Read the Leader of Medway Council's latest message to residents.
There’s a sense of new beginnings as we move into September this week.
Schools across Medway are opening their doors to welcome back all our local children and they’ve been working very hard throughout the summer to ensure a safe environment for both your children and for their staff. It is so important that we get our children back into school now – talking to my grandchildren, I know they have missed their friends, teachers and lessons enormously over the past six months and a recent study from Public Health England has shown that coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreaks and infections in schools are rare and we should take confidence in that.
Getting children back into school will enable parents and carers to return to work with confidence and help drive the economic recovery for the country. I am also pleased that many young people will be able to continue their education at the four universities here in Medway and at MidKent College and I wish them all the best for the academic year ahead. There are, of course, important changes to our daily routines that we must all continue to observe, whether it’s the trip to school, college or work, or how we move around in these places, but we all have a responsibility to keep ourselves, our friends, family, colleagues and community safe and, if we all pull together, we will ensure that the rate of infection in Medway remains low.
Supporting the most vulnerable people in our community
Looking back over the past six months, two of the most important things we did were to provide assistance to the most vulnerable in our community and provide critical financial support to local businesses. Working closely with many of our wonderful voluntary organisations, we provided the equivalent of more than 111,000 meals through food packages during lockdown. I am so proud of the speed of which we set our emergency support service and of how many people were redeployed across the council. It really was a joint effort with local voluntary organisations and I’d like to thank everyone who played a part in our work. Now that there is less need for it, we have scaled back the provision of the service but continue to work closely with voluntary organisations to help where needed. We know that the financial situation for many people in Medway remains a strain so I was pleased to announce last week that we are making one off, non-refundable grants available through the government’s Emergency Assistance Grant. The support, which will be made through Citizens Advice Medway, is aimed at residents who are struggling financially, with food and other essential items they need, such as a fridge, bed and support with gas and electricity. I would encourage residents who are experiencing financial difficulties due to the current coronavirus pandemic to apply to Citizens Advice Medway to access the support available. We are also launching a COVID-19 information line to provide weekly local COVID-19 updates for residents who do not have access to the internet. People can contact 01634 336000.
Supporting local businesses
We have now provided assistance, in the form of grants, to thousands of Medway businesses to help support them through the pandemic too. We have paid out more than £36 million in Small Business Grants and just under £2million as part of the Discretionary Grants scheme. We hope this has been useful support for you at this difficult time. It is vitally important that we all continue to support our local businesses and shops to help Medway get back on its feet again. We have many wonderful local shops, restaurants, bars and cafes for you to enjoy and if you’ve taken advantage of the Eat Out To Help Out scheme last month, please do continue to support them.
Update on Christmas events in Medway
One of the toughest things I’ve had to do in recent months is to take decisions to cancel many of the popular annual events that we run for free here in Medway for local people. You have all been hugely supportive of those decisions and I thank you for that. The next big events that we are usually starting to look forward to at this time of year are our Christmas Dickensian Festival, Rochester Christmas Market, Christmas Light switch-ons, pantomime and Brook Christmas Show. It has been with an exceptionally heavy heart that I have taken the decision to cancel these events this year in the light of the ongoing pandemic. Keeping you safe is our absolute priority and unfortunately, due to the nature and popularity of the annual events, it would be difficult to put the current government social distancing guidelines in place to help keep residents safe and stop the virus from spreading. We have to take these decisions now as a huge amount of planning goes into each event and it’s impossible to predict what the national or local picture will look like in relation to Coronavirus at that time. It will still begin to look a lot like Christmas in November as festive lights across Medway will be switched on for residents to enjoy when they visit Medway’s town centres. And next year, I aim to bring back our festival programme better than ever as we start to look forward once again, putting culture at the heart of our recovery.
Back Medway's City of Culture 2025 campaign
Returning to my theme at the start about new beginnings, I am absolutely delighted today to welcome the launch of Medway’s UK City of Culture 2025 campaign. Last year, you will recall our announcement of our ambition to bid as part of this major national competition and since then a team of people have been working to turn this into a reality and the bidding will take place next year. Hosting in 2025 would be a real game-changer for Medway, giving young people a key role within our cultural life as well as creating a legacy of opportunities for local people and bringing significant economic benefits to the area. The bid is being shaped by Medway’s people, businesses, and organisations with over 450 local people of all ages already involved to date. Medway’s bid is inviting local residents to ‘Back Medway’, show their support for the bid and have their say in developing Medway’s themes and approach and I urge you all to get involved and back the bid. Our community came together so well during the pandemic and I see the bid as a beacon in Medway’s recovery. It’s time to show the country what a wonderful place Medway is. Please do visit the website and show your support.
I want to close by saying a huge thank you to the amazing teams of people in Medway’s front line services working to keep the people of Medway safe, healthy and protected. Although the prevalence of COVID-19 in Medway is lower than in other areas, they still continue to provide invaluable services day in, day out for which we thank them. Finally, please do continue to protect them, your loved ones and Medway by taking the simple precautions of washing your hands, wearing face coverings and observing social distancing at all times – stay safe.
Cllr Alan Jarrett
Leader of Medway Council