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Our Board Members

Place Board Chair – Simon Cook

MidKent College Principal

Simon began his career at 16 when he left school to become an apprentice chef.  He then embarked on a phenomenal journey in the hospitality and catering industry, taking him to work at prestigious 5-star London hotels, then on to Germany where he worked in some of the very best restaurants in the country. Building on these experiences, he went on to open a restaurant with four colleagues which soon gained a Michelin star.

Following a time working in South Africa, where he met his wife, Simon returned to England to start his second career in teaching. He built a strong reputation working in other Colleges before joining MidKent College in 2013, where he was appointed Principal & Chief Executive in September 2016.

Simon is passionate about the impact further education has on changing communities, shaping careers and building opportunities for all ages – all things he believes are so important in the communities of Medway & Maidstone where the College serves thousands of students every year.

Simon’s pride in Medway, who we are, and what we can achieve together, prompted his involvement in the development of the place board. He is humbled to serve as the board’s first independent Chair, and is committed to using his infectious enthusiasm for Medway and its people to make a positive difference for all.

Ashley Hook


“Ashley is Chief Executive of mhs homes – the largest housing provider in Medway. With over 9,000 homes locally, one in 12 people in Medway are a mhs homes customer. As a social landlord, Ashley believes that good quality safe affordable housing has a critical impact on quality of life and the success and wellbeing of communities in Medway.

By background, Ashley is a Chartered Surveyor and has a Master’s Degree in Urban & Regional Planning. He has undertaken a range of senior roles in the housing and regeneration sectors. Ashley also has extensive boardroom experience and is a Chartered Director.

Ashley has worked in Medway for 16 years and is passionate about Medway as the south east’s best hidden gem. He is an ardent supporter of all things Medway and is driven to ensure that the Place Board helps deliver opportunity and growth for all parts of the local community as well as the wider business economy.”

Carol Ford

Commercial Director – AC Goatham

Carol Ford is the Commercial Director of AC Goatham & Son, Kent’s largest family owned grower of British apples and pears, supplying major supermarkets across the UK. She has worked for the business for over four years and prior to that, as a consultant for 18 months.

Carol has over 20 years’ experience in the Fresh Food & Fresh Produce industry, beginning her career as a Retail Buyer for Sainsbury’s, before working in a variety of dynamic and performance driven environments (FMCG). Carol has a BA in Business Economics and an MBA and has over the course of her career, delivered numerous operational and commercial strategic growth plans for growers and producers, leading to impressive growth in several businesses. She has a proven track record in delivering win/win outcomes for suppliers, growers and retailers.

Carol is a Patron of the Kent Sports Trust and works in partnership with them to organise the Goatham’s Great Kent Cycle Ride, an annual event over three consecutive days. This event raises money for Kent Sports Trust and Help for Heroes.

Helen Banyard

Director Zest The Agency

Helen has worked her way up through the ranks at Zest over the last 12 years, and now runs the agency with fellow director David Gyertson. Being involved with businesses in Kent for more than 20 years, has given Helen a sound understanding of the local economy, as well as a very large ‘little black book’ of contacts. Helen has been leading the client service team at Zest for many years, forging strong relationships with clients such as Kent County Council, Leeds Castle, Dreamland, Priority Freight, and Visit Kent to name a few.

Prior to joining Zest, Helen worked in various roles across the County, both agency and client-side giving her the ability to understand the marketing landscape from both angles. Helen is a firm believer in approaching everything with a balanced, people-first approach to marketing and focuses on the strengths of individuality. She explores and celebrates the differences in people, personalities, brands, businesses, customers and audiences, to strengthen communication and heighten engagement.

Extensive inside knowledge of all of Zest’s clients, and practical experience gained on the job for many years, makes Helen a very hands-on and inspiring Director, with a clear understanding of the challenges that businesses face.

Bill Ferris OBE DL

CEO Historic Dockyard

Trained as an accountant Bill has had a varied career.  He ran his own wholesale and retail bakery business in Devon for six years before moving into the heritage sector in 1988.

In 1988 Bill became the first Commercial Manager at the Yorkshire Mining Museum (now the National Museum of Coalmining), seeing it through its last phases of development and early years of operation.

He went on to run a series of “commercial” heritage projects for Heritage Projects Ltd and became their Operations Director for 7 years responsible for seven projects nationally with combined visitor projections in excess of 1 million per annum.

He joined Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust, as Chief Executive, in December 2000,   to develop a strategy that would lead to long-term revenue sustainability.  More than £40 million has been raised to invest in the site and today there are 115 homes, more than 100 businesses on the site and annual visitor numbers are 170K, combined activities generate more than £16m to the local economy.

Bill was awarded the OBE for Services to Heritage in the 2011 Queen’s Birthday Honours and was made a Deputy Lieutenant of Kent in January 2016.

Married with two grown up children Bill’s interests include chalk stream trout fishing, bird watching, mountaineering skiing and gardening, a joy and necessity!

Councillor Alan Jarrett

Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance - Medway Council

Alan Jarrett has been a councillor since 1997 at the first elections held for the Medway Unitary Authority.

He was part of the Conservative opposition in Medway from 1997-2000, whereupon the Conservatives formed a minority administration. He assumed the finance portfolio in 1999. Shortly after the 2000 election he was elected as Deputy Leader of Medway Council, a post he held for 15 years. Following the 2015 election Alan was elected as Leader.

Medway Council adopted cabinet governance in 2001 and with the control of the finance portfolio he has worked with colleagues to ensure that Medway Council retains a low rate of council tax whilst maintaining a high standard of service delivery. This strategy has led to successive election victories so that today Medway Conservatives have a healthy majority.

As Leader he has retained the responsibility of Cabinet Member for Finance as well as Communications and Marketing alongside the strategic leadership of the Council.

Alan’s vision for the area is to ensure improvements in housing and business proceed at pace for the benefit of residents, businesses and visitors alike. He believes that it is essential regeneration means something to all of Medway’s people.

Alan has been an Accredited Peer since 2003 and works extensively for the LGA across many local authorities.

Richard Hicks

Director Regeneration, Culture, Environment and Transformation & Deputy Chief Executive - Medway Council

Richard drives the delivery of the Council’s placemaking agenda, seeking to establish Medway as a great place to live, to work, to learn and to visit. As Director and Deputy Chief Executive, Richard has responsibility for Frontline Services, Physical and Cultural Regeneration and Transformation.

  • The Front Line Services division provides essential services for our customers and residents, such as Waste, Safer Communities, Highways and Transport
  • The Transformation division is involved with all change projects across the Council, seeking to establish Medway as a smart city, fit for the future
  • The Physical and Cultural Regeneration division is key to delivering our monumental regeneration programme and one of the largest free events and festivals programmes in the country.


Medway has a rich heritage and a great future, and is one of the most promising growth areas in the UK. With our Castles, Cathedral, Historic Dockyard and connections with Dickens; with our fast train connections to London and Europe, our four universities and vibrant and growing economy, Medway has something for everyone, positioned midpoint between the capital and the continent. Richard is determined that Medway will fulfil its potential as a leading waterfront university city.

Richard has held a number of roles at Medway since its inception in 1998, and before that time worked in a range of positions across Kent County Council, both at corporate and service level.

Emma Dartnell

Executive Assistant to the Director Regeneration, Culture, Environment and Transformation & Deputy Chief Executive Medway Council

Emma supports the Deputy Chief Executive across the range of his responsibilities, including our Putting Medway on the Map Agenda. Emma was born in Medway, and has lived in Medway for over 26 years.

Emma was educated in Medway, attending one of Medway’s all-girl Grammar Schools where she studied Mathematics, Business Studies, Spanish and French at A-Level.

Emma joined Medway Council as a recruiting assistant following her school studies and has continued to shape her career at Medway Council since that temporary role.

Emma is passionate about Medway and its rich heritage and great future. Emma’s favourite view of Medway is from Church Green, Strood, with a vantage point of Medway’s monumental regeneration programme and a number of Medway’s greenspaces (Medway has the equivalent of 13.3 Hyde Parks under our direct management).

Emma’s favourite aspect of her Executive Assistant role is meeting new people and forming excellent working relationships with stakeholders, supporting them on Medway’s journey.

Emma’s key project is delivering against Medway’s aspiration to become the City of Culture in 2025, working with Medway’s communities and stakeholders to establish an exhilarating programme of events throughout 2025 to celebrate Medway as a great place to live, work, learn and visit.

Gavin Cleary

CEO Locate In Kent

Gavin is CEO of Locate in Kent, the official inward investment agency for Kent and Medway. LiK promotes the county as a prime location for business and investment and provides free, confidential support to businesses setting up, expanding or relocating.

He previously ran an economic development consultancy focused on the financial services sector, working with economic development organisations seeking to grow their financial and related services sectors as well as working with Fintech businesses seeking to grow and internationalise.

Prior to this, he worked for a leading economic development consultancy with particular expertise in foreign direct investment and international trade, working with clients across Europe, the US, South America and Asia. He was engaged by UK Trade & Investment over a two year period to lead a team to deliver a significant increase in investment and trade wins in the financial and professional services sectors.

Amanda Cottrell

Visit Kent

Amanda was educated in this country and in Europe, followed by the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts. Her early career was as an artist, working for Walt Disney briefly in California! She married in 1967 and moved to Challock in Kent. During the next twenty years, as well as working as an artist and farming, she brought up her four children. Amanda was widowed in 1996, and now has ten grandchildren. She was made High Sheriff of Kent in 2006 and was awarded the OBE for services to Kent in 2011. Amanda was a magistrate for 23 years, as well as Chairman of her Parish Council. She holds an Honorary Fellowship of Canterbury Christ Church University and an Honorary Doctorate of Civil Law from the University of Kent. She also served for three years as a Director of VisitEngland.

Patron of Visit Kent, Amanda Cottrell is a Deputy Lieutenant of Kent, a Kent Ambassador as well as a Trustee of Canterbury Cathedral and the Godinton House Preservation Trust. She is Chairman of both the Diocese of Canterbury Communities and Partnerships Framework and the Churches Working Together Partnership. Amanda is Patron of Produced in Kent and the Caldecott Foundation, co-Patron of the Strode Park Foundation and of the Maidstone Museum as well as the Director of a small bus company which serves the rural areas of Kent. She is a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers, and a Freeman of the City of London and the City of Canterbury. She is also Patron of the Ellenor Foundation and a Medway Champion.

Amanda has worked closely over many years with the rural and agricultural sector in Kent, and this remains extremely important to her.

Nick Grief

University of Kent

Nick Grief is a Professor of Law at the University of Kent, specialising in European law, international law and human rights. He is also currently the Dean for Kent’s Medway campus. Nick did his first degree and PhD at Kent and taught at the University of Exeter and Bournemouth University before joining Kent Law School in 2010. He lives in Rainham and practises at the Bar from Doughty Street Chambers, London.

Ben Charles

Principal of King’s Rochester School

Mr Charles was previously the Second Master (Senior Deputy Head) of The Portsmouth Grammar School (PGS), a large independent all-through school from 2½ to 18 with very close ties to Portsmouth Cathedral.  He completed his degree at the University of Exeter before gaining his Post Graduate Certificate of Education from Durham University. He began his teaching career at another King’s School, this time in Peterborough, where he was Assistant Director of Music and a Lay Clerk in the Cathedral. He went on to become Director of Music at two HMC schools – the first at Chigwell School in Essex and later at Millfield School in Somerset. In 2009 he was appointed Deputy Head (Co-Curriculum and Communications) at PGS and was promoted to the Second Master role in January 2016.

He is currently a Governor at Amesbury School and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. Ben is married to Helen, also a teacher and Deputy Head of Sixth Form at PGS, and between them they have four young children. Ben is an experienced choral conductor and singer, but is also a huge sports fan, particularly offering support to teams from his native city of Leicester.

Bob Russell

CEO Copper Rivet Distillery

Bob has resided and worked within Medway for all his adult life. His first venture was to open a Wine Bar in Rainham when wine bars were at the cutting edge of F&B establishments in the provinces’.

Following its success, by 1987 Bob was importing and wholesaling wines, spirits and continental beers for his own business and for distribution to selected local and London restaurants.

Bob had for many years nurtured a desire to create his own luxury spirit brand portfolio, and in October 2016 he Founded the Copper Rivet Distillery which is housed in a beautiful Victorian former pumping station in the former Royal Navy Dockyard, Chatham, Kent.

The distillery’s first product was Dockyard Gin made from locally grown grains which are milled on site, thus enabling a “Grain to Glass” process and declaration. The Vela Vodka production started in December 2016 following the same production method and it has been awarded a DOUBLE GOLD medal at the 2017 San Francisco World Spirits competition. The distillery’s first batch of whisky will be ready in the summer of 2020.

Bob is a freeman of the City of London, a Liveryman of The Worshipful Company of Distillers and a member of The Gin Guild.

Bob is a Director of The Chatham Maritime Trust, a Governor of Mid Kent Collage and is Chairman of The Dobson Trust; a small Gillingham based charity, tasked with providing relief for the elderly disadvantaged.

David Wornham

Passenger Services Director - Southeastern Railway

David is the Passenger Services Director for Southeastern Railway and is delighted to be a member of the Medway place board. With nearly thirty years experience in rail with it all beginning at Chatham station, and then through various roles in Customer Service, Operations and Service Delivery across different service groups, Gatwick Express, Heathrow Express and London Overground David has seen how the railway plays such a vital part to the areas business, community and tourism.

Growing up in Dulwich South London where he married his wife Gail he then moved to Kent in 1991 and began a family, and has lived in Walderslade, Lordswood and for the last seven years Rochester. Both his children Zoe and Ross were born in All Saints hospital Medway which of course is no longer there, in fact the church in Dulwich David and Gail got married in burnt down, David is not sure what this all means!! David’s hobbies are watching his boyhood club Crystal Palace where he is season ticket holder, and cruise holidays.

David and his Family have falling in love with Medway and Kent, his daughter Zoe is a British Transport Police Officer, his wife Gail works with children with learning difficulties and his son Ross plays football at semi-professional level, all in the local area. For David to be able to bring his professional work and his love of Medway to the board is a wonderful opportunity.

Paul Sweeney

Paul joined Countryside in 1994 as Director of Customer Services & Communities, Partnerships South. In his role, Paul oversees all Customer Service activities in relation to sales and customer journeys, from pre to post construction. Paul ensures that Build Quality Standards are maintained for all new homes constructed by Countryside Partnerships South. Within the Customer Services department, Paul can be responsible for 3000 live units in any one year.

Paul is a member of the Chartered Institute of Building and the Chartered Management Institute and has 41 years of industry experience.

Paul has set up a number of Community boards across London & South East. He has advised on industry standards, in addition to being a member of the Department of Education T Panel strategy Group, setting future Apprenticeship standards within the Construction Industry