By Mike Palmer: Chair NPBCA 2015 - 22
There is no doubt that in its short life the NPBCA has helped to change the face of Faversham. There have been several major achievements: firstly, working closely with the Faversham Creek Trust, we obtained significant changes to the Faversham Creek Neighbourhood Plan before its approval by the Referendum in 2018. Secondly, we have massively influenced the building of the new flood alleviation bund along Front Brents in 2015. We’ve also raised the money to build a community gym and provided benches at the Reedland Crescent Recreation Ground.
NPBCA has really punched above its weight in getting things done for the community; so how did this come about in what is one of the most deprived wards in Kent? The first catalyst was the far-sighted decision by Faversham Town Council in 2013 to develop a Neighbourhood Plan for Faversham Creek – FTC recognised that the creek is at the heart of Faversham and was in need of a strategy of how it was developed. FTC embarked on a process involving
consultation of interested parties; unfortunately, only the landowners of the south side of the creek were drawn in closely, so the residents of the Brents felt their views were not being heard.
Incensed by this situation, three doughty residents got together to form Brents Community Association to demand that the community be heard. Hilary Whelan, Brenda Chester and Angie Simmonds had the right combination of skills to start an effective pressure group for
the situation: Hilary as researcher and communicator (with an amazing eye for detail gained at Reuters), Brenda with immense experience in the by-ways of local government,
and Angie with her finger on the local pulse as landlady of Brents Tavern. In September 2013 BCA was formed with a constitution defining a small Management Team (that
included elected local councillors) and Members, who were defined as anyone who participated in the public meetings.
CREEK NEIGHBOURHOOD PLAN
Once formed, BCA demanded to be allowed to attend Neighbourhood Plan meetings and soon made its presence felt in spite of some antediluvian rules applied by FTC.
The main sources of conflicting views were the future of Swan Quay, Ordnance Wharf and the basin above the Bridge – a situation that remains unresolved even now in 2022.
In June 2014 the BCA and the Creek Trust together became so frustrated by the councillors’ approach that they hired the Alexander Centre to put on an alternative exhibition showing some different ideas. This exhibition gained more visitors and feedback than the Council’s own exhibition. The Council then took the extraordinary step of expelling both BCA and Creek Trust from meetings. Eventually things calmed down, Hilary re-wrote large sections of the Plan and it was submitted for scrutiny by the examiner in 2016, who in turn made a number of amendments proposed by BCA/FC Trust.
FRONT BRENTS FLOOD ALLEVIATION
In December 2013 an unexpected tidal surge caused the ‘worst floods since 1953, 60 years’ before, bringing devastation to Faversham; Front Brents and other areas around the creek were badly affected and many houses were flooded with people forced to move out of their homes. It seemed that Faversham was a long way down the priority list for the Environment Agency to take flood alleviation action. While having to camp in another home, Hilary
recognised there was no effective coordination, so she swept into action, gained support from Swale and FTC, organised a public meeting to achieve multi-agency support to heap pressure on all relevant agencies to produce options to alleviate the flooding risks. So commenced a long struggle to get the EA, KCC, SBC and Southern Water to tackle their responsibilities. In 2017, after much dogged prodding and perseverance, the Front Brents Bund was constructed and has proved itself watertight at a recent surge. A major win for the Brents facilitated by BCA’s pressure! Tragically Hilary died suddenly in November 2017 so didn’t see her work properly in action. Mike Ellsmore continues Hilary’s work in keeping the KCC, Southern Water and EA and other agents up-to-scratch on our behalf.
CREEK LEARNING PROJECT
In 2015 BCA developed a short programme designed to help long term unemployed people to gain confidence and learn new skills. We ran three successful week-long programmes which were financed by the Department of Work and Pensions, but unfortunately funding ran out and they have not been repeated.
In 2016 we took the initiative to try to increase membership and provide what people wanted. We canvassed local residents, particularly younger ones. From this consultation the idea of an outdoor gym emerged as a possibility, if we could raise the funds. After researching the market, to our amazement and delight we raised over £30,000 from a multitude of sources including £12,000 from Tesco within 12 months. A triumph for BCA – but we still need more people to use this facility. We also raised funds for two benches by the playground area for use by parents watching their children play.
SWING THE BRIDGE
Combining with the Faversham Society and Faversham Creek Trust from the start we have assisted in raising funds for the replacement of the fixed bridge with one that opens so as to give access for barges and boats to the upper basin. We still await progress with this project now that KCC Highways and Peel Ports are still at loggerheads as to the responsibilities for raising the money.
We have organised activities on the Green at each of the annual festivals in recent years, working with Faversham Creek Trust to raise money for the NPBCA and the Creek Trust. Sadly, the creek bed is becoming too high to allow vessels to moor up at Town Quay, making the Festival impossible to hold until we have a new opening bridge and dredging restores the creek to its true boating potential.
LOCAL COMMUNITY ISSUES
The whole point of the North Preston & Brents Community Association – renamed in 2019 to reflect a wider catchment area – has been to act as a focus for, and to speak up for the many local issues which affect our collective lives. This includes antisocial behaviours like dog fouling, discouraging speeding motorists and parking issues on Upper Brents; on a more positive note, we’ve organised litter-picking around the creek and Crab Island and bulb/tree planting around the open spaces and on the bund. We also successfully campaigned to protect the open space adjacent to The Albion. Brenda, who regrettably died after a long illness in March 2019, felt that it is important that these smaller problems continue to be attended to.
WHERE NEXT FOR NPBCA?
Covid 19 effectively killed any activity from our Association in March 2020; when it struck, we were simply not in a position to offer any services or help to people. With no money or skills in these areas we decided to leave these activities to those who knew what they were doing. Now we have a chance to restart and re-gear up for the next phase under new leadership.
But to be successful NPBCA needs to gain more committed volunteers from all sections of society. This has always been a challenge for us.
A BRENTS COMMUNITY CENTRE?
The management team has had a vision in the back of its mind of building a Brents Community Centre - West Faversham has one, but we have nothing. Mike Henderson, for so many years our Priory Ward Councillor, spotted an opportunity when the new Faversham Lakes development was first muted to apply for money via an S106 agreement. The Lakes development will soon be completed if all goes well, so money will become available.
Can NPBCA capitalise on this and support this initiative? It would be our biggest project yet.