Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary
Who should be Mayor for the next year?
With the Town Council's year coming to an end in the next couple of months, thoughts turn to who we should elect as our mayor and deputy mayor for the next year. Last year, with just two of 15 councillors continuing from the previous council, it was natural for the choice to fall onto one of those two with prior experience while the rest of us learned the ropes. For next year:
a) Who could best represent the town and its council to the press, to residents, and to the wider community in Wiltshire, and ensure that the interests of the town are looked after in such circles?
b) Who could best lead the council's direction and team as it goes about its business, taking overall initiatives, chairing full council and perhaps other committees, actively garnering wide support and being the goto (wo)man of last resort.
The Town Council combined these roles last year, so (barring an exceptional change) you are looking for a person suited for both roles, and with the time and necessary resources to take them both on. Here are your potential candidates - and to help me think who I could best propose and support, I have added the number of meetings each has been 'invited/expected' to attend in the past six months, and the number of those they have actually attended.
|Councillor P Alford||9||9|
|Councillor P Aves||14||14|
|Councillor G Cooke||15||10|
|Councillor J Crundell||13||8|
|Councillor S Crundell||17||12|
|Councillor G Ellis||12||11|
|Councillor C Forgacs||10||9|
|Councillor C Goodhind||21||21|
|Councillor C Houghton||12||11|
|Councillor J Hubbard||18||14|
|Councillor L Lewis||10||9|
|Councillor S Mortimer||18||18|
|Councillor J Oatley||17||14|
|Councillor T Price||12||5|
|Councillor S Rabey||16||16|
More data on the Town Council's website (here) where you can drill down meeting by meeting if you wish. You will find all of our pictures there - the picture at the top of this post is purely illustrative in the interest of absolute balance.
• the number of meetings that councillors are invited to depends on how many committees they are on, and it would be a good idea for the next mayor to have a wide experience.
• I would be worried about supporting anyone who's missed more than a couple of meetings. It's a warning flag that indicates that they may not be in a position to fill an extended role. There may be exceptions due to short term personal issues.
• Just in case you ask, no, I do not wish to stand. I do not feel that I am smart and conventional enough to fulfill part (a) of the job speciication, and don't have the time, desire, or robustness to fulfill part, nor the general knowledge from being on lots of different committees to fulfill part (b). But I would love to hear your views!
Published Saturday, 12th March 2022
Museum for Melksham?A question triggered the question in the Melksham News - "What shall we do with the Round House"? Lots of likes on their Facebook page - a clear public sentiment in favour of it, but is that practical and sustainable over time? A Museum was tried in there once before, but it didn't last, and it's been tried in other places too. That was before my time, but from what I understand, there were issues - some of these I list below.
For a museum, you really need:
1. space for something big enough to house to attract visitors, and indeed to house some of the interesting exhibits you will gather
2. knowledbable people on hand to receive visitors when you are open, and opening hours long enough to attract visitors
3. a staff "rest room" and somewhere to make a cup of tea - tap, water, fridge
4. a place that's secure and an environment which is appropriate for the artefacts you have - heating, ventilation, humidity regulation
5. varied passing traffic on foot or something that draws the crowds to make you a destination
6. a passionate team who want to organise it and make it work
7. easy parking "just outside" especially for those with limited mobility
8. Funding to make the above happen, and publicity to ensure that people know it's there, are encouraged to visit, and are enouragage to come along with memorys and artefacts
9. Support from the whole (or most of) the local community with an interest in history.
10. Access to experts in history, running museums, evaluating artefacts, loan of items for exhibitions, training, etc
It's not just about putting a few small items on an old table in an otherwise-unused building somewhere and popping down to unlock it on the third Saturday of each month and extra over spring and summer back holiday weekends.
Melksham has a rich history, and a great deal in the past to celebrate and to inform people on. It's a growing town, with many new residents who won't know about its past, and indeed it's "ripe" for a museum. Looking ahead, as projects such as the canal bring in more visitors, and our town centre becomes much more a social centre and less a retail outlet, there is further reason for a museum.
It's been tried at the Roundhouse before, at Rachel Fowler, and we had/have a museum room here at our place - while we were a hotel, "open all hours", and now as we come out of Covid, by appointment. There was planned to be a museum / exhibition in The Campus and that would have provided a wonderful answer to many of the issues above (and the resources we have would have been very much available). At the time of writing, we know it won't be in the much-reduced Campus, Melksham House is up in the air (Wiltshire Council are advertising internally for users). There would be a logic to housing a museum in the Town Hall - many of the issues listed above are answered.
Lisa and I have a lot of background here. Every day, Lisa's On this Day report for Melksham appears on Facebook. Our much more stable Well House Collection page include links to the museum room and huge amounts of historic data.
I am more than happy to take a further interest in a museum project - I don't think the Round House is right, and there are many major issues to be addressed before "wouldn't it be a nice idea to ..." gets translated into a viable project.
Published Friday, 11th March 2022
A solution looking for a Problem?The Round House on Church Road in Melksham is a wonderful historic building. Philip Wilkinson wrote about it in 2007: (link)
This small surprise is tucked away in a side-street in the Wiltshire town of Melksham. It’s an 18th-century structure, built, Melksham being a wool town, as a wool-drying room. When the wool trade declined in the 19th century many such buildings were no doubt demolished. But this one survived, playing down the years a multitude of roles – armoury for the local volunteer militia, feed store, business premises, tourist information centre, and museum. England has many specialized structures like this, the often odd-shaped remnants of local industries – oast houses and lime kilns come to mind. Often they seem designed so precisely for their original function that adaptation appears impossible. But with a little imagination, many of them have been recycled to the delight both of their users and of passers by
Inspiration is needed for our Round House. It's owned by the Town Council and morally we retain it as part of our heritage (it's listed, so that is a legal requirement too) and we should also make best use of it an asset to the town in some way, at the same time keeping check on the amount of precept-payer's money we spend on it over the years. We could sell it, I suppose, the duty of care (listing) passing to the new owner, but I'm not sure anyone would want to buy it, and if they did your council would need to re-assured that the purchaser really could make a "go" of the building.
So - what use of such a historic buildings? It could be a shop but it's too small to be practical. It could be a 'bijou' self catering holiday flat but it has no sanitation. It could house an ATM machine though I have heard no expressions of interest. It has been suggested for a parcel hub but we have those elsewhere in Melksham and in any case it's not staffed for long hours as many opertors require. Perhaps it could house Pop up vendors but it is slightly off the beaten track and in an case that would only be occasional. It could be used for tourist information but the existing TIC is directly opposite! It could be uses as a store but I can't think that The Council needs a small store room there; could do if there were regular events in that parklet. And the perennial suggestion - it could be used as a museum. Actually, it was once but that didn't work out long term; nothing to stop us trying again, except that for a museum we need to learn from multiple past short-lived experiments in Melksham and find a suitable venue.
The next article will take a look at "Museum for Melksham" ... (it will appear above this one if you're reading my blog)
Published Thursday, 10th March 2022
Ukraine. Welcoming refugees and sending aid(From Sir Roger Gale, Conservative MP for North Thanet on Twitter):
So we now know the answer to the question that I posed yesterday: just fifty visas granted to date and families turned back at Calais. A disgrace.
Around a million refugees have moved across the border from Ukraine into (mainland) Europe, where they are typically accepted with little or no paperwork for up to three years. Should they wish to come to the United Kingdom, they have to go through a visa application process and (as I understand it) prove / have sponsorship from a settled close relative (and "settled" means someone who has a right of permanet abode, such as an indefinite leave to remain).
Personally, I strongly agree with Sir Roger. Western Europe (the EU + the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Norway) has a total population of over 500 million and between every 100 people here, surely, we could welcome one family. It is heartrending to read stories of wartime evacuees being welcomed eighty year ago - be they getting away from bombing in London or much worse in Germany. The picture illustrating this entry is of the statue in honour of the Kindertransport.
I appreciate that 17 million people voted, in June 2016, for Britain to leave the EU, bringing a separation of nations which has provided the foundation for the current stark differences. Personally, I am proud of what this country (and this town did in taking people in during the second world war, and embarrassed at the different mindset shown by our government as I write. I do appreciate it's what many of you voted for - though I suspect you might update your view if you met - as I have done in Melksham - with one of your neighbours who talks of her escape from the burning city on Danzig / Gdansk. I sat with open mouth and tears with the old lady who had made herself a quiet, useful life here - and with a family who had become the pillars of our town.
On recent previous refugee crises (since Idi Amin and Uganda in 1972), raw numbers arriving in the UK have been low and having them spread out right across the UK would make for a lot of lonely families at the very time they needed the support net of others in the same arrival situation. If our goverment were to step up to the marks, perhaps 50 to 100 family groups would arrive in Melksham, and that would mean there was no over-thin spread. And personally (for I intend to put my money where my mouth is), Lisa and I would have room for some in our home. We know it would be far from easy. But we know these are people too.
I am delighted at the response to the appeal in Melksham for goods and money to send to help the people of Ukraine. It's been magnificent. There are questions as to how effective it will be - but I note that whilst there is bound to be wastage along the way a lot of it should get through There are those who say "send money and to help people buy things they need locally" - ah, but is the shelves are bare, there is nothing for people to buy. The Solution has to be that we do both, and accept that there is going to be wastage along the way. Tough - if a coat saves someone from freezing to death, who cares if another 100 coats are thown away?
Back, sadly, to where I started. Here are some of the report of issues getting aid along the parts of their journey that would have been easy a decade ago. Also from Twitter:
|Vans are now being turned away at dover docks carrying aid for minimal value on commercial invoices - by the BRITS - not the french . They are enforcing the law 101% on humanitarian aid . Miffed and dumbfounded is an understatement|
It SEEMS that civilian staff are refusing to allow the issue of boarding passes , obsessed with the T1 export declaration / even zero rated invoices no longer suffice , I can’t help but think something is happening . Why refuse aid . There needs to be an agreement to get it out
Probably no better, if things can't actually leave the UK - the tweet says "- by the BRITS - not the french". It's not a complication created in Calais (or equally Netherlands), but in the UK.
The most astonishing thing about this is that brits reading this will still just assume that they are the good guys. Always. Johnny Foreigner will always be the baddy to the British, and if we’re being honest, almost half of brits think foreigners are just inferior to them.
A friend has just come back with his van full. When he remonstrated with the border people he was threatened with arrest and told to give it to a British charity!
Not futile but now no room for well meaning amateurs. it is international rules (here on humanitarian aid) across external customs & regulatory borders.
People from UK no longer moving goods (or anything else) into EU *internally* . Contact professionals
This is an utter disgrace. It surely needs only a word from government for this problem to go away. They're is patently no desire to do so. Just who's side are we on???
Why are we so surprised. We voted them in and now we have to watch as they abdicate any sense of human decency , kindness or respect for human life. Those who voted for them , this is your contribution to the process. I hope you can look your family in the eyes and feel proud.
To everyone who has been contributing goods and helping in Melksham and elsewhere, Thank You. There is determination along the suppy chain and - teething troubles though there may be - the pressure of the flood will get much through, and you are helping feed that flood.
Also to note - there is an urgency, but there is also a long term need. Do not be depondent at shorter term issues and get put off from ongoing support. We are on for a long hall in issued Ukraine. But yet look at the strength brough to the UK by those kicked out of Uganda by Idi Amin, or the families who are in out town and look back to their parents who came out of the horror of Poland during the second world war.
Published Monday, 7th March 2022
Facebook Moderation - Friends of Assembly HallWhat posts and comments should be allowed in Facebook groups? I find myself as an administrator of the Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall Facebook group - a private group which, however is visible, with well over 200 members.
What is the purpose of the group? "Melksham Assembly Hall - to provide live and recorded entertainment for public audiences of up to 400, and hire for events and groups commensurate with that space, for a customer base primarily in the West Wilts area."
In principle, I am in favour of "free speech" to allow wide ranging discussions, but there are limits. The group should be kept on topic, and to join us to post promotional material about events happening in neighbouring town at the same time that we have a major event public event in the hall, and without (as far as I can see) any previous posts of support and interest is cheeky. To post that without even asking the admins is double cheeky, or thoughtless.
Just about every group I am involved with Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall and Option 24/7 - our Wiltshire bus campaign as admin and members of others such as the Melksham Amateur Photography Group where - and it is so easy - I have accidntally broken a posting rule in the past and had my contribution deleted.
* Please post and help keep the groups busy and interesting
* If you are in and doubt, please ask an admin before posting
* And if you spot something you feel is out of order, please let an admin know.
Published Tuesday, 1st March 2022
A Virtual Hub for MelkshamSome questions you may ask
- What is the Melksham weather forecast for tomorrow?
- Where can I park in Melksham, how long and what cost?
- How do I research my Melksham Ancestors / history of my house?
- Are the Melksham trains running on time?
- When is the next meeting of the Melksham Historical Society?
- Where are keep fit classes in Melksham?
- When does the Melksham splash pad and cafe open?
- What's happening in Melksham about climate change?
- When and how can we replace our Melksham councillors?
- When is the next Melksham Council meeting I can bring a question to and is it on Zoom?
- Who is my councillor and how do I contact him/her?
- Where can I exercise my dog in Melksham?
- Where is my nearest playground?
- Do we have a neighbourhood watch? A neighbourhood plan?
- How do I report graffeti?
- Where can my friends, visiting with a child, stay?
- Is there a hairdresser in Melksham?
- Is [task] something for the Town Council or Wiltshire Council?
- What is the difference between Town, Without, and Area Board?
- Which takeways near me are open at the moment?
- When is the next market? Town Centre or Avonside?
- What is at Scoff this week?
- How do I get to the Royal United Hospital?
- What is Parkrun?
- Are the answers I am getting up to date?
I am just one of 15 Town Councillors here in Melksham and on many days. On many days, I write and share online on a topic that I think may be of interest.
In the last week, 265 different people have visited my blog pages, calling up 448 pages. I'm writing this very early on Monday morning and already 66 people have come to my website to view yesterday's post going into detail on car parking charges for the disabled in Melksham, and 92 on the lighting of the Town Hall in the colours of the Ukrainian flag which I posted on Saturday. 70 have looked at the detail of the Melksham play areas written a couple of days area. This is just the tip of the iceberg - Facebook reports 1220 people reached and 280 reactions to my disabled parking post, 741 and 129 to the Ukrainian flag and 1225 and 45 to play areas, 518 and 138 to my post about Waterloo Live at the Assembly Hall. Feedback is varied - there have already been 60 follow up comments on yesterday's parking post (quite a few, I admit from me as I clarify and explain further for people) and that is a valuable two way conversation in both me informing the public and the public informing me ... with other councillors welcome to read should they wish to do so.
There is clearly an appetite for information and discussion - these are not one-shot visitors I have written 126 posts in the last 11 months, and people keep reacting and answering. I am not unique - look at Facebook groups such as "Sham Shoutouts", the Melksham Community Page, Melksham Discussions, Melksham East Resident pages, and so on.
But my information feed like all these others is very "bitty" - it's one of many, and there is no common indexing. We do co-operate and share (to a greater or lesser extent - a few are protective of their data)
The Virtual Hub project
Your Town Council's Community Development Committee meets a week today (7th March 2022). at their last meeting, they set up a working group of three members to look to procuring a "virtual hub" to bring all these things together, with another councillor volunteering to help them come up with a specification for what they need. I look forward to hearing their report. This is not an easy task, and there is a danger of a lot of money and effort being poured into a project that's only partial and gets limited traction. There is also the possibility of coming up with something rather good.
I set up an online forum and information source (relating to the rail campaigning I do) over a decade ago, and it's still running to this day - a little long in the tooth, but we still have some 4,000 visits per (last) week, with members adding some 300 new items in that time which keeps encouraging people back. It included a map showing immediate issues with trains across the South West, a news feed from the BBC about "things transport", an "On this day", and a searchable archive of some 20,000 topics we've covered and 1,500 mirrored industry documents. There's a hot topic box showing what people are most liking, and a diary of events coming up that people can attend or consultations they can reply to. And there's a polling capability where we can survey our members. About 10 members have been appointed as "moderators" - our inner team who are regular visitors and who can step in if necessary and sort out issues they spot in their day to day visits without it being a big maintenance job. There are a number of things I would like to improve as "webmaster" ... it's not very good in presentation on tablets and mobile phones ... printing out pages for people not on line to take away has some formatting issues ... searching for things is a bit rudimentary ... feeding out to and in from Facebook and Twitter is not as automated as I would like. See http://www.passenger.chat if you want to take a look at this example of a "virtual hub".
The specification and writing of the software and initial "go live" for the system feels like a big task, and I wish the working group well. They really need to consider at this stage the lifetime maintenance cost of the software which will most likely by a higher figure, and the data entry and update effort which will - if the system succeeds - dwarf the other two elements combined.
The system specification is looking at the heart of the system - the engine. Inputs, outputs and feeds are important, as is how the system will be marketed to attract people to come along, read the posts and contribute in the crowded information world. Audience retention (with personalisation) and communication between, and moderation also need to be considered. Well planned and with a blaze of publicity with well populated pages at launch, it can take off well; there may then be a bit of a dip as it's no longer the "latest and greatest" news and will require perseverance and investment in encouraging and making contributions. I look forward to seeing this coming together - happy to make further comment if invited, and indeed I have already passed through ideas and thoughts to the lead officer.
Look at the questions at the top of this post, and the £64,000 questions
- are the answers I'm getting up to date, or from last year?
- what rules and guidelines do we set and how do we develop and apply them?
- can I advertise here and how do I do it?
- how do those without Internet access find out these things?
- can we to a tailored periodic compendium by email?
- how do I get my own thoughts and events added to and found on this data pool?
Not my project - but I wish them well and hope that they will at least take a look at my inputs and do a quick "check list" run to ensure they're aware and have given appropriate consideration to the items I raise.
I look forward to being the "Virtual Hub" being flagged up on my daily feeds when there is something of interest in the future, of it being my "go to" when I want to navigate to anything Melksham, and being able to easily add content there from time to time.
Published Monday, 28th February 2022
PAID Blue Badge parking in Melksham from 1.4.2022 ?!
Parking in Melksham for "Disabled Drivers" - blue badge holders.
At present (until 1st April 2022), Blue Badge holders may park in Wiltshire Council Car Parks in Melksham free of charge, provided they follow national blue badge rules including display of the badge. Wiltshire Council provided 20 spaces across the Melksham car parks (and another 310 in other Wiltshire locations) which are usually wider that the regular spaces, reserved for badge holders, and close to the pedestrian exit from the car park to the facilities they serve.
From 1st April, Wiltshire Council will be charging Blue Badge holders to park in many of their car parks (that's those in which others not using blue badges already have to pay).
1. Should blue badge holders pay?
2. If blue badge holders have to pay, how easy (or otherwise) is that for them?
3. If blue badge holders don't park in the car parks once payment is introduced, what will they do instead, and what will the ramifications be?
1. Should they pay?
I have a huge sympathy for those who are less able due to physical or other difficulties and feel we have a special duty of care to them. Ideally, in financial terms that should be in helping them by providing decent financial support and let them choose (and pay for) extra services that they need. But this is not an ideal world, and the government choses to buy services for them rather than give them the choice, and in that environment then yes, they should have financial parking concessions.
2. If they have to pay, how easy will it be?
Potentially, it won't be easy. I looked at Kings Street and Central car parks yesterday - the two in my ward - and in both cases the spaces are, correctly, near to the pedestrian exits from the car park. But, incorrect for those who are hard of movement, the pay machines are away across the car park. Worse, the pay machines are notorious for being out of action; yesterday, for example, only the machine at the rear of Central Car Park was in operation. Further, the coin slots are at a level that make them difficult for wheelchair users or others who are height impaired. We are told new machines are coming in. If they are located at the pedestrian exits, are wheelchair accessible, and use a system which allows payment without doubling back to the car, good, but should the introduction of charging the disabled not be deferred until this new system is in place? Otherwise, Wiltshire Council should be challenged under the 2010 Equalities Act - the successor to "Disability Discrimination".
Parkers can also pay by phone. This will work for some, but not for all. An appropriate phone is needed, and a parker who is nimble enough with their fingers an well enough up on the IT stuff. I admit to no personal experience of this - I walk into Melksham as I live close by (very occasionally catch the bus to the far end and walk back). I tried to register at home, but the system was such registration was a process that couldn't be completed until the first time I was parking. The payment by phone system may be a good alternative for some, but it cannot be the only solution for the disabled
3. What if they don't park in WC car parks any longer?
It has been pointed out that Blue Badge holders may park for free, for up to 3 hours, on yellow lines where there is no loading restriction. Yellow lines exist to aid traffic flow, and there is potential for a significant increase in on-street parking by blue badge holders to the detriment of traffic flow.
Blue Badge spaces exist in all supermarket car parks, and the supermarkets include the cost of parking in their pricing of good - so they're free at the point of use. There is a likelihood that some Town Centre business will transfer to the supermarkets.
It is possible that some blue badge holders may use the bus instead, and that some will order online and have a delivery, with some depending on their care services for a facility which they currently use themselves.
I have no measure of the elasticity of these changes, and I have not read any. The best I have seen is a suggestion "let's see how it goes" - however, once people change their habits (and are blocking the streets or shopping out of town) it will be an uphill struggle to persuade them back.
1. It has been stated by Councillor Alford that only 30% of drivers parking with a Blue Badge are disabled, as part of his explanation of the changes. I was puzzled by this at first, but note that some blue badge holders cannot themselves drive, and are passengers in the car - for example a carer driving a very old person, or a mother with a child in a wheelchair with Oxygen tanks to contend with. I am also unsure of cases where someone may have very limited mobility indeed, but not be registered disabled. I have requested clarification of this "30%" and will update this note if I receive it. There IS a good point that some carer drivers MAY be able to leave their dependant at the car while they tootle off to the payment machine.
2. To get myself some idea of where people shop (how important is the Town Centre) is these days, I ran a poll over the last week - across a wider area and potentially skewed because it's a specialist interest forum. But up to date as we come out of legal restrictions and look forward. "Which of these do you use regularly for grocery shopping?". Figures given are percentages, sample size 37, voters allowed to select multiple options (and most did)
35,Corner Store (in person)
49,High Street / Town Centre (in person)
19,Market (in person)
81,Supermarket (in person and take goods home with you)
5,Shopping Mall (in person)
0,Supermarket (choose in person and they deliver)
3,Supermarket (click and collect)
14,Amazon or similar (order online and they deliver)
24,Supermarket (order online and they deliver)
8,Independent online and they have carrier deliver
5,My partner / carer / butler does the regular grocery shopping
0,Don't know - it just turns up
22,Farm shop (in person)
5,Farm shop / regular order and delivered
3. I visited Melksham Town Centre on Friday and Saturday. On Friday, all 8 places in Central Car Park were in use and two cars in the next places (for mother and child too) had blue badges on display. On Saturday, there were five cars in the 8+2 = 10 spaces. One car in a disabled space was not displaying a blue badge. The pay machine nearest the blue badge spaces was "Not in Use". On Saturday (only) I noted 3 spaces in King Street with just one in use.
4. The current "repay" scheme where you can get two (or one, say some signs) of your payment for packing back at certain stores is little used. I put this down to lack of knowledge, confusion as to how it works, and a lot of hassle for the one hour at 30p. Probably costs more to administer than in returned payments.
1. I consider that Wiltshire Council should provide a DDA compliant solution in their own car parks, from which they already collect money from most parkers. It should not be the responsibility of the Town to do what the County should do. However, I would support us taking a pragmatic position and buy parking for blue badge holders in Central Car Park up to a certain price, to be defined. NOT "at any price"
2. I would support a "purple badge" add on to the blue badge for a limited annual fee, allowing holders to park at no extra charge and circumventing the hassle of paying each time.
Edit to add, after a Facebook question on this I may have been a bit short on that as I only mentioned the idea in passing. The idea is an extra that can be purchased for a year and can be displayed in addition to a blue badge, which would entitle the user to park for no extra charge with the blue badge - a sort of parking season ticket, saving the hassle of paying each time (and also encouraging more visits as it would no longer be pay-per-visit). Thanks for noting that my explanation was limited - I'll go back to my blog and see if I can expand it.
3. I would encourage Wiltshire Council to review their decision to charge Blue Badge holders for parking in their car parks while street parking on yellow lines with Blue Badges is allowed, and while payment remains difficult for people who are restricted enough to merit a badge - they are not usually at all easy to obtain.
If readers wish to get in touch with your Wiltshire Councillor, they are Councillors Hubbard, Sankey, Oatley and Alford. It is Wiltshire Coucil who own and run these car parks - your Town Council is looking to "pick up the pieces".
My thanks to the informed discussions with other Town councillors who have help me in looking into this, and has given me the strength of knowledges that I am far from alone on these concerns.
Published Sunday, 27th February 2022
Melksham Town Hall / Ukrainian flagAs from dusk tonight (26th February 2022), Melksham Town Hall
Update - 18:45 Melksham Town Hall now lit in Yellow and Blue - the colours of the Ukrainian flage - in a show of sympathetic support for the people of Ukraine. Image on this post changed to show our Town Hall lit up.
Update - 10:30 Across the UK, many public buildings are being lit with the Ukrainian flag in a show of sympathetic support for the people of Ukraine. Just after lunchtime yesterday, Councillor Rabey proposed via email that we in Melksham should do so too. However, Town Council policy, to which our staff work, includes:
Ordinarily and in the interests of impartiality, the flag of another nation or cause will not be flown. However the Town Mayor in liaison with the Town Clerk may exercise discretion or seek a motion from Council to determine when the Town Council will fly its flag(s) at half-mast and/or fly the flag of another nation state or cause as a mark of respect from the Council and the community in particular circumstances that are deemed to be appropriate.
With the mayor absent at present, the natural (almost automatic) way for an exception to the policy wasn't directly open, and staff really cannot go against policy without a very clear lead. There was a considerable flow of emails yesterday afternoon with the majority of councillors responding. Some expressed concern asking "are others doing this" and "how do we go about it in the absence of the mayor" but in the end all elected members involved in the conversation (I think, looking back) were in favour. The Deputy Mayor is supportive, and one of our councillors is still in touch with the mayor and reported him to be supportive too. So, in effect, a motion from Council unanimously supported and we can dispense with motion notice period, etc - this one was blindingly obvious.
Picture Now - Melksham Town Hall with the colours of the Ukraining flag. Our thanks to Paul Weymouth of Light Fantastic for setting this up ... Paul picture in front of the Town Hall with our Deputy Mayor, Colin Goodhind.
With all this going on, I perhaps other councillors concentrated on working out what to do, and doing the job, without taking the time out to tell our residents what we were doing. Your Town Councillors are volunteers - we all have other interests outside the council, which for some include full time jobs and for some include being Wiltshire Councillors too. So having most of us respond yesterday was remarkable, and have others silent over a few hours only to be expected.
There are other things very much on my Town Councillor's plate at present:
1. I am concerned that we have lost yet another member of our team, once again without reason being given and without even a "thank you for what Xxxxx" has done for us. Far too much of a recurring pattern for my liking. I am advised that it is normal not to give a reason when someone leaves, and that a member of the staffing committee is "completely satisfied with how this has been handled". Sadly, I am not satisfied, and I do not consider it normal for people to leave without thanks for their work or any explanation. There may be exceptional circumstances, but this is a repeating pattern which occupies me. Since I was elected 9 months ago, I know of six staff departures and that feels to be an incredibly high turnover, and a big cost bearing in mind the investment made into staff, and the investment the make in us in return; we are the poorer from the loss of both experienced people, and younger people too who bring an enthusiam but also a need for help and upport as they take a job very early in their career.
2. The decision by Wiltshire Council to start charging blue badge holders to park in their car parks (and increase charges for others, and withdraw the free parking on Sundays and 2 special days designated by the Town Council) is exercising me and other councillors. There are two sections to this issue - (i) should blue badge holders be asked to pay? and (ii) if they are asked to pay, do we actually make it practical for them to pay? There is a whole blog to follow on this - I'm going to leave it to post until tomorrow, along with wider comment on disabled access to the Town Centre.
3. I am concerned at the flow of Town and Town Council information to our residents. The incident I started this post with - the lack of telling you what we were / are doing about the Ukrainian flag is just a syptom of a major concern. I know what I would like to see. The Community Development Committee (which I am not on) meets a week on Monday to hear from their "virtual hub working group"; they are being advised by the mayor helping them draw up a spec of what's needed and I look forward to hearing their proposals. I should add that we have some excellent information flowing out already - the team doing it probably need more effective tools for doing this, and perhaps re-arrangement to get more up there quickly and with a wider readership. And perhaps that's what the working group is looking at.
Published Saturday, 26th February 2022
Melksham South Play AreasA Tours for councillors elected last year organised by the team - I went around on 22nd February 2022. Five play and recreation areas provided and maintained by Wiltshire Council in South Ward.
Although I'm not on the Assets and Amenities Committee, I took advantage of the availability of a place on the tour - the only South Ward representative or resident councillor to do so. Councillors Jacqui Crundell and Colin Goodhind from South Ward are on this committee and if you have any specific queries, I would suggest they are more directly in touch with what's what even though I'm the one writing this up.
A big THANK YOU to the officers who showed us around and gave us an "insider" appreciation of The Council's role and activities
(On map in green) In South Ward, we have:
5. Dorset Crescent - a few pieces of equipment and a large grassy area. High net barrier for no apparent reason - perhaps there was a netball pitch there? Primrose, no more than a few yards away in Melksham East offers much more but perhaps DC still useful to keep children close. Mind, very much a senior area close by.
Play equipment in use - hence no picture of it to be published
1. Hazelwood - a small / local play area which is starting to show its age. I understand that the fence around it has been painted by nearby residents, and the area stuck me as tired but still loved. Easy access to Town Centre via Orchard Gardens, but I suspect little known to many. With a porous gate into the Campus, could be a real asset for visitors to that with small children
2. Lewington - a gem. Small, but modern and in good condition. Well overlooked by houses, so largely self policing. I wondered how long interest in this equipment will last - however, even in February when we looked, mum and two toddlers came along and were enjoying it.
4. Speedwell Close - compact, modern play area for smaller children. Well overlooked from 'supervising' houses.
3. Spring Meadow - a very big area though with sparse and well worn equipment. Serves the lower end of Kenilworth Road estate (Longford Road and Windsor Avenue) as well as the bottom of Campion Drive.
(On map in Blue). Nearby, other play and recreation areas are:
12. KGV (various facilities)
11. The Woody / Clackers Brook
On the map in Grey. - other play area looked after by the Town Council - ranging from a single goal post on a field at Forester's Park to an impressive array of equipment and an even more impressive set of signage at Methuen Avenue.
On the map in Red - public play areas NOT managed by the Town Council. I may have missed some - and neither does my map include any play areas in Melksham Without.
And general notes
* We have an excess of signage - not only immediate instructions but complex bylaw posters too, from various bodies - Town, District, County. Could we unify, standardise, clarify ... perhaps add QR code, online links, phone number. Suggest standard logos - Red for "no" and "green" for yes (orange for "discouraged") to all appear in all parks? Two signs for each location - the "standard" one plus a local choice? Which raises the question of local pride and ownership
* How much are the parks used? It wasn't very much on the bleak February day we went around, but wear and mud suggest that they ARE used at least enough for some of the surfaces / gate areas to become impassable. Get more data? Ask people to tell us?
* We have an incredibly mixed bag ... and I suspect many residents don't know what there is outside there immediate area. Can we better inform and get better use; as we can't / don't charge for use, better use would increase expense. Would fellow councillors consider this a "loss" to be avoided (as putting in to the Assembly Hall is regarded) or a cost (as opening public loos is) which is to be encouraged for the facility it provides?
* Regular patrolling and routine maintenance such as clearing bins and mowing is a considerable load on our team - however, with the possible exception of Dorset and Primrose, the areas are well separated and any reduction in numbers of areas would be a serious degradation of facilities. Conversely, there are a few places (Church Lane, not my ward, and Warwick Crescent) which seem a long way from any.
* The strategy needs to be provided by Assets and Amenities as to update / replace / reduce these areas - whether they wish us to end up with a few smart areas, continue with a mixed bag, invest heavily - but then would that be in things which are just fashionable and not really what the kids want. As was commented - "we have to compete against computer games these days".
Food for thought, thanks for the tour, I look forward to seeing how the councillors concerned and the staff progress this in coming years, and offer my support (for what it's worth) to well justified and well rounded proposals.
Published Wednesday, 23rd February 2022
Waterloo Live - the Assembly Hall's Waterloo?Really good to have "Waterloo Live" at the Assembly Hall last night - a really enjoyable evening, enjoyed by lots of people (around 300) at £20 each (= £6000, plus say another £1000 of bar takings). Good to see a fellow councillor in the audience - perhaps would have been good to see more at this important facility, and on such a fantastic evening.
There's no secret that the Assembly Hall is run down from decades of wear and missed maintenance, and is closely connected to Wiltshire Council's Blue Pool which they expect to demolish later in the year when their Campus opens. The Assembly Hall needs to be saved - not necessarily the same building, perhaps not even on the same site (though where else in the town can we be noisy?) but certainly with that same capacity at least, and with the same 'ownership' of the community too. It's the people far more that the building.
Covid has not been kind to Assembly Hall finances, and sadly the council you elected last May had an absolute majority who declared our organiser of events such as that last night redundant. The remaining team who look after the hall have done a wonderful job, but the days of such events sponsored by your council are running out - 3 months to go, I believe. And then the finances look even more interesting and we hope (and need to work with) other people to organise events. Really a sad decision to cease sponsoring such events, just at the very time that we're all on our way back from Covid.
Funny (peculiar) that your council sees the King George V park, which costs us more to run than it generates in income, as an expense to be accepted, but sees the Assembly Hall, which also costs us more to run than it generates in income, as a loss which must be slashed.
Sad that those councillors who we have ONLY seen in the Assembly Hall when council meeting were held there for Covid distancing are not being supportive of continuing events like last night's at the very time they are clearly making a popular comeback.
Published Sunday, 20th February 2022