Medway finally gets a Waitrose
Plus the Debenhams building back on the market, and a blitz in our backyard
Welcome to the latest edition of Local Authority, which just so happens to be published on my 40th birthday! As ever, thanks to all of you for reading this thing, and if you forgot to get me something for the big 4-0, there’s still time to become a paid supporter to make up for it…
Medway finally gets a Waitrose
Medway, by virtue of its five towns structure, has almost any supermarket at your disposal somewhere nearby. While some towns have to often manage with one of the big supermarkets and perhaps a budget alternative, our sprawling nature means we have the full range from M&S to Aldi and everything that comes in between.
Until recently, our only gaps were on the extremes. Despite having four Aldis, we only gained our first Lidl a few months ago. On the other side of the spectrum, we’ve never had a Waitrose, despite being a two-and-a-half M&S Food area. The grocery arm of John Lewis has always felt like a pipe dream for Medway, with few opportunities for a store in our area, unless we could find a way to evolve the Casino Rooms to its final form.
As such, it was slightly surprising this week that Waitrose will be opening in Medway for the first time.
In Gillingham, no less.
Okay, so it’s not quite a full Waitrose, but instead, the brand will be taking over the operation of the Food Hall in Dobbies garden centre.
The Food Hall in Dobbies has gone through several incarnations over the years. On launch, it was operated by Tesco as they owned the chain at the time, but once they sold it off, opportunities for other retailers became available. Since 2020, the area in the Gillingham store has been operated by Sainsbury’s, not that you’d realise it was there unless you wandered into the garden centre in the first place.
In the coming weeks, the outlet will be converted into a Waitrose, offering a range of products from across their line in Medway for the very first time.
This conversion is part of a wider deal for Waitrose to operate within all Dobbies stores rather than a driven desire to open in Medway in particular, but it is good news for us aspiring middle-class types who want to mix up our grocery options a little.
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NHS in numbers
Ambulance queues: 2% of patients arriving at Medway Hospital are waiting more than 30 minutes to be handed over to A&E. This is down from 3% last week. Medway Hospital continues to perform well here, against the national average of 20%.
The data on A&E wait times, overall waiting lists, and ambulance response times is only published monthly, so I’ll update those when they are available.
Debenhams building back on the market
Medway Council has put the former Debenhams building in Chatham back on the market after purchasing it for £2.2m last year.
As ever with Medway Council, it appears the authority doesn’t really have any idea what to do with such a large and prominent central location, as they are seeking proposals for a number of uses on the site, specifically in the leisure, community, cultural, and educational areas. Crucially, the building is not being proposed for any kind of new retail use.
This makes sense given the dwindling retail need on our high streets, and anything that can return the site to use and bring footfall into Chatham town centre should obviously be welcomed.
But there is a feeling that any ideas for the site remain largely aspirational. While there are big things that could be done with the site - I’m a big fan of cultural uses like theatres, cinema, food halls etc if viable - it seems unlikely this will be achieved by inviting individual bidders to slice off little chunks of the building for their own usage. As is being proposed, the 130,000sqft building is able to be broken up into smaller chunks, starting at around 5,000sqft each.
Medway Council is also reserving the right to potentially redevelop the site itself with community uses at ground level and residential uses above. This feels like the most viable outcome from this process, but it makes sense for the authority to roll the dice to see if any good ideas are brought forward by outside developers.
Covid in numbers
Cases: There are still no specific data, but 1.6% of the population in the south east are estimated to test positive for coronavirus this week, down from 2.5% last week.
Hospitalisations: There are currently 14 patients being treated for covid in Medway Hospital, with 1 of them on a ventilator. This is down 18% on last week.
Deaths: 4 new deaths were recorded this week, taking Medway to 1004 covid deaths in total.
Vaccinations: 60% of the 12+ population in Medway have received at least three doses of covid vaccine.
9% of those under 12 have had at least one dose of the vaccine.
65% of those aged 50+ have so far had their autumn booster.
A blitz in our backyard
If you’ve been wondering what the strange moving lights are in the skies over Medway this week, I’m happy to report that it’s merely the filming of a new World War 2 film at Chatham Dockyard rather than anything more sinister.
Lights, fires, and weird smells have all been noticeable for anyone near the regular filming location this week, but it’s been unclear exactly what was being shot there.
KentLive published a wildly speculative article that breathlessly proclaimed that it could be Sherlock Holmes 3, despite there being no evidence that the film has even entered production. Hedging their bets, they also suggested the filming could be for Wonka, Joker 2, or The Nun 2, because anything on the upcoming film slate was a possible contender apparently.
KentOnline offered a more plausible explanation: the filming is for a new World War 2 film for AppleTV called Blitz. Chatham Dockyard tends to lend itself to period pieces, and this makes sense given the fires and searchlights that have defined the week around the site. There are some pretty spectacular images of the production on the Daily Mail website.
This is just the latest in a long line of significant Medway film productions. Blitz is directed by Steve McQueen, who previously helmed Widows, Hunger, and Shame, and won an Oscar for 12 Years a Slave. The film stars Saoirse Ronan, Harris Dickinson, Stephen Graham, Kathy Burke, and Paul Weller, so don’t be surprised if you see any of them popping down to Chatham High Street on their lunch break.
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Residents in Cliffe are complaining about piling noise from Thames Gateway (KentOnline). One resident said “it sounds like they’re making Jumanji 3 out there”, which is a weirdly specific complaint. It also overlooks that Jumanji 3 was released in either 2017 or 2019 depending on how you choose to count a surprisingly complex franchise.
Londonist has been to Rochester and they give it a glowing review (Londonist). Some of the observations in the piece are already a little out of date but it’s a nice summary of the High Street.
The Manor Vaults in Chatham are up for sale (KentOnline). I didn’t even know these were there but they look pretty cool.
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If you hear about any Medway news that might be of interest, let me know! Hit reply to message me directly, DM me on Twitter, or leave a comment below.
Music that soundtracked the creation of this newsletter: Maybe Don’t by Maybe Don’t, American Water by Silver Jews, Love and Other Hideous Accidents by The Just Joans, and Beat Happening by Beat Happening.