Thu 21 June 2018, 2:41 pm
Medway Council has dubbed 2018 "the year of the Strood" – with new work spaces to attract an enterprising work force and projects to rejuvenate the town centre under way. Maria Shahid reports
Growth in Medway has progressed at a rapid rate in recent years, and the council has been keen not only to encourage new businesses to move to the area, but to ensure they stay put. The local authority believes this will be achieved by providing additional work space and Strood is a key focus area in 2018. The Innovation Studios Medway opened in September 2017, featuring 15 office spaces and 18 storage units, created using a kit of moveable and reusable parts based on shipping containers. It is the second project in Medway’s 'innovation business' series, following the opening in 2009 and sustained success of the Innovation Centre Medway, based in nearby Chatham. Medway has a target growth rate of twice the national average, with 17,000 additional jobs projected by 2035. Currently, around 14,000 businesses call Medway home.
Councillor Jane Chitty, portfolio holder for planning, economic growth and regulation, says the council works closely with these businesses, providing the support they need. "We have a very open approach to industry," she adds. "A number of organisations started small in Medway, and we worked with them. They talk to us on a regular basis. We really value our local businesses, not only because it helps our economy to grow, but because it offers employment opportunities locally. It's about recognising the gaps in the office space that businesses need to thrive."
Built on a brownfield waterfront site, innovation and progression are not only shown by occupants at the studios, but by the building itself, with the unique units assembled in just two days. With businesses at the Innovation Centre Medway settled and expanding, it’s easy to see why the demand for studios in Strood was such that all units were taken by September 2017. Current tenants include a web design company and a music label and there is a list of local companies waiting to move in. Jet Stream Tours, which runs passenger craft on the River Medway, moved to the site when it opened.
Managing director, Richard Bain, says: "The fact that the site is right on the River Medway is perfect for us. It's the ideal location, with great connections to two local stations, as well as the river." Also located at the studios is fostering agency People Who Foster. Graham Bartram, its registered manager, explains that the agency focuses on help for children and young people that local authorities are unable to foster, by matching them up with the right carers. The agency has already recruited 10 such carers since becoming Ofsted registered in October 2017. With seven permanent business support staff including social workers based at the Strood office, the firm is already looking to take on more space at the site, giving it room to grow.
"The location of the studios is ideal for us,” says Bartram. "The rail links to London and the rest of the country are fantastic. Having access to meeting rooms and other business services at the Innovation Centre Medway is a great help.” The centre is a short walk from Strood station, which underwent a £2.59 million upgrade in November 2017 and opened in early December, part-funded by the council, along with Southeastern rail. "Having great connectivity to London, the rest of the country and Europe is vital,” explains Chitty. “When we opened the studios, many occupiers said proximity to Rochester and Strood stations was a key to their decision to take space here."
The full version of this article appears in the 11th edition of Medway1 magazine, coming out this month – watch this space for the online edition