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Review of the Year, how 2021 unfolded in Sittingbourne


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It was a year still dominated by Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, which did at least begin to lift as 2021 went on.

But there was joy as Sittingbourne got its much-awaited new leisure complex, as we look back for our review of the year.

January

With Kent still in the grips of a national lockdown, there was a backlash at Highsted Grammar at a plan for teachers to head into school to deliver virtual lessons.

The school defended the plan, saying teachers would have access to approved IT accounts and could deliver teaching to children of keyworkers.

After Sittingbourne was left without a walk-in Covid testing centre, one was finally set up at the Age UK centre in Kemsley.

We sadly said goodbye to Kent's oldest veteran Leslie Stelfox
We sadly said goodbye to Kent's oldest veteran Leslie Stelfox
This 220-year-old stained-glass window was returned to Borden parish church
This 220-year-old stained-glass window was returned to Borden parish church

There was joy as a stained glass window removed from St Peter and St Paul’s Church in Borden during the Second World War for safekeeping was finally re-installed.

The town said goodbye to Kent’s oldest Second World War veteran. Leslie Stelfox died, aged 107. He survived his ship being bombed while at anchor at the Port of Suez. While fighting in Egypt, he rescued a man from drowning and dodged bullets at Salerno Beach in Italy.

February

The big event of the month was Storm Darcy which blew in with 37mph winds, dumping 16cm of snow on Sittingbourne. Lorry driver Jason Duke from Dukes Driver Hire, said he and his son Jack hauled 15 HGVs up Mill Way, Sittingbourne in just one night as people became stranded.

With the sad news of the passing of Captain Sir Tom Moore, whose charity walk in the 2020 lockdown caught the nation’s heart, Woodstock Residential Care Centre staged its own tribute. Residents completed 100 laps of their dining area.

People were forced to clear snow and ice from Great Easthall estate at Murston
People were forced to clear snow and ice from Great Easthall estate at Murston

Dad Stuart Charlesworth, from Bapchild, was remembered with a bench at Hearts Delight Road in Tunstall, after he died of Covid-19.

And the Happy Pants animal ranch moved from Yelsted into a new location in Iwade Road, Newington.

March

The month was dominated by the much-wanted lifting of certain lockdown restrictions. First, pupils were allowed back to school after home-learning since Christmas, but they had to wear masks. Schools also had to convert halls into testing sites.

Later in March more people were allowed to meet up using a Rule-of-Six principle and only outside. Grassroots sport was also allowed to resume and many took the chance to meet up with family or friends at Sittingbourne’s parks.

Alan Brookes, pictured with Fulston Manor's new head of school Susie Burden, announced his retirement
Alan Brookes, pictured with Fulston Manor's new head of school Susie Burden, announced his retirement

Staff at the Owl and Pussy Cat nursery spoke of their horror in court at finding out their treasurer, Kerry Goldsmith had defrauded £37,000. Despite admitting fraud, she avoided jail.

And Alan Brookes, head of Fulston Manor School, announced he was saying goodbye to a teaching career of 45 years when he revealed his retirement plans.

April

Pub and restaurant owners spoke of their excitement at preparing to re-open after several months with their doors closed during lockdown.

There was shock in Sittingbourne when lifelong charity supporter, Dale Howting, known as the Whistling Postman, had his charity collection box stolen by thugs. But those in the town rallied round when they heard what had happened and donations to replace the collection began pouring in.

The town rallied round to help Dale Howting after a nasty theft
The town rallied round to help Dale Howting after a nasty theft

The Garden of England Crematorium in Bobbing went on the market with a £2.5 million price tag.

Dog owners were being warned to be careful after several poisonings. Border terrier, Roxy, had to be put down after eating a poisoned sausage roll during a walk at Cromers Woods and Fly, a Malamute and Husky mix, was targeted with poisoned meat thrown into her garden.

May

The Light Cinema opened on the new Bourne Place leisure complex in Sittingbourne. It took five years to build and over the late Bank Holiday weekend people packed out the 675-seat venue and also checked out the bowling lanes as part of the complex.

People in Borden were left reeling after the government gave the go-ahead to the controversial Wises Lane development of 675 homes.

Rosalyn Dobell, 56, with grandson Bobby Watts, seven, were one of the first visitors to The Light cinema complex in Sittingbourne
Rosalyn Dobell, 56, with grandson Bobby Watts, seven, were one of the first visitors to The Light cinema complex in Sittingbourne
Tributes flooded in for Bryan Short
Tributes flooded in for Bryan Short

Shortly afterwards local government elections were held. While the Conservatives celebrated an overall win, there was upset in Swale East, a former Tory stronghold, which was won by the Green party and in Swale West, a two-horse race between Mike Whiting (Con) and Mike Baldock (Swale Independents Alliance) was won by the latter.

Tributes flooded in for Bryan Short, who lost his battle to cancer, aged 87. He was the longest head to serve at Borden Grammar and had been at the helm from 1968-1998.

June

While visitor numbers took off at the newly opened The Light cinema, town traders spoke of how a ban on cars in the High Street was strangling trade.

The £92 million congestion-busting plan for the Stockbury roundabout was given the green light to start.

High Street traders spoke of how a car ban was strangling their trade
High Street traders spoke of how a car ban was strangling their trade

The Rev Robert Green, vicar of St Peter and St Paul’s Church in Borden spoke about a nasty crash which saw his car career into a ditch.

Swale council set up a group to examine how to preserve Sittingbourne’s Avenue of Remembrance so it could best tell the stories of the Fallen. It is believed to be the only roadway monument of its kind in the UK.

The second part of our Review of the Year continues tomorrow

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