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    The Sunflower House team

    Sunflower House

    A blog by Jennifer Penn

    The Sunflower House along Foord Road is a remarkable building.
    Steeped in history, the single-storey hall steadfastly represents many of the aspects that Folkestone embodies: art, history and, of course, community.

    Anybody who has walked into Sunflower House will have felt the warmth, with its natural light and high vaulted ceiling. It’s as if, over the years, the sense of community has somehow been soaked into the brickwork, which then radiates out to embrace all those who walk through its doors.
    Originally, back in the 1800s, its purpose was a mission house, a meeting place for migrants passing through the port of Folkestone. Dominated by the arches of William Cubitt’s viaduct, it was perfectly placed for people involved in transporting goods via train, roads and sea. The viaduct, built 180 years ago, is equally visually eye-catching as the 19 slender arches stand at an impressive 100 feet high. The viaduct remains the world’s highest arched brick structure of its kind, and it dwarf the homes and buildings beneath.

    The Sunflower House building fell into some disrepair and under the ownership of the Harbour Community Church, it lay in their portfolio of properties but had little purpose. That is until David Taylor, a local community-minded man, saw its potential and made it his mission to transform the building and, thereby, the town itself too, through community action.

    At its heart was helping the impoverished, the marginalised and those in need. The seed was sown, fertile ground had been located, and David Taylor set about watering the seedling of sunflowers into hope. He tended to the project with care and energy, ensuring it had all the right nutrients to flourish and grow.
    The Folkestone Town Sprucer project sprang forth, to this day being spearheaded by Peter Philips, and in its tenth year, continuing to make our town a better place to live. When David Taylor unexpectedly passed away, Alex McLaren took over, successfully navigating the hall through covid and out the other side. After which Jon O’Connor stepped in as Chair in 2021.

    The worst of covid was over, and with a fresh pair of eyes, the project was to grow from a sapling to a fully established bloom. Since his chairmanship began, the project’s motto, “A community building, building community”, has been the cornerstone of the charity. As the baton of care is passed down from chair to chair, it is given life, purpose and drive that will take the project well into the future.

    The sunflower mural that gives the building its distinctive appearance was created by local artist Philippa Goddard. The colourful and vibrant mural stands tall, at a height of 7.2 metres and more than 9m wide. The artist said, “Turning to face the sun, seven giant sunflowers all resolutely face the viewer. Each is determinedly individual”.

    It is that wonderful, unabashed, glorious colour of the flowers that symbolises hope and offers a sense of optimism for better days ahead.

    Like the storms we are so accustomed to experiencing here in the town, we can weather them together. Defiant in the face of cost-of-living crisis, housing shortages and food poverty. Together, we can stand tall and not give in.

    In 2023, the satellite community room at The Bayle opened its doors and is also curated by the Sunflower Trustees. The community room houses projects that require smaller space or simple seating, such as Write by The Sea, Take Off and the Folkestone Community Forum.

    If you’d like to be involved in Sunflower House, please do get in touch.