustic duo Liotia http://liotia.co.uk/ and from the forefront of the new London jazz scene, the Ash Walker Experience, a multisensory show with a six piece band. https://www.cenemagazine.co.uk/news/2019/12/6/the-hot-tin-ash-walker-experience
The last artist to play at The Hot Tin before lockdown was spoken word artist, writer, saxophonist and bandleader, Alabaster dePlume whose performances have received wide critical acclaim https://www.alabasterdeplume.com/
Lockdown and beyond
The coronavirus emergency and the closure of entertainment spaces and venues has hit The Hot Tin hard. Because they have so little outside space, Romana concedes that they will be unlikely to reopen for quite some time.
RadioRouteStock https://www.routestock.org/radio is still broadcasting LockDown DJ sessions. Details of tonight’s session (14th June) are in the image on the right. And Romana and Mike are exploring a subscription-based, TV broadcast quality, live streaming service, whereby audiences could have access to live interactive shows without being present physically at the venue. Once The Hot Tin is up-and-running again, live streaming could continue to be used to increase access to events for those who are unable to attend in person.
To help get them through this difficult period, The Hot Tin is trying to raise some money through two fundraising initiatives.
‘We are part of the Music Venue Trust http://www.musicvenuetrust.com/ and we’ve got a Crowdfunder campaign at the moment,’ Romana explains. ‘As a collective, we’re trying to raise money and awareness because grassroots venues are obviously going to be hit hardest by lockdown.’
So far The Hot Tin has raised nearly £2,500 towards its target of £10,000. Donations will help Romana and Mike keep some of their staff who ‘fall between the cracks’ of the government support schemes, cover some of the business’s ongoing overheads and losses, and help towards restructuring during lockdown and for when they are finally able to open again at full capacity.
You can donate here: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/thehottin
The Crowdfunder campaign runs until 1st September 2020 at 8pm. Any money raised over the £10,000 target will be donated to the Music Venue Trust crisis fund to protect other small venues across the country.
Faversham-based artist and Hot Tin bartender, chef and cocktail supremo, William Ford, is also organising a silent auction to help keep the venue afloat.
There has been a callout to creatives to donate artworks, ceramics, merchandise and crafted goods. These will be displayed and described on an auction site, which goes live on 27th June. It will work a bit like ebay, with members of the public invited to bid on items until the auction closes on 19th July.
‘We have been overwhelmed with the support we have received ,’ says William, ‘Originally we asked for artworks, because that was the idea I had in mind, but we’ve had lots of makers offering to donate things – some beautiful jewellery and stained glass. We’ve had bands offering merchandise bundles and others offering online services, such as guitar lessons or a garden design consultation. So now the auction is a proper showcase of what The Hot Tin and RouteStock is.’
To maintain social distancing, artists will be responsible for getting items bid for to those who have won them, although The Hot Tin can help if this is not possible.
If you are keen to see The Hot Tin reopen when the time comes and would like to donate to the silent auction, please contact William. firstname.lastname@example.org
Officially the deadline for donations is today (June 14th) but William is happy to receive new offers over the next week or two.
The auction goes live on 27th June. For more information, you can follow The Hot Tin on:
or contact them email@example.com