We’re now less than a month away from opening our doors to welcome the first climbing experience customers. It seemed appropriate at this point to reflect on our experiences of the process as we come to the end of one journey and embark on another.
The start of the project…
The Climbing Experience project began at the beginning of February, 2018 and it’s been a long, sometimes difficult, but always exciting road since then. From securing premises to designing and building our walls, it’s been quite the experience just getting here. One of the first things we had to do was find the right location. Being based in Kent we had quite a few options, but we decided that Maidstone would be a great place as it was not only lacking a bouldering gym and fun wall but sitting at the heart of the county meant that we could be easily accessible from everywhere.
Finding the right premises was much harder than we thought it was going to be. Building owners were often put off by the sheer amount of work we would need to do to the property, but also the fact that we were a start-up. For a while it felt as though we would never find a place, and we are lucky to have found the centre a home at Baltic Wharf in Maidstone as it’s so close to two of the town’s train stations and we have other leisure facilities around us. We found the right place in June 2018 but it took until January this year to get the keys. This was definitely the most stressful part of the whole process. One upside from this, however, was that after going through so many buildings and designs we knew exactly what we wanted to do in terms of the space, by the time we got the keys to this one.
Designing and building…
At Baltic Wharf, we have two units which we have knocked through to make a huge space that is plenty big enough to encompass everything we wanted to achieve here. Right from the start, we knew we wanted to have both a Fun Wall and a super large bouldering area. The Fun Wall was important to us, because of our belief in making climbing accessible to everyone; children as young as four can enjoy it and it’s the most fun introduction to the climbing world. We decided to put a small amount of bouldering in the same unit as the Fun Wall, so that both had access to our café area. However most of the bouldering will be taking up pretty much the entirety of the second unit; with part of that space also being given over to a training area.
The design of the layout was definitely one of the most fun parts of the entire process – the moment when we could finally visualise what this place was going to look like. Being climbers, it was great being able to decide to make this place into our perfect climbing gym. We put in a lot of time revising plans because we wanted everything to not only be right for the activities involved but also so that everything flowed together. It was at this point that the yoga studio became an option. We’d always wanted the centre to become a wellbeing hub, a place where the community to take care of their bodies and minds, so when we realised we had space to make this plan a reality from the very beginning we felt as though we should jump on it.
Once the plans were finalised, we could start on the build and it’s been a long but fascinating road from that point. The sheer amount of work necessary (and of course the accompanying paperwork) was overwhelming to say the least. We’ve had builders on site since we got the keys, and are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel now. At this point, pretty much everything but the walls have been constructed, with a few final touches being added. It’s been so important that there has always been a great team right from the start of this project. We’ve got an excellent project manager who has been on board from the very beginning, meaning the pressure of a lot of the construction work has been removed, allowing us to focus on more operational and design work.
The best bits…
Obviously one of the most enjoyable things has been the research trips we’ve been on around the country, trying to get a feel for different climbing centres, as there’s such a contrast between different places. Learning to build a business right from the start has been interesting as there’s been so much to learn along the way. There was never a point, however, where we thought we might have made the wrong decision; we’ve given this place 100% from the very start. We love that each step of the way we’ve got more and more validation from potential customers and people working within the industry that what we were doing was right. We’d really love to try and do this again in the future, but right now we’re looking forward to finding our space in the climbing community and think that the multidisciplinary scope of this centre is what sets us apart. Our hopes for this place are that we can create not just a climbing community in Maidstone, but a space in general where everyone is welcome and can feel like they are part of the climbing experience family.