Talking Telescopes – A day in the life of an environmental consultant – January 2020

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photo courtesy of MLP

I love the work I do with farmers in the South East but sometimes it’s nice to mix it up, try something new or refresh my skills in other areas. I began working in conservation 25 years ago and found a way into the profession by using my Journalism and publicity skills before moving on to community projects.

 
It has been really interesting in January to work with Medway Council on their Talking Telescopes Project. This Heritage Lottery Funded project worked with visitors to the Strand, an enduringly popular Lido and Leisure facility which had originally been created on the River Medway in 1896.

 
The site encapsulates the history of British Lido’s, beginning with changing rooms converted from railway carriages and growing, during the 1930’s, to incorporate boating pools, putting greens, bandstands, and a miniature railway. As such, The Strand tells the story of British leisure time from the late 19th to the early 21st century and is the only surviving example of an outdoor saltwater swimming pool in Britain.

 
The Talking Telescopes team consisting of Medway Council, Medway Plus (a local charity) and Mid Kent College worked with students to capture memories from the areas heyday in the 1950’s and 60’s and made them accessible to today’s visitors through the medium of three Talking Telescopes.

 
talking telescope (2)The sturdy telescopes can be used to spy on the Medway Estuaries internationally important wildlife while providing an audio commentary of stories from the past. Two interpretation panels were also created and a well loved mural restored.

 
The role of assistant Matt Hawkins and myself was to evaluate the project. Online and face to face interviews were conducted. The HLF application was reviewed and visitors to the Strand were interviewed on site.

 
I’m pleased to say that the response to the new interpretation was overwhelmingly positive with one respondent calling it a “fitting tribute to ordinary people’s memories.” and another saying, “Before this project I looked at the Strand and felt it was dated, now I feel differently about it and see that the architecture is typical of the era and feel more positive and proud of the area. I imagine all the people who have used it in the past and feel I am part of this. It makes me more aware of the history of my local area and my role in it.”

 
It appears that this is a great example of Heritage Lottery Fund money being used to give people a real sense of pride in their local area.

Lodge Hill Planning Application withdrawn

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The woods are lovely, dark and deep but I have miles to go before I can sleep easy over this one.

Great news yesterday that the planning application which proposed 5000 houses on one of the best nightingale sites in the countryside has been withdrawn.

Lodge Hill, a SSSI woodland and former MOD site is a fabulous local resource for wildlife and people. Purple emperor butterflies have recently been discovered breeding there and early purple orchids grow along the damp shady paths.

Despite all of this the site was earmarked for development. A position championed by Medway Council. 12,000 people protested, spearheaded by the RSPB’s Save Lodge Hill campaign and now the developer, if not the council, has listened to local people and withdrawn its plans.

This is great news but we all know the way these things go. Tomorrow I fear will come another application and then another and another. One ‘No’ is never enough. Developers attempt to wear people down. Planners have no fight left in them even when they know developments are wrong and the government does nothing of any real worth to protect our countryside and resolve the housing issues by capping prices in London and making sure all new developments are 100% affordable.

Shame on Simon Jones Medway Council’s leader for condemning the developer for pulling out. For once common sense has prevailed and today at least Lodge Hill is safe.

Lodge Hill -Making History

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MLP

Lodge Hill, an area of woodland and scrubland on the edge of Medway is about to become famous. Famous for what depends on whether it is destroyed to make way for 5000 houses or protected because of it’s SSSI status and the fact that it houses the largest colony of nightingales in the South East.

Medway Council, who have just included it as one of the development options in their local plan, wish for the words Lodge Hill to join the likes of Twyford Down and Newbury bypass as a place where protestors gathered to fight to protect our natural places from being destroyed.

This time though the stakes are higher. If destruction of a SSSI goes ahead for development it will green light a whole raft of other proposals and render the laws which protect our countryside invalid. If Lodge Hill goes ahead then no where is safe.

But Lodge Hill could be famous for another reason. For the place where  a local authority refused to bow to the pressure from Westminster to build all over the south east and said, “No. We will drop our support for the development of Lodge Hill and concentrate housing and retail back in town centres.”

If development at Lodge Hill goes ahead it will taint Medway for generations. The area will be associated with protest and dirty politics, the roads will be clogged by cars and we will have destroyed a nightingale colony which should be something of which we are rightly proud and promote as one of the reasons to visit. Is this really the legacy that Medway Council wants?

It is time for us all to stand up and make the name Lodge Hill synonymous with a legacy of which we can be proud.

Voice your protest at the proposed development of Lodge Hill by e-mailing futuremedway@medway.gov.uk