The Sugar Rush big build is taking place to transform the former WHSmith in Ramsgate

Gen and Heidi at the new Sugar Rush premises Photo David Stillman

The transformation of the former WHSmith store into a community theatre, café, performance space, speakeasy style bar, studios, offices and more is underway – and the new bosses are calling on the community to lend a hand.

The 5,095 Sq. Ft unit has been taken over by Sugar Rush café and Stage Door Arts Academy with Ramsgate duo Heidi Moran and Genevieve Pepper at the helm.

The performing arts school and community café is moving from 66 High Street due to its that site being earmarked for demolition and redevelopment.

SDA and Sugar Rush initially launched a fundraiser to help with the costs of taking on the former HSBC site in the town but this became unviable after it received a Grade II listing.

An open event last week at the former WHSmith building Photo Dave Stillman

Now the deal for the WHSmith takeover has been signed and Heidi and Gen are not only moving the existing café and stage school into the building but expanding to include a 100 seat community theatre downstairs, alongside the café, performance space and two accessible toilets and the jazz style speakeasy upstairs which will feature a stage and bar.

The upstairs will also have a ‘green screen’ studio for young people to learn presenting skills, meeting rooms/office space to hire, kitchen, toilets, dressing rooms, storage and stage school space.

Mum-of-three Gen, who is a performer and has worked in marketing and advertising, said: “We are going to have 100 seats for our community theatre and it will be affordable for small groups to use, anything from local drama groups to older people’s groups. They can come and put on shows and we will make sure it is affordable, accessible and inclusive.

“We aim to be open in about three weeks and we need local skills, artists, builders, plumbers, to help.

“We are in desperate need of flooring and black paint, litres of black paint (for the theatre area).

“In return we can give free tickets for events, free rehearsal space, we just want local businesses and people to get involved with this community space.”

Gen and Heidi

Gen says the venture is ‘arty but not farty,’ and open for everyone, from the LGBTQ+ community who are already a big part of Sugar Rush, neurodiverse residents, mums, families and anyone else who wants to pop in and see what’s happening.

Mum-of-two Heidi founded SDA in 2007 and converted it to CIC status last year. She has also run businesses ranging from tepee hire to princess parties and the café which started life in Margate Old Town in 2017 before the move to Ramsgate in 2020.

Heidi, who studied musical theatre at The Brit School in Croydon before a spell at Kent uni on a teaching course, said: “The speakeasy will have a stage and bar, there will be community events and performances. The recording studio and green screen studio will mean we can offer kids opportunities to learn presenting skills.

“We aren’t in competition with groups like Pie Factory and want to collaborate with those existing groups. We have already collaborated with Ramsgate Music Hall and we could have pre-events before people go off to the music hall.

“We aren’t new but want to add to what we have.

“We have had some really great help from the community. Farleys lent some manpower to rip up the carpets, local companies have helped with our fundraising and we have had help from DG May sons & daughter building maintenance and Elliot Brian Construction.

“All help is welcome, especially with the flooring and paint!”

Find out how to help via Sugar Rush – The Big Build on facebook here

There is also a fundraiser to help with costs of renovating the new space.

Find the fundraising page here


  1. Another art sector using a funding page.

    How many kids football, swimming, cycling, scout, gymnastics clubs etc use funding pages ? All we seem to read about is the arty sector getting grants or advertising funding pages.

    Perhaps the arty sector should look at how our kids/adults clubs fund themselves instead of the begging bowl

    • People are willing to contribute as a COMMUNITY because what they receive in return from sugar rush is worth so much more than the value they donate. I know this first hand, having attended parent and baby classes there that were FREE with the purchase of a drink.

    • Ton – it means autism/ ADHD/ any other condition which means your brain operates slightly differently to others. My daughter has epilepsy and is neurodiverse because of that (it causes her all sorts of sensory, emotional and neurological issues that people without neurodiversity wouldn’t experience). Making a place neurodiversity-friendly might mean having showings which are less noisy/ don’t have flashing lights and where it’s not expected the audience will keep quiet. Vue cinema does this, for example on certain showings. Hope that helps.

    • My brain now hurts! Is that neurologically induced by trying to decipher all that?
      Give me time, however I promise nothing.

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