Funding to help businesses create more low-cost and accessible places to stay along the North Downs Way National Trail is now available.
It is hoped the support will help more people enjoy the stunning landscape of ancient woods, coastal paths and chalk grassland – and world-famous Pilgrim route – stretching across Kent from the London-Surrey border to the White Cliffs of Dover.
Thanks to a collaboration of the North Downs Way National Trail, Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (ANOB) Unit, Kent County Council (KCC) and the European Regional Development Fund, £60,000 is being made available in grants starting at £3,000.
Applicants must be able to offer low-cost and accessible places to stay on or within 5km, by foot or bicycle, of the Kent leg of the North Downs Way.
Accommodation that would be attractive to walkers, hikers, and cyclists, or those looking for a more-back-to-nature overnight stay, must be sustainable, enhance the landscape, cost a maximum £40 a night and offer one-night and single-person bookings.
Applications should also seek to include facilities for guests with mobility, hearing, and sight loss. To attract walkers and cyclists, rather than visitors in cars, proposals should also include bike storage and space to dry clothes and equipment.
Bids to support unique accommodation, such as camping pods and bothies, existing-structure conversions such as barns, and all-season ‘nearly wild’ camping with basic services including toilets and showers, are particularly encouraged.
Derek Murphy, KCC Cabinet Member for Economic Development said: “Tourism is a key contributor to the Kent economy, providing some 70,000 jobs and generating over £1.4 billion and we want to do everything we can to help the sector thrive as we bounce back from COVID and grapple with the increasing cost-of-living.
“Before the pandemic, over 9 million people a year visited Kent’s National Trail and the iconic protected landscape of the North Downs.
“By increasing access for all we aim to welcome everyone back, and more, to this spectacular part of the UK.”
In recognition of its natural and historic importance, the Kent Downs AONB is currently being considered by UNESCO for Global Geopark status – together with neighbouring protected landscape across the Channel in France, the Parc Naturel Regional des Caps et Marais d’Opale.
Catherine Bradley, Project Development Manager for Kent Downs AONB, said: “Everyone should be able to experience all that the beautiful North Downs Way has to offer and this scheme provides a fantastic opportunity for businesses to create some new, unusual and accessible places to stay.
“Applicants may have questions about the scheme or application process, and I would urge them to get in touch. Whether this is an extension of their existing business, or a chance to diversify, we want to help make it a success.”
The closing date for businesses to apply is Wednesday, 31 August. Projects must be completed by 31 January, 2023, and ready to launch the same year. Catherine can be reached via Catherine.Bradley@kentdowns.org.uk
More information about the EXPERIENCE project can be found at kentdowns.org.uk/landscape-management/grants/ndw-grant