The Group was started in 1973 under the name of “The Friends of Cobtree Hall”. This was a social club with the aim of raising funds for MENCAP, which had recently acquired the redundant Church of England Parish church for Willington and Otham “St. John the Evangelist” now known as Cobtree Hall, situated in Mote Park, Maidstone. The funds to purchase the building were loaned to Mencap by the Cobtree Trust. Among the activities that the group embarked upon were Bridge and Folk Dancing. At the suggestion of one of the members, John Rose, the group decided to try Scottish Country Dancing every other week and so the group as we know it today was born. The Friends of Cobtree Hall association was disbanded in 1985 due to lack of support but the Scottish Dancing Group has gone from strength to strength. The success of the group is thanks largely to the late Peter Green and his Wife Phyllis who ran it between them for the first 22 years until 1997 when Phyllis died. Peter died in 2009.
Initially there was no real experience of Scottish country dancing in the group; most of it was whatever could be gleaned from books. Through one of the member’s connection with the WI, a lady by the name of Vera Simms was recruited to become the first teacher. In 1980 Dick Barford a qualified SCD teacher joined the club and took over the teaching and MC role until 1994 when he stepped down due to career commitments. Dick handed the mantle to John Day, who was Chairman for seventeen years.
By this time the Group was beginning to thrive and by 1999 it had become too large for Cobtree Hall. This is when the group relocated to the current venue at Grove Green. At its peak the group had over 80 members and often had over 40 dancers at the weekly meetings. John continued to be the sole MC until 2003 when Dick, who had returned to the group in 2000, agreed to share the MC role with him. John has now retired from MCing and no longer dances. Dick recruited and trained a team of MCs from amongst the members who now share the role with him.
Dick retired as Chairman in 2023 after long and dedicated service to the club but continued to support the club by acting as MC and in other ways. Helen Knell took over as Chair.
In all this time the group has never lost sight of the original aims and has managed to contribute substantial funds to Maidstone Mencap, some of which is specifically for the benefit of the children who attend the playschool at Cobtree Hall. In the last 20 years the club has donated over £70,000 to Maidstone Mencap and is still donating significant sums of money each year as of 2023.
The club has also continued to be a very sociable and supportive group which was especially important during the Covid Lockdown. Dick kept everyone in touch by email and the club held several picnics at Mote Park. When we were able to the club nights and dances resumed with appropriate precautions and the club survived albeit with fewer members.