Medway: Brilliant or crap?

Freelance journalist, Sam Jordison, has just released details of his latest book, Crap Towns, a tongue in cheek look at Britain’s urban sprawls. I don’t know how you nominated which town should be included but some Medway folk decided that our town* deserved a spot inside the covers.

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Now don’t get me wrong, I know Medway isn’t perfect but find me a town in Britain that is. With the exception of the idyllic one road villages scattered across the country (and look closer, you’re sure to find even they have their less desirable spots) every town will have the same issues as anywhere in Medway – the late night revellers and other social concerns. The difference in Medway is the amount of people doing positive things to give the local community a reason to be proud. And yes, while there’s a nice line in self deprecating humour “If Kent is the garden of England, Medway is its compost heap” and we’re happy to take the piss out of ourselves, we’ll jump to the defence of our patch. There’s a huge number of individuals and groups working to make Medway a better place and it’s frustrating when some residents clearly can’t be bothered to find out about them.

No-one likes councils, it’s just a fact of life – doesn’t matter who’s in charge; But – free festivals abound for Medway’s residents, beginning with the Chinese New Year celebration in February and moving through the summer with the English Festival; Sweeps; Dickens; Fuse; Armed Forces Day; River Festival; Under Siege; Medieval Merriment; Will Adams, and then in December, we have the Dickensian Christmas. And they’re packed, not just with locals enjoying them but also bringing in people from outside the area to spend their cash in our local businesses.

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If live music is what you want, we have Homespun, ME1, TEA Concerts, Medway Eyes, Motherboy Noise, Suburban Kings, Manny’s Music and more, holding festivals and free gigs night after night in local pubs and clubs. Phil Dillon of Medway Eyes is a major fan and supporter – check out his Flickr stream.

We’re rich in art and culture activities, and having a local consortium recently awarded Creative People and Places funding, this is only going to increase, with more people engaging the community in arts activities. Aligned to those already doing  it – Rochester Literature Festival, LV21 and Creatabot to name but three – ongoing exhibits throughout the year at our galleries and other, more unusual spaces, and you’ll be tripping over arts activity from the moment you cross your doorstep. Assuming, of course, that you’re one of those positive residents who can actually be bothered to seek out them out. What’s on guides (both council and privately funded, such as WOW magazine) can be readily picked up or received through your letter box. Search on line for what’s going on in Medway and you’ll be inundated with results.

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Heritage: Absolutely no excuse to not know about our history with the RE Museum; Historic Dockyard, Fort Amherst, Medway Archive Centre, the Guildhall Museum and Medway Libraries activities. Plus, it’s all around you, living history in the walls of the castle, cathedral and other ancient buildings.

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Sport and hobbies: Loads of sports clubs encourage all ages to get involved, from badminton or sailing. Want something less strenuous? How about archaeology or Viking re – enactment?

Residents’ Associations: The community folks who, with or without funding, work tirelessly to make their area better: South Shore RA; Chatham Big Local; All Saints Community; DNA; White Road Group.

Parks and open spaces: Our landscapes are lovely, with Riverside, Ranscombe, The Vines, Victoria Gardens, Broomhill Park and so many more, most with ‘Friends of’ groups looking after them. Initiatives like Full Frontal Gardens have brought colour and nature to brick and concrete streets.

All the above mentioned are a mere snapshot of what can be found happening in Medway. Whatever your hobby, interest or work, you’ll find others like you and the means by which to meet them and share your enthusiasm. Many community activities are free, so why waste time and energy being negative? Embrace what’s on offer to enrich your life.

*Medway isn’t actually a town. It’s a river, upon which sit the five areas that make up the Medway Towns: Rainham, Gillingham, Chatham, Strood and the City of Rochester – we don’t recognize admin errors.

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The Half – the in between world the audience never sees

“A single moment, captured in time” became Simon Annand’s inspiration for a now 28 year old project, begun as a boy on his first holiday abroad.

At the behest of this young boy, a stranger gladly photographed the holidaying family “marking the moment”. The result of this initial foray is, many years later, a collection of profound theatrical culture, beautifully shot.

The first subject in this stunning collection known as ‘The Half’ was encapsulated while Simon was working in the bar at the Lyric Theatre. Griff Rhys Jones was starring in a production of Charley’s Aunt when Simon asked for permission to take some photos. An ebullient character on stage, Rhys-Jones was more introverted and melancholy off it.

It was the start of a journey giving Simon unprecedented access to the greatest actors in solitude and capturing the different energy felt in the dressing room; the audience is exposed only to the character the actor wishes them to see: “They bring in with them what they’re thinking and feeling that day.”

According to Simon, every person is in the collection for a reason: to reflect what’s happening in theatre, be it in the West End or on the fringes. This short film, commissioned by the Victoria and Albert Museum to accompany the exhibition, provides insights into the tensions and personal rituals they undertake on a nightly basis.

‘The Half’ is a theatrical term for the tense 35 minutes actors endure in their dressing room before ‘Curtain Up’. With the backstage area cleared of all but cast and crew, Simon’s photographs offer the audience a rare glimpse at the actors preparing to step into someone else’s shoes. Find out more about him here.