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Coronavirus Kent: Dickens Festival and Sweeps Festival in Medway cancelled as Chatham Historic Dockyard and Rochester Cathedral close

By Will Payne and Matt Leclere

Two of Medway's biggest tourist attractions have closed amid the spread of the coronavirus.

Chatham Historic Dockyard's Festival of Steam and Transport(26070466)
Chatham Historic Dockyard's Festival of Steam and Transport(26070466)

Major events across the Towns have also been called off by Medway Council and Rochester Cathedral and Chatham Historic Dockyard say they are closing to visitors.

The Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust announced this afternoon it will close until the end of April from tomorrow.

In a statement, the attraction said: "As with the rest of the world, Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust is closely monitoring the evolving situation around the global pandemic of COVID-19.

"It is with sadness that following UK Government guidelines to increase social distancing and to avoid large gatherings of people, we have taken the decision to close our visitor attraction to the public."

The closure is in place until April 30 when bosses will review the situation.

HMS Cavalier at Chatham Historic Dockyard will be closed to the public amid the coronavirus outbreak. Picture: CHDT
HMS Cavalier at Chatham Historic Dockyard will be closed to the public amid the coronavirus outbreak. Picture: CHDT

Tickets bought for pre-booked tours around the Call the Midwife sets due to run in March and April have been cancelled along with The Festival of Steam and Transport on April 12 and 13, which is a major fundraising event for the trust.

Refunds are being offered but the trust says if people wish to donate the cost to help preserve the 80-acre site then there is no need to take action otherwise visitors are asked to contact the Dockyard.

Call the Midwife set tours can be rearranged or refunded.

The statement added: "Whilst outside of our control, we apologise for any inconvenience caused during this difficult time and would like to thank all our visitors for their understanding during this challenging period."

Rochester Cathedral will also be closing immediately to all members of the public following a directive issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury and Archbishop of York earlier today.

Signs will be placed on the cathedral doors stating the building is shut.

The area around Rochester Cathedral was quiet today. Picture: Chris Davey
The area around Rochester Cathedral was quiet today. Picture: Chris Davey

It says: "Prayers will continue to be offered by the Dean and Canons at 9am and 5pm daily as prayers have been offered down the centuries.

"The north door of the cathedral will be open for the lighting of candles/private prayer from 9.30am-10.30am, Monday to Saturday, otherwise the cathedral will be closed.

"A priest will be available during this ‘open’ time.

"All Sunday Services are suspended, although the Eucharist will be celebrated by the Dean and Canons on behalf of the world.

"These are difficult and challenging times.

"As a sign of our constant prayers for those anxious, suffering and bereaved, the cathedral spire will be lit blue.

This year's Sweeps Festival in Rochester will not go ahead
This year's Sweeps Festival in Rochester will not go ahead

"This is the colour of the Virgin Mary to whom the cathedral is dedicated as the Mother Church of the Diocese and also the colours of the NHS, as we remember and pray for all those working in the health service."

Medway Council says its programme of events planned throughout the year have been cancelled.

Libraries, leisure centres, museums and heritage sites - including Rochester Castle and Upnor Castle - will remain open but this will remain under review, the council said tonight.

But all shows at Chatham's Central Theatre and The Brook will be cancelled until the end of June.

Major events including the Dickens Festival and Sweeps will also be axed meaning the following events have been called off:

  • Big Splash, April 4
  • English Festival, April 18
  • Sweeps, May 2 and 3
  • Focus On Rainham, May 16
  • Cycling Festival, June 13 to 21
  • Dickens Festival, June 13 and 14
  • Armed Forces Day, June 27
  • Focus On Walderslade, June 28

A statement said: "There are currently no plans to reschedule these events. Tickets holders will be contacted as soon as possible.

"All council sites and buildings remain open to the public, but under review.

"We have, however, cancelled group activities due to be held until the end of June at our libraries, community hubs, archives centre, museums and heritage sites. Leisure centres also remain open, with group classes continuing as usual.

"All of our Medway Adult Education classes have been cancelled until the end of June.

"If you have booked onto a course within this time, you will be contacted.

There will be no Dickens parade
There will be no Dickens parade

"We appreciate this may be disappointing news, but the health and wellbeing of everyone involved is paramount.

"Any news on school closures will be announced by each school through their usual processes.

"All other council services will continue to be delivered and we will continue to follow government advice and work with Public Health England to do everything we can to help prevent the spread of coronavirus."

Parade through Rochester for the Dickens Festival 2019. It is one of the events to fall victim to the coronavirus outbreak
Parade through Rochester for the Dickens Festival 2019. It is one of the events to fall victim to the coronavirus outbreak

Earlier today, opposition leader Vince Maple urged the council to show decisive action about services and events.

It follows a tumultuous day of businesses and services announcing they will be shutting down following the measures announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling on the British people to reduce "unnecessary social contact".

Cinema chains Odeon, Picturehouse and Cineworld announced their sites will be closing across the country.

Cineworld in the Strood retail park will be shut until further notice, along with Odeon in the Chatham Dockside Retail Park.

Citizens Advice Medway has also suspended all face to face contact but will still be available over the phone or via email.

Citizen's Advice Mid Lincolnshire.. (24503160)
Citizen's Advice Mid Lincolnshire.. (24503160)

Chief executive Dan McDonald said: "It is vital that we take every step we can to maintain the critical work we do for those in need and most vulnerable in our society.

"The decision taken to pause our face-to-face service means that we can provide a much more resilient and enhanced service.

"It is crucial that we are sustainable over the next few months and that we continue to be able to support Medway residents and help support other charities such as Medway Foodbank.

"We need to ensure the voluntary sector is supported during these difficult times as they will also be under immense pressure to keep their doors open."

Medway Citizens Advice can be accesed via info@medwayadvice.org.uk or 01634 383 760.

The coronavirus has caused many social events to be cancelled
The coronavirus has caused many social events to be cancelled

Here's a list of other events that have recently been cancelled:

  • Maudene Primary School, in Walderslade near Chatham, have cancelled it's careers fair on this Thursday following the advice.
  • The Great British Spring Clean litter pick at the Great Lines Heritage Park set to take place next Saturday has also been postponed until September, more details to follow.
  • Elizabeth Walkdein from St Barnabas Church has confirmed its Mother's Day coffee morning due to take place this Sunday is also cancelled.
  • Thomas Aveling School in Rochester have rescheduled a defibrillator training event which was due to take place tomorrow. A new time and date is yet to be confirmed.
  • An afternoon tea in aid of Anim-mate's Animal Rescue on April 11 at High Halstow Memorial hall in Hoo has also been cancelled.

If you have an event which is no longer running and want to let people know, email medway@thekmgroup.co.uk

Read more: All the latest news from Medway

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