Café serves up large slice of community spirit

Sean Holden

Jennie Kenny feels a genuine sense of achievement after fulfilling an ambition to run her own café.

The former midwife says she had many memorable experiences working for the NHS, but hasn’t looked back since setting up Beyond the Grounds at River Walk near Tonbridge Castle.

She feels her new venture has proved especially rewarding knowing it is run as a social enterprise, with profits being ploughed back into a range of charities.

“I can remember doing a night shift as a midwife 20 years ago and one of my colleagues asked me what other job I’d most want to do – and it was running my own café,” recalled the entrepreneur, who has lived in Kent since moving from Northern Ireland at the age of 11.

With a little help from her friends, including Ellie Burgess of local design firm Nova Nova, Jennie has created a distinctive and stylish venue.

She wants it to become a community hub, with bold plans to stage a series of evening events including live music and open mic entertainment nights in the future.

“The café is in the perfect location just near the castle and river – I just wanted to create somewhere people felt welcome and that they felt like they were walking into my front room,” said Jennie, whose husband Julian has been managing the financial side of the business.

One of her biggest challenges to date has been in bringing together a team which shares her aspirations of being a business that is generous in giving back to the community, as well as having a strong sense of creativity.

Jennie said: “It has been very busy since we opened last December. I can recall having quite a few sleepless nights in the run-up to us starting. I didn’t know what to expect and was taking some risk with it having never done this before, but it’s been going well.”

She has been keen to support Tonbridge companies by sourcing ingredients locally wherever possible, as well as insisting on ethically-sourced coffee.

“I’ve been in Tonbridge for 20 years with my family and I consider it my home now. It has been a lovely place for my three daughters to grow up.

“I really feel part of the community, which is one of the reasons I started the café here, and it’s amazing the strength of feeling that people have about things improving in Tonbridge. There’s a really positive vibe about the town.”

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