It’s Always Sunny in Medway

In which we welcome Revd Dr Joel Love as he ponders the summer solstice, World Humanist Day, and our place in the world..

Clung to a ball 
That was hung in the sky 
Hurled into orbit 
There You are
– Rich Mullins, ‘Verge of a Miracle’

This week sees the solstice and World Humanist Day, which both fall on 21 June. In the Northern hemisphere this is known as midsummer or the ‘summer’ solstice (whatever the weather). The summer solstice is when when the sun reaches its highest point in the sky and is the day with the shortest period of darkness and longest period of daylight. 

Prehistoric sites such as Stonehenge stand as monuments to the annual cycle of the sun, which appears to rise higher in the sky during the summer before falling again towards the Southern horizon in the winter months. Here in the Medway area, Kits Coty is all that is left of an ancient burial mound that was also oriented towards the rising sun. Many Christian Churches are also built on an East-West axis, sometimes literally on top of earlier places of worship. Humanists International, meanwhile, chose the 21st of June because it symbolises light triumphing over darkness, where one represents ‘knowledge’ and the other ‘ignorance’. 

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Volunteering Matters

1st – 7th June was Volunteer Week.

Volunteers are often the unsung heroes that make the world a better place and do so without asking for a penny so it’s quite right we should celebrate them and promote it.

Here, I’m going to talk about another advantage of volunteering that we all could do with more of: better emotional wellbeing and mental health.

So what are positive effects of volunteering on mental health and emotional wellbeing?

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How easy is it to donate blood in Medway?

In celebration of National Blood Week 2019 Elena Keeling speaks to a Medway voice to find out how giving blood gives back to them and what more can be done to help save more lives..

To celebrate National Blood Week 2019 from the 10-16 June, NHS Blood and Transplant have highlighted how they need 400 new blood donors every single day to be able to sustain. 

The number of blood donations are on the rise here in Medway. However, new figures released by NHS England at the start of this year declared that twice as many women than men had signed up in 2018 to be blood donors. Which poses the question of what more can be done to help these numbers keep rising in order to aid the ever-growing population’s need for blood.

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Voice of the Opposition: June

Once a month we will be offering the Leaders of both Medway Council and the official opposition the opportunity to talk unedited about.. well, Medway politics.

Today we hear from Vince Maple, leader of Medway Labour, the official opposition on Medway Council.


Following the local elections around 110,000 of Medway’s residents are now directly represented by Labour. I’m proud that we increased from 15 to 20 councillors and I welcome Siju, Harinder, Simon, Jo, Hazel, John, Mark, and Chrissy, along with welcoming back Stephen to the Labour & Co-operative Group.

We didn’t get the extra few councillors we would have needed to form an administration and that is disappointing. We will continue to be a constructive opposition group; offering criticism where the administration are getting it wrong and working collectively when there is cross-party consensus, as we have seen in the battle to defend stroke services in Medway.

I wanted to take a look back at some key decisions taken at the full council meeting the week before the election, starting with the declaration of the Climate Emergency. I was proud to move this motion which received cross party support because if we don’t tackle this then realistically everything else becomes irrelevant if we have no planet left. I pay tribute to the young people who lobbied for this to be discussed, their arguments were powerful. I am genuinely hopeful that the cross party advisory group which will be set up will give an opportunity to go into some detail and listen to key community partners to make sure Medway plays it part in tackling the Climate Emergency.

Labour’s licensing spokesperson Dan McDonald, seconded by our Deputy Leader Teresa Murray, also secured cross party support to tackle the fact that Uber are not currently licensed by Medway Council and are operating here under the claim that Medway is part of London. Our local Taxi association, the MLTDA, has obtained powerful legal opinion and the passing of this motion will mean the council will obtain their own independent legal opinion on the matter. I’m clear that the issue here is that Uber are simply not playing by the same rules as our hard working taxi drivers and are likely in breach of Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976, Section 46 (1).

Unfortunately other motions did not secure the same cross party support – Alex Paterson and Adam Price proposed a key motion on the issue of food justice, recognising that in Medway close to 6,000 packages of support were given by Medway Foodbank alongside help and assistance from other charities and community organisations. We are one of the richest economies in the world so to see these sorts of statistics are sickening. Sadly the Conservatives failed to grasp the nettle and have not recognised the urgency of this matter.

Moving forward, there are a number of challenges on the horizon including the ongoing state of local government finances.  Worrying for local residents is that our council had one of the highest levels of reduction in our council finance reserves, being 11th on the list (out of 426 local authorities) for emergency reserve depletion since 2015. That list shows Conservative controlled Northamptonshire County Council top of the list – this is the council which has effectively gone bankrupt, exercising very poor financial management including ignoring numerous warnings. Dwindling reserves is one of the first warning signs of financial mismanagement and it’s extremely worrying that Medway is at risk of running out of reserves in the next four years. I look forward to the Conservative administration providing some further detail and putting Medway residents at ease about Medway’s ongoing financial situation.

We have also got the very practical issues around the regeneration of Strood which has repeatedly led to absolute gridlock, causing misery for residents and businesses. Of course communities want to see positive regeneration taking place, but not when it has been so poorly handled as we have seen here including a much loved local pub, the Riverside Tavern, at risk of closure due to the negative impacts regeneration are having in that part of Strood. Stephen Hubbard will be bringing forward a members item to try and make sure things are improved and quickly.

At the next full council meeting we will be debating the issue of how the mayoralty is selected. In the grand scheme of everything that Medway Council does this is not the most important thing but it is absolutely a point of principle. At the recent elections the Conservative Party got just 34% of a 31% turnout – that doesn’t mean they have the support of 100% of residents and absolutely doesn’t give the right for the first citizen of Medway to be the gift of one political party. Some Conservative members have privately said to me and other Labour colleagues they would be supportive of returning to the points based selection model so I hope they will vote to return to it at the July full council meeting.

This sits alongside other democratic issues such as the Chairs of Overview and Scrutiny committees.  My Labour colleague, Roger Truelove, recently became the Leader of Swale Borough Council. In his maiden speech as Leader he made it clear he would be offering the Chair of Scrutiny to the Conservative Group which they accepted.  In Westminster we see people from all parties chairing Select Committees.  However here in Medway, throughout my time as a councillor, all we have ever seen is Conservative Chairs of all Overview and Scrutiny committees – this is another change which would lead to a greater level of scrutiny and something which over the next four years should be strongly considered.

I can’t finish this month’s column without recognising that by the time the next column is published we will be close to having a new Prime Minister.  Frankly after nine years of Tory austerity and the hugely negative impact that has had on our communities the way I would like to be selecting a new prime minister is with a General Election and the person going through the front door at number ten being Jeremy Corbyn, but regrettably I recognise that it will only be Conservative Party members who will be selecting at this stage.

It is not for me to interfere in the “personal grief” of a selection process for another political party but I would respectfully remind all readers of The Political Medway that one candidate spent years attempting to singlehandedly create an Estuary Airport which would have been bad for Medway, bad for the environment and bad for UK PLC.  He had utter disrespect for Medway, repeatedly ignoring the cross party and community campaign and attempting to press on with his completely ludicrous idea. On KMTV’s Paul on Politics show I was asked who would be the next Tory Leader – my answer was simple A.B.B – Anyone But Boris.

Vince Maple is the leader of Medway Labour, the official opposition party on Medway Council, and a councillor for Chatham Central.

World Environment Day: its theme and relevance to Medway

Ahead of World Environment Day tomorrow, Steve Dyke tells us why we should all be more worried about the levels of air pollution in Medway..

I think it is a reasonable guess that many reading this will not have heard of ‘World Environment Day’, coming up on June 5th. This United Nations led event, held annually since 1974, is intended to encourage both global awareness of our environment and action being taken to protect it. The idea is that people commit to doing something to help take care of our planet, either individually or as part of a group. Each year thousands of related organised activities take place all over the world. Sadly so far I have found no evidence of Medway Council promoting it or seen any advertised public events linked to it taking place locally.

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It takes a village

In which Vicki Sigston looks at how much support exists for families in Medway in those vital early years..

Did you know that May 15th was the International Day of Families? It was first celebrated in 1994 by the United Nations who wanted the opportunity to reflect and celebrate the importance of families, communities and societies around the world.

As an antenatal practitioner I have been lucky enough to be a tiny part of the journey into parenthood for hundreds of families. It is a real privilege to watch them traverse the magical, and often tricky path that comes when extending a family unit.

As a society though, I think we are letting families down.

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Medway’s Mental Health Matters

13th to 19th May was Mental Health Awareness Week.

Mental health, we all have it. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes, unfortunately, it’s not so good. It’s certainly a buzzword at the moment thanks to more people speaking openly about it, including celebrities and royals. I think we can all agree, whether you struggle with yours or not, that more awareness and more support can only be a good thing.

If you Google ‘Medway Mental Health Awareness 2019’, you get an old result from 2014 and pretty generic, outdated mental health information. It seems Medway isn’t doing too much this year in terms of events, which is both unsurprising but also sad, considering Medway has some of the highest mental health need in Kent. 

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Huguenot or Huguewilling

In which Chris Sams remembers when Rochester once accepted religious refugees from a hostile country with open arms, yet at the same time treated them with the suspicions and xenophobia..

In the sixteenth century Europe was rocked by a religious ‘schism’ which was started by the German monk Martin Luther and the English King Henry VIII. This of course was the rise of Protestantism and the separation from the Catholic Church. This has caused ruptures in different countries for hundreds of years, which we are still feeling the after effects now, especially in Northern Ireland. It was only recently that an age old law banning Catholics from being Prime Minister was lifted.

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Brexit must mean exit

Ahead of the European elections, we asked representatives from the major parties to submit an article making the case for their party. Today, former Medway UKIP group leader Roy Freshwater puts forward the argument for his party..

Mrs. May’s Withdrawal Agreement (treaty) is a complete betrayal of the referendum decision. 88,997 Medway residents voted on the 23rd June 2016 to leave the EU and take back control of our money, our laws and our borders. The government made up of ‘remainers’ and mostly elitist MPs after three years has presented us with a ‘Not Really Leaving the EU Withdrawal Agreement’. It will not satisfy leavers or remainers, and cost many millions in payments to the EU that should be spent on improving the lives of British communities and Medway communities. Its intention is to make it possible to reverse the referendum decision or, if it is implemented, to pave the way for re-entry to the EU in a few years’ time.

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Being Green

In which Steve Dyke tells us what our Green MEP has been up to in the European Parliament..

Thanks in part to the fairer voting system of proportional representation, since 1999 the Medway Towns have had the good fortune to be represented by a Green Party Member of the European Parliament (‘MEP’). This is as part of the South East England constituency and our elected members have been Caroline Lucas and, since she became an MP at Westminster, Keith Taylor. Keith is retiring at the imminent unplanned election but I am confident that there will be continue to be a Green representative for the South East after May 23rd (Alex Phillips, a Green councillor from Brighton & Hove is our lead candidate). There are also Green MEPs currently representing London and the South West.

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