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Fort Amherst Heritage Trust and Medway Council submit bid to Heritage Lottery Fund for Command of the Heights project at Chatham fort

By Clare Freeman

A project that began more than three decades ago to restore one of Medway’s oldest military sites, is one step closer to being completed.

Work to restore Fort Amherst in Chatham and open it to the public began in the 1980s and the countdown has begun to see if a final bid for £1.8m will be accepted.

The Command of the Heights project includes plans for an amphitheatre with seating for up to 250 people in the Sunken Courtyard which sits within the Spur Battery, the final part of the fort to be restored.

The new entrance to the fort from Barrier Road. Picture: Medway Council
The new entrance to the fort from Barrier Road. Picture: Medway Council

It is a joint project between Fort Amherst Heritage Trust and Medway Council and aims to reconnect the town with its military roots and uncover secrets from the past.

Fort trustee Martin Rogers and the Command of the Heights project officer for Medway Council, Nicola Moy, have been working together on the bid.

Mr Rogers said: “A lot of preparation has gone into the preparation of the next stage of the bid. Fingers crossed, I’m hopeful.

Archeological digs have taken place at the fort
Archeological digs have taken place at the fort
The amphitheatre in the courtyard. Picture: Medway Council
The amphitheatre in the courtyard. Picture: Medway Council

“I think it is important more of this area is opened to the public and to reveal more of the history of Medway’s military roots.”

The plans also include the restoration of the historic entrance to the fort via Barrier Road behind the Brook Theatre, and the demolition of Riverside One building next to Chatham bus station to recreate the outline of the Barrier Ditch.

There will also be a play area near the bus station, as well as improved access from Brompton and the Great Lines Heritage Park via the RSME Bicentenary Bridge to Fort Amherst and the centre of Chatham.

Nicola Moy and Martin Rogers at Fort Amherst
Nicola Moy and Martin Rogers at Fort Amherst

As well as the building works, there will also be improvements to signs around the fort, a new range of family activities, volunteering opportunities and projects with the local colleges and universities.

The first stage of the bid, creating the detailed designs and proposals for the development, cost £237,000 and is now complete.

Over the last year, volunteers have dedicated £200,000 worth of hours to help with the project, from clearing the site to carrying out archaeological digs

Riverside One building in Dock Road will be demolished
Riverside One building in Dock Road will be demolished
The Barrier Ditch will be reopened to create a public space. Picture: Medway Council
The Barrier Ditch will be reopened to create a public space. Picture: Medway Council

The second bid, for just under £1.8m, which will allow the work to go ahead was submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund on November 28.

A decision is due in March and if the bid is successful, work will begin in late next year or early 2018 and is expected to finish in summer 2020.

As well as the bid to improve the fort, there are several other projects to improve Chatham town centre.

Plans include a play area. Picture: Medway Council
Plans include a play area. Picture: Medway Council

These include £4m public realm improvements starting in January, £415,000 of work to the Brook Theatre, investment in St John’s Church in Railway Street and £1.4m to upgrade Chatham railway station next year.

There are also plans to build a marina at Gun Wharf and develop Chatham Waterfront.

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