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Medway Council’s theatre “inclusion” ethos apparently has a line
Plus Christmas is cancelled in Medway, and some good funding news for once
Editor’s note: Why would a council cancel a ballet performance because it annoyed one man on the other side of the world but book a comedian best known for making rape jokes? That’s what we’re looking at following the somewhat questionable booking of Daniel ‘Dapper Laughs’ O’Reilly at the Central Theatre following Medway Council insisting all shows must meet its ‘inclusion and diversity’ ethos just two years ago. We’ve also got inevitable coverage of Medway’s Christmas lights being cancelled, and further down, some good funding news for our towns.
Medway Council’s “inclusion” ethos apparently has a line
Long-time readers of Local Authority might remember a strange incident from a couple of years ago when Medway Council cancelled a ballet performance because one man on the other side of the world claimed it stereotyped Hindus. It was all very strange at the time, but it did seem to indicate a rather more hands-on approach from Medway Council about the kind of things it would allow in its theatres.
At the time, Medway Council Head of Culture Paul Cowell was quoted as saying:
“The ethos of Medway Council’s theatres is to promote inclusion and diversity at all times. In future we will endeavour to ensure that all performances taking place in our theatres reflect these values, including any third-party bookings”
A recent booking for the Central Theatre in Chatham is set to demonstrate how well the promotion of inclusion and diversity is going, as Medway Council themselves have booked the well-known bastion of tolerance Dapper Laughs.
You can be forgiven for not knowing who Dapper Laughs (real name Daniel O’Reilly) is, as his initial rise to prominence and subsequent cancellation was pretty rapid.
In 2014, O’Reilly was filmed during a comedy performance interacting with a woman in the audience, claiming she was “gagging for a rape”. The clip went viral, with O’Reilly facing a significant backlash with his tv show being cancelled, which eventually led to an infamous Newsnight apology and a promise to retire the character.
O’Reilly is now set to play at the Central Theatre next March, and the show has nearly sold out, demonstrating that he clearly still has a significant following. The event advertises O’Reilly as performing ‘out of character’, indicating he has moved on from the Dapper Laughs persona in the years since.
We reached out to Medway Council to confirm if they had made the booking or whether a third-party promoter was responsible, and how it reconciled with their supposed ethos of ‘inclusion and diversity at all times’. Their statement in response indicates a bold new free-speech approach:
“Comedy is subjective and we offer a diverse range of shows, including comedy acts, to cater for different audiences.”
Interestingly, they also highlighted that the Dapper Laughs character was ten years ago, and O’Reilly has since apologised, had two children, is now sober, and has a mental health podcast.
All of which would be fine if things were as straightforward as that. If O’Reilly has indeed grown as a person in those ten years, maybe he does indeed deserve a second chance. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find much evidence of this.
His apology for the character lasted approximately a month before he resurrected it again, claiming that the media “bullied him” into ending it. Within a year, he defended the rape jokes that led to the backlash. Despite Medway Council’s assertion that the character was ten years ago, he still uses the Dapper Laughs name for much of his online and social media presence.
In recent years, O’Reilly has been a frequent contributor to GB News, has appeared on Big Brother where he made homophobic and misogynistic comments, and a cursory glance of his social media output sees it littered with anti-trans content, jokes about child sexual abuse, defending blackface, and rallying against ‘woke culture’. Even now, ten years on from the initial Dapper Laughs controversy, there are comedians who refuse to share a stage with O’Reilly.
None of this is to say that O’Reilly shouldn’t be allowed to perform. His act is questionable for sure, but local authorities probably shouldn’t be the arbiters of what is and isn’t morally acceptable.
It is however interesting to know that the Medway Council ethos of ‘inclusion and diversity at all times’ extends to giving grossly offensive comedians a platform, and they’ll only step in to cancel ballet, the most controversial of all the art forms.
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Christmas is cancelled
It should have been expected given the state of the budget, but it still felt like something of a shock this week when Medway Council announced that there would be no Christmas lights in our town centres this year.
Medway Council Leader Vince Maple issued the statement, highlighting the £17m budget gap that the authority faces, and that this move will save a whopping.. er, £75,000.
Now, £75,000 certainly isn’t nothing, but also in the world of council budgets and the kind of gap we’re looking at, it isn’t very much either. Given the near-unanimous backlash to the announcement from local residents, it feels like an incredibly visible thing to cut for very little reward. They likely could have saved more and antagonised fewer people by closing a couple of libraries or something.
Which raises questions about the reasoning behind the decision. If things are bad enough that absolutely every bit of small non-essential spending needs to be cut (and they may well be), then this certainly won’t be the last thing for the chop and we’re in for a rough few years.
Alternatively, there’s some politicking at work, with the new administration chopping something highly visible yet ultimately inconsequential to make a point locally and more widely about the disastrous finances they’ve been left with. If that’s the case, it’s been a reasonably successful move, with the story getting coverage from national outlets like Sky News, the Daily Mail, and ITV. It even made it to the front page of BBC News.
Neither scenario is good. Oh well, just about £16,925,000 to find…
Following the loss of £170m in Housing Infrastructure Fund earlier this year, some good news this week for Medway as two different funding pots came through with money for our towns.
First up, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) announced that Medway would receive a share of £200m to ‘boost the local economy and pride of place’. It’s hard to say exactly what that will mean, and it’s not clear that Medway Council knows either given how vague their own statement on the news is.
The money will be split with eight other areas across the UK that have been selected based on their heritage needs, opportunities and potential, and other similarly fuzzy language. Either way, any money into our towns, particularly to boost our heritage and cultural offer, should be welcomed.
Next up, the government has awarded Medway Council nearly £4m to spend on delivering new homes on brownfield sites, something we desperately need to deliver.
Unlike the HLF money, the use of this is much clearer:
£1.7m to redevelop the Strood Civic Centre site to deliver 171 new homes.
£940k to deliver 164 new homes at Mountbatten House in Chatham
£730k to redevelop part of the Chatham Debenhams buildings into homes
£600k to deliver 37 affordable new homes in Twydall
Now, taking aside the trend of only seemingly delivering affordable homes in places like Twydall rather than our town centres, this kind of thing is obviously positive. We have a severe housing shortage in our towns and people seem to get angry when you try to build on green sites, so building on these brownfield sites is a good option, even though people will inevitably moan about that too.
⛽ 3 Co-op petrol station sites are set to be rebranded as Asda Express as part of a recent takeover. The nationwide deal covers 116 sites and will see Co-ops in Strood, Rochester, and Twydall rebadged as Asda. The fourth store on Medway City Estate will be sold off as part of a deal with the Competition and Markets Authority.
🍗 KFC is set to open at Medway Services. The new store follows a rapid expansion of the chicken outlets in Medway over recent years.
🔥 Someone set fire to Strood’s public toilets. Two people have since been arrested.
🛏️ 80 mattresses were delivered to Anchorage House in Chatham this week, fuelling rumours that the building would be used to house asylum seekers. MP Kelly Tolhurst claimed that it hasn’t been given the go-ahead by the government, but that would not necessarily stop them doing it, and then remarkably claimed that she doesn’t trust her own Home Office. In the end, it turned out that the building will be used by a London housing association to provide accommodation for homeless people.
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On Sunday, Steven interviewed Cllr Naushabah Khan, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Gillingham and Rainham who aims to unseat Rehman Chishti in the coming General Election. On Tuesday, we looked at the work of local photographer Dan Gardner, who has been documenting our towns via street photography for a number of years. Finally, on Thursday we sent out our monthly planning report, looking at what projects are on our horizon for Medway.
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This Sunday (15 Oct), we’ll be at the Rochester Farmers’ Market, hawking our wares like the farmers we are. We’ll have our full Medwayish range of Medway-related gifts and products, from prints to books to mugs to cards to tea towels, and lots more. We’ll also have discounted Local Authority paid subscriptions, so if you’ve been thinking about upgrading, what better way than coming along and doing it to our faces?
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