How Medway launched a regeneration programme and what they’re doing to engage residents along the way
Medway in Kent was one of 25 areas in England awarded a share of £3 million to help them set their own standards for design locally. The strategy is designed to empower communities to have a greater say on the development of new homes, buildings, open space, shops, and workspace. This community-led design is just the latest step in Medway’s strategy, and the region’s programme of regeneration – alongside continued business investment – is putting the area on the map,
We asked Virginie Giles, Place Manager & Director for We Are Medway CIC [Community Interest Company], to explain more about the impact placemaking is having on the area, including the importance of bringing Medway’s diverse communities together to deliver positive change.
Thanks for joining us, Virginie. How can effective placemaking strategies help to foster civic pride?
Placemaking is focused on transforming public spaces to strengthen the connections between people and places. To achieve this, deep and real community engagement is critical. The process requires a focus on encouraging higher levels of participation to help deliver a sense of belonging to a place.
In Medway, we have created a powerful network uniting business, community organisations and individuals to raise the profile of Medway and champion community pride, along with a strong place narrative and visual identity.
We now have well over 200 champions making up our network, from big businesses to our universities, further education college and schools, public sector bodies and a wide range of community and voluntary sector organisations and local people.
It is important to layer placemaking strategies within the distinctive parts of your place so that they reflect different values and beliefs that may exist across an area – it is too simplistic to think that one placemaking strategy fits all.
The pandemic has reshaped how we use our public spaces. In what ways does your strategy respond to these new changes in behaviour?
‘Medway a place to be proud of’ is one of Medway Council’s three key priorities and sees us investing heavily in regeneration and keeping our streets and beautiful green spaces clean and enjoyable. In addition, a year-round programme of diverse festivals and events attracts hundreds of thousands of residents and visitors to the area each year. The community is also working together to tackle the challenges of climate change to create a healthy place for our future generations.
Cultural regeneration, meanwhile, is playing a major part in building Medway’s future success and is increasingly recognised in the region as a magnet for creative and cultural industries. Medway Council plans to continue the momentum by establishing distinctive cultural quarters that will make the historic town of Chatham in particular a hub for creative growth, expanding Chatham’s creative identity and giving developers guidance on how they can contribute to this vision.
Investing in our green spaces is high on Medway’s agenda. In addition to the Hoo Peninsula, there are nearly 2,000 hectares of open spaces. That’s the equivalent of 14 Hyde Parks - and 148 urban parks. Eight of our parks have been awarded Green Flag status.
Bucking the national trend of closures, Medway also continues to invest in its library services. We have 15 libraries across the whole of Medway offering a wide range of services from book, audio books, eBooks, and comic loans, to magazines and newspapers and most recently football loans, welcoming over 1m visits each year.
You’re embarking on a very citizen-led approach to place development. How are you engaging your residents in design of your town centre?
Medway Council have commissioned two agencies to lead a consultant team to develop a Design Code for the town centre of Chatham and lead public and stakeholder engagement. Design codes are a collection of design principles which help residents define what good development and high-quality public streets and spaces look like in their area. A code sets out exactly what is expected of developers in a clear and visual manner. This leads to the creation of more beautiful and sustainable places within existing communities that residents are more likely to support and treasure.
We are also embarking on a project on the Hoo peninsula to help shape our community infrastructure in collaboration with local people in conjunction with the growth in population and housing on the peninsula.
Decisions on the strategic direction and delivery for Medway are taken through successful local partnerships ensuring a shared vision and ambition and commitment to action across the whole of Medway.
Boards are made up of partners, and resident participation in planning and decision-making is actively encouraged. Examples include:
We Are Medway Place Board – an overarching, independently-chaired board, with a vibrant and engaged group of champions who advocate for Medway and shape its future direction.
Partnerships are grouped around our key themes - Live (Creative Medway, Developers Forum), Work (Medway for Business and Skills Board), Learn (Medway Learning Partnership and our Head Teachers liaison group) and Visit (Medway Tourism Association).
What strategies are you putting in place to ensure that you’re reaching a diverse spectrum of your community with your outreach?
Organisations such as Medway Afro-Caribbean Association (MACA), Medway Culture Club and Cohesion Plus are three examples of wonderful local organisations bringing local people together to support cultural diversity in Medway, promoting social and racial harmony in our community as well as promoting different cultures through arts, educational and social programmes.
Faith also plays a prominent role in the area with Medway Interfaith Forum particularly significant in bringing together religious groups to help local people, supporting Muslim NHS staff working during Ramadan and bringing together Muslim and Sikh communities to provide meals during COVID-19 most recently.
Medway Council has also a long track record of working collaboratively with the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector and relationships are very strong. We are fortunate in Medway to have an extensive VCSE sector with more than 1,000 organisations supporting our communities.
These organisations play a vital role in supporting us reach a diverse spectrum of our community when planning community-led projects.