A visitor centre to celebrate the life of the United Kingdom’s last estuary paddle steamer and her imminent return to the River Medway was officially opened by the Mayor of Medway Cllr Ted Baker in mid December.

The mayor was joined by special guest of honour Alf George – a Dunkirk Veteran who was rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk by the Medway Queen- and Rehman Chishti MP for Gillingham and Rainham.

The opening of the centre, which is financed by the EU under the INTERREG IV A 2 Seas Programme, is part of the preparation underway in anticipation of the return of the paddle steamer to Medway at the beginning of next year, when she will be fully restored to her former glory.

The ship became famous during her war years for rescuing 7,000 men from the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940 in a record seven trips. She returned to paddle steaming on the Thames and Medway after the war and was decommissioned in 1963. The centre will contain displays telling the Medway Queen’s story. This includes models of the Medway Queen in her hey day and other items from the ship’s past.

The hull is currently being restored in Bristol and when it returns to the River Medway will be worked on by a team from the Medway Queen Preservation Society as well as 11 local apprentices who have been recruited under the council’s 100 in 100 apprenticeship scheme.

Chairman of the Medway Queen Preservation Society, John Kempton, said: “The opening of the visitor centre is another step forward in the Medway Queen restoration project. We look forward to the continued support of the people of Medway for Medway’s historic ship.” Medway Council’s Portfolio Holder for Strategic Development and Economic Growth, Cllr Jane Chitty, said: “This project is giving Medway a unique opportunity to restore a piece of our naval heritage and at the same time create work and training opportunities for our young people.

“We’re incredibly excited to see the ship return to the waters of the river Medway and this visitor centre will allow residents and visitors to engage with the project, learn more about our rich naval past, and enjoy the restoration. My thanks go to the Preservation Society for their continued enthusiasm and support.”