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A Vision for Sittingbourne?

Museum Name

Swale Museums Group

Museum Contact

Allen Whitnell – Chair, Swale Museums Group

Martin Goodhew – Swale Borough Council

Title of Project

‘A Vision for Sittingbourne?’


March 2013 – September 2013

What was the Project aim(s)?

To create a vision for a ‘heritage hub’ for Sittingbourne and potential options for delivery of this vision, which will; provide exciting and enjoyable learning opportunities for all; instil a sense of pride of place in residents reinforcing a positive identity of Sittingbourne; and attract and guide visitors towards the diverse heritage Sittingbourne has to offer.

Project Executive Summary

As part of the development of Sittingbourne Mill by Essential Land, a Section 106 agreement has been put in place whereby the heritage organisations of Sittingbourne will have access to:

  • £225K capital funding to be put towards a heritage project or a series of projects in the Sittingbourne Town Centre and Milton Creek area and revenue funding of £39K.
  • A 250m2 heritage building on the Essential Land site, adjacent to the Sittingbourne & Kemsley Light Railway Station.;
  • Or an area to be agreed within the Leisure Building, also on the Essential Land site.

Swale Museums Group created a sub group ‘Sittingbourne Heritage Steering Group’ to develop an options appraisal and vision in relation to the allocation of the S106 funds to the heritage organisations of Sittingbourne.

The Sittingbourne Heritage Steering Group did not have the capacity to produce the options appraisal report and having identified the need for professional support, worked with the Museum Development Officer (Sarah Corn) from the SEMDP to secure £5,000 of Micro-Consultancy to fund the recruitment of a consultancy to produce the report and carry out the local consultation that was required to inform the decision and recommendation making process.

Costain Heritage was appointed following an interview process led by the Chair of the Sittingbourne Heritage Steering Group (who is also Chair of the Swale Museums Group – Allen Whitnell).

What was the impact of the project?

A long list of options for the use of the S106 were identified and from these three options were taken forward to a feasibility study stage.

The Sittingbourne Heritage Steering Group concluded that option 1a – development of a Sittingbourne Town Museum / Discovery Centre was their preferred option, with a museum of 500m2. The decision was then ratified by the full membership of the Swale Museums Group at their meeting on December 10th 2013.

  • Skills Gained: Experience in conducting a recruitment interview and selection process. It was interesting matching the written applications and the reality of the persons capabilities come the interview.
  • Skills Gained: The Steering Group observed different types of consultation, with ‘heritage stakeholders’, Council Members / Officers and community representatives receiving written and verbal details of the options.
  • Skills Gained: Conflict management and negotiation skills – the consultant worked with groups with very different views and priorities and the Steering Group had to acknowledge all consultation responses and make a recommendation in the best interest to promote and protect the heritage of Sittingbourne.
  • More Effective: The Swale Museums Group has demonstrated that it can deliver a bespoke piece of work and make a viable recommendation to the Council’s Planning Department with regard to S106 allocation.
  • Better Service: Subject to Essential Land honouring the S106 agreement Swale Museums Group will aim to produce a better ‘product’ for visitors to experience the heritage of Sittingbourne in a ‘fit for purpose’ museum.
  • Plans for a sustainable and resilient future: Whilst this consultancy identified an approved option in order to deliver the vision the Swale Museums Group has to prove it can work together to deliver the vision. A vision that will require more support to apply to various grant funding bodies and to project manage realisation of the preferred option step by step. 
  • Collaborative working: The S106 process and consultation has informed the Swale Museums Group in the development of the Forward Plan to ensure that the decision making responsibilities within the SMG and the role of members are clearly identified in the new constitution.

What went well and what didn’t go well?

  • The final options and appraisal report of 75 pages was extensive and informative, however was delivered over a longer time scale than originally expected with the Steering Group adopting the report on October 28th and finally being ratified by the Swale Museums Group at their meeting on 10 the December 2013.  
  • The slight delay and additional time taken by the consultant was welcomed as it ensured that everyone who wanted to had an opportunity to contribute and respond to the consultation.
  • The research undertaken to access feasibility of the shortlisted options was also extensive, drawing on a number of sources of information.
  • The timing of the project, which ran through the summer was not well timed in the sense the consultant was challenged with poor availability of some key individuals and stakeholders during the holiday period to finalise the report.
  • The consultant was the right person for the job, with a wealth of experience in delivering similar pieces of work. The only challenge was the distance involved in travelling from Wiltshire to the project area in Swale. Travel was not an issue for Costain Heritage, it just meant that there needed to be good planning and communication ahead of any meeting or consultation to avoid a wasted journey. However much of the research could be completed at a desktop and via electronic communication, where distance was not so much of an issue.
  • The consultant took plenty of time to collate an extensive list of consultees, much wider than the Swale Museums Group. Local heritage groups and societies were invited to contribute to the process, with open meetings to discuss the options being held in Town Centre meeting rooms and the Council Offices. Council Members were also informed and invited to make comment.
  • Resolving conflicts of interest between stakeholders and addressing any perceived misconceptions, eventually moving towards a consensus and a successful conclusion was a positive outcome.

Top Tips

Where a consultant is working in a community for the first time it is important that every assistance is provided in reaching out to all those key individuals who can add value to the outcomes. For example; Past members of the Swale Museum Group, other individuals in the borough who have experience in delivering similar projects or working with the Group such as the ‘Sittingbourne Society’ in this case.

What are your plans for the future?

The Swale Museums Group is now waiting for further information from Essential Land with regard to the provision of the S106 for heritage in Sittingbourne. The Group needs to know for certain when and if this funding will be available to support or match fund other applications to deliver the vision.

Regardless of the S106 the Swale Museums Group now has a vision it would like to see delivered as part of the wider ‘Sittingbourne Regeneration’ and a decision will need to be taken on how to go forward should the S106 not be forthcoming in the Group’s aspirational time scales.

As the Swale Museums Group is formed from representatives of local heritage groups and museums with only administrative support from the Council it will need to commission (subject to funding) a project manager to deliver the option adopted.

Further liaison with the Council and the ‘Regeneration Director’ will also be required to ensure that the Swale Museums Group is incorporated in the wider vision for the Town Centre.

In the short term the Swale Museums Group having adopted a new Forward Plan in December 2013 has to focus on reviewing and adopting a new constitution to become fit for purpose in applying for funding, decision making and managing bespoke projects for the benefit of all members.

Overall Cost of Project