Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary
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Safari Animals in Melksham
Press release from Melksham Town Council, 17/8/2022
Safari Animals on the Approach!
Explore Melksham on the Green Animal Trail!
Melksham Town Council is delighted to announce that six ‘green turf’ covered animals are coming to Melksham this week.
The animals, that you would be more likely to find on an African safari, will be dotted around the centre of town to create a 3km loop covering green spaces, riverside pathway and some of the most architecturally impressive parts of the town.
Starting at the Market Place, outside the Town Hall, intrepid animal scouts will be encouraged to set off towards the centre of town, via historic side-streets, King George V Park, the Avonside river path, Conigre Mead and finally, through beautiful St Michael’s Churchyard. Along the way, you will be able to spot a Warthog, Giraffe, Rhino, Lion, Zebra and a Baby Elephant. Each animal will have a fun fact and a letter attached to it. The six letters will form a secret word.
The animal Trail forms part of Welcome Back Fund, delivered in conjunction with City Dressing, an urban decoration company which specialises in temporary installations to help encourage and facilitate residents and visitors to reengage with their town centres The grant, which aims to help local economies bounce back after Covid, stipulates that the funds must be spent on ‘temporary installations.' This detail came under fire from some Councillors when it was debated at Full Council on 20 June, specifically because of the impermanence of the attractions.
A representative at Melksham Town Council explained to Melksham News that “the Welcome Back Fund clearly states that the installations cannot be permanent, but we are keeping some of the fixtures and fittings which we can use in future. For example, we will be retaining 12 bespoke lamppost banners, including all fixings, which will promote different things in the town. It was a no-brainer to get behind it, as the Animal Trail in particular is bound to be a hit with our younger residents.
“We are aware of the concerns expressed within the community about the use of artificial grass in the attractions, including the safari animals. Officers approached City Dressing about this and we were assured by their representative that they are committed to environmental sustainability and the reuse or repurposing of their materials in general, and the artificial grass in particular.”
"We encourage everyone to get out and about and enjoy the trail!"
Trail Guide - for directions see below map
1. Starting at the Market Place, outside the Town Hall, intrepid animal scouts are encouraged to set off towards the centre of town, passing the mini pop-up park, and the ancient Kings Arms public house.
2. Turning left onto Church Street, you will pass the stunning historic quarter of the town along Cannon Square and down Church Walk (to your right).
3. Cross at the pedestrian crossing and nip up Union St before taking a quick left towards the Ebenezer Baptist Church. Don’t worry - you’re close to your first animal!
4. Follow the little alleyway past the church and you will cross Clacker’s Brook into King George V Playing Fields (Animal 1).
5. Head up the hill along the righthand pathway and make your way up towards the Cricket Pavilion where you’ll turn left alongside the splashed and play area (Animal 2) before turning right at the Adventure Centre.
6. Head over the little bridge and follow the path all the way until there is a T-junction.
7. Turn left and head across the green bridge and to the end of the pathway at the base of Scotland Road.
8. Turn back on yourself and retrace your steps to the Adventure Centre.
9. Continue along the river until you are almost at Bath Road.
10. Take a look down into Queen Mary Garden (little walled garden, alongside the car entrance to Bath Road carpark.) (Animal 3).
11. Turn right up the hill towards the bridge and cross at the zebra crossing turning left and then quickly right to rejoin the riverside path (Animal 4).
12. You are now back alongside the great River Avon and soon you will enter Conigre Mead Nature Reserve, through the gate. Think about how lucky we are to have good people who volunteer their time and money to help this place stay clean, wild and beautiful.
13. Take the second path on your left, heading up towards the cemetery.
14. Continue uphill into the upper part of the cemetary and head to your left, so you enter the back cemetery of the churchyard (the one with the massive, beautiful trees across the street from the main churchyard).
15. Head up and cross into St Michael’s and walk around the church to your right and aim for the path heading to the back corner gate to your right (Animal 5).
16. Go through the gate and turn left pass the bowls club to towards the brick wall in the distance, and turn left until you hit Place Road.
17. Turn Right and carry on until you rejoin the High Street.
18. Turn right to return to the Market Place to complete the 3km trail!
19. Oh wait ... don’t forget to look on the far side of the Town Hall, by the Campus entrance to find Animal 6, and work out the secret word!
Published Wednesday, 17th August 2022
What happens in the Market Place?The Market Place is a great space to hold outdoor events in the heart of Melksham - we have the weekly market, the monthly Makers Market, we had Jubillee Celebrations, we have ClimateFest coning up on 17th September, and much more. Although it's slap bang in front of the Town Hall of Melksham Town Council, licensing events there comes under the street licensing team at Wiltshire Council, where (subject to certain conditions been met) licenses WILL be granted.
For August 2022 only - I am keeping a diary of Melksham's public places/events/openings, updated daily. See (here) and includes what's happening in the Market Place
Published Tuesday, 16th August 2022
Questions about Melksham CampusA letter, over the weekend, from me to the Campus team: "It's wonderful to see the new Campus open and indeed I have already used the library and enjoyed my first swim. As a Town Councillor for the ward in which The Campus is situated, a number of issues ("snagging" in nature) have been raised with me. I would appreciate your thoughts / comments / appropriate action that I can feed back."
Delighted to report that I have already received answers on 3 points raised, and been promised a response on the other 9 by the end of the week.
Q7: I personally booked my swim online, but then found I still had to queue to sign in. Will you be providing some sort of code (e.g. QR code) to allow people who have booked online to come in without the need to join a queue or require staff attention?
A: This is being worked on and is what the gates are installed for. It's the first time we've used these in any leisure centre though so we've had a few challenges with the programming of them. The intention is as you say though, that people with booked activities or gym sessions will be able to check in at the kiosks and then enter through the sliding doors, by-passing reception entirely if they choose too.
Q10: Do you have any recommendations for people looking for indoor bowling, squash, snooker, or climbing wall which promised initially but dropped from plans during the time it has taken to design, redesign and build the campus?
A: As you mention, the plans and options for the campus have changed over time according to different input. We do offer squash courts at other local centres including Devizes, Corsham and Trowbridge and there is a climbing wall at the Springfield Campus in Corsham. There are other climbing wall options elsewhere with the new climbing facility in Chippenham being most local and obvious option. In terms of snooker, none of our other centres offer snooker tables but I believe there are tables at the Melksham Liberal Club as well as further afield in Trowbridge and Chippenham at Trowbridge Snooker Centre and Woods Sports Bar. I'm not sure if we will have short mat green bowls available in the sports hall to be honest - I have not seen the equipment list for the campus but I'll try to find out for you.
Q12: Do you have a general leaflet (I didn't see one) that people can pick up with things like opening hours through the week, where to go / book online, how to get to the campus (on foot including side entrances, buses to the Market Place, etc) and/or a general URL I can point people to for that information?
A: We have tried to limit the amount of printing of information leaflets / timetables etc and move to a more online system. There are posters up in reception giving people URL's and a QR code to take them to the centre homepage where you can find info on opening hours, pricing, memberships, timetable and booking. However I appreciate that not everyone wishes to use this methodology and we did provide 400 membership information leaflets over the first 2 weeks which gave people both the information and web links for more information. For future use, the best weblink is www.wiltshire.gov.uk/leisure-melksham. From there you can access all of the above information.
Other questions awaiting responses (in summary form here):
Q1: Are newly planted trees dying through lack of water ...
Q2: The entrance gate from the Market Place is narrow ...
Q3: The sign in the Market Place pointing to the Campus is reported as obstructing the view ...
Q4: About where is cycling allowed and not allowed on the site
Q5: I have been asked for an estimated date as to when the cafe will be open ...
Q6: I have been asked for an estimated date as to when the electric car charging points ...
Q8: In the wet changing ... the lack of an obvious "Exit" sign ...
Q9: Comment was made about a lack of hooks in the showers ...
Q11: Special Events and historic displays in the Library - what's planned and how to book
I will come back and update this blog as I get further answers, and I will "ping" the update around to let people who asked me the questions know. I really appreciate the quick acknowledgement of my questions and the initial answers within a working day.
Published Monday, 15th August 2022
Byelaws - KGV ParkA casual question came up the other day which lead to take a look at the use of powered vehicles in KGV park. The KGV Park is owned by the Town Council though with a restricted covenant on it, so it is not a public highway and laws applying to the public highway do not necessarily apply, though of course general laws do and in addition there are byelaws dating back to an act of parliament of 1875 and enacted for KGV in 1983.
My specific query related to the riding of "powered electronic transportation vehicles" - for vehicles classified as such it is illegal on the public highway, legal (with landlord's permission) on private land - but what about in The Park? I note that you can ride (with a group) a Segway in a number of places around the UK, including in Battersea Park which is owned by Wandsworth Council. So - if a Segway, why not an e-Scooter, and if Wandsworth, why not Melksham? Well - that's up to your council, and under the byelways it's fairly clear to me that not only has permission not been given, but it's actually forbidden. As I read the byelaws, powered mobility chairs aren't allowed either. e-Bykes are, because they are (pedal) powered bicycles with electical assistance under the law, and bicycles under the byelaws. Reads may wonder if the law may need changing, but that's beyond my office or paygrade.
I have concluded that it comes down to that "permission" condition and that only a very few have given in, and then only for very limited use. All sorts of safety and insurance questions raise their head, and I cannot see Melksham going this way. See (here) for Government Guidance. Byelaws below, retyped (I understand) from WWDC notice boards; as the successor organisation for KGV, I think they transfer to us but I am not a lawyer so please check if in doubt!
"Extract from the byelaws made under section 164 of the Public Health Act, 1875, by the West Wiltshire District Council with respect to the pleasure grounds know as King George’s Field, Melksham and Lake Pleasure Ground, Warminster:
1. Throughout these byelaws the expression “the Council” means the West Wiltshire District Council and the expression “the pleasure grounds” means the pleasure ground known as King George’s Field, Melksham and Lake Pleasure Ground, Warminster
2. An act necessary to the proper execution of his duty in the pleasure grounds by an officer of the Council, or by any person or servant of any person employed by the Council, shall not be deemed an offence against these byelaws.
3. A person shall not in the pleasure grounds
i. Climb any wall or fence in or enclosing the pleasure grounds, or any tree, or any barrier, railing, post or other erection;
ii. Without reasonable excuse remove or displace any wall or fence in or enclosing the pleasure grounds or any barrier, railing, post or seat or any part of any erection or ornament, or any equipment in the children’s play area or any implement provided for use in the laying out or maintenance of the pleasure grounds.
4. A person shall not, except in pursuance of a lawful agreement with the council or otherwise in the exercise of any lawful right or privilege, bring or cause to be brought into the pleasure grounds any cattle, sheep, goats, or pigs or any beast of draught or burden.
i. A person shall not, except in the exercise of any lawful right or privilege bring or cause to be brought into the pleasure grounds any barrow, truck, machine or vehicle other than
a) A wheeled bicycle, tricycle, or other small machine
b) A wheel-chair or perambulator drawn or propelled by hand and used solely for the conveyance of a child or children or an invalid.
Provided that where the Council set apart a space in the pleasure ground incase of any class of vehicle, this byelaw shall not be deemed to prohibit the driving in or to that space by a direct ******** entrance to the pleasure grounds of any vehicle of the class for which is set apart.
ii. A person shall not except in the exercise of any lawful right or privilege ride any bicycle, tricycle or other similar machine in any part of the pleasure grounds.
6. A person who brings a vehicle into the pleasure grounds shall not wheel or station it over or upon
i. Any flower bed, shrub, or plant, or any ground in course of preparation as a flower bed, or for the growth of any tree, shrub, or plant;
ii. Any part of the pleasure grounds where the Council by a notice board affixed or set up in some conspicuous position in the pleasure grounds prohibit its being wheeled or stationed.
7. A person shall not affix any bill, placard, or notice, to or upon any wall or fence in or enclosing the pleasure grounds, or to or upon any tree, or plant, or to or upon any part of any building, barrier, or railing, or of any seat, or of any other erection or ornament in the pleasure grounds.
8. A person shall not in the pleasure grounds walk, run, stand, sit or lie upon
i. Any grass, turf, or other place where adequate notice to keep of such grass, turf or other place is exhibited; Provided that such notice shall not apply to more than one fifth of the area of the pleasure grounds;
ii. Any flower bed, shrub, or plant, or any ground in course of preparation as a flower bed, or for the growth of any tree, shrub, or plant.
9. A person shall not in the pleasure grounds
i. Bathe, wade, or wash in any ornamental lake, pond, stream, or other water.
ii. Intentionally, recklessly, or negligently foul or pollute any such water.
a. A person shall not cause or suffer any dog belonging to him or in his charge to enter or remain in the pleasure ground unless such dog be and continue to be under proper control , and be effectively restrained from causing annoyance to any person, and from worrying or disturbing any animal or waterfowl, and from entering any ornamental water provided that in the pleasure ground known as King George’s field, Melksham a dog shall not be deemed to be under proper control unless it is on a lead.
b. A person shall not cause or suffer any dog belonging to him or in his charge to enter any enclosed part of the pleasure grounds which by a notice affixed or set up in a conspicuous position is reserved by the Council as a children’s play area.
11. Where the Council set apart any such part of the pleasure grounds as may be fixed by the Council, and described in a notice board affixed or set up in some conspicuous position in the pleasure grounds for the purpose of any game specified in the notice board, which, by reason of the rules or manner of playing, or for the prevention of damage, danger, or discomfort to any person in the pleasure grounds may necessitate, at any time during the continuance of the game, the exclusive use by the player or players of any space in such part of the pleasure grounds – a person shall not in any space elsewhere in the pleasure grounds play or take part in any game so specified in such a manner as to exclude persons not playing or taking part in the game from the use of such a space.
12. A person resorting to the pleasure grounds and playing or taking part in any game for which the exclusive use of any space in the pleasure grounds has been set apart shall
i. Not play on the space any game other than the game for which it is set apart.
ii. In preparing for playing and in playing, use reasonable care to prevent undue interference with the proper use of the pleasure grounds by other persons.
iii. When the space is already occupied by other players not begin to play thereon without their permission;
iv. Where the exclusive use of the space has been granted by the Council for the playing of a match, not play on that space other than a quarter of an hour before the time fixed for the beginning of the match unless he is taking part therein.
v. Accept where the exclusive use of the space has been granted by the Council for the playing of a match in which he is taking part not use the space for a longer time then two hours continuously, if any other player or players make know to him a wish to use the space
A. A person shall not in any ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** set apart by the Council of any game, play or take part in any game when the state of the ground or other cause makes it unfit for use and a notice is set up in some conspicuous position prohibiting play in that part of the pleasure grounds.
B. A person who has attained the age of 14 years shall not use any apparatus on the pleasure grounds which, by a notice affixed or set up on or near has been set apart by the council for the exclusive use of persons under that age.
C. A person who has attained the age of 10 years shall not enter upon any part of the pleasure grounds which, by a notice affixed or set up on or near thereto has been set apart as a playground for children under 10 years, provided this byelaw shall not be deemed to exclude any person bona fide in charge of a child under the age of 10 years.
14. A person shall not in the pleasure grounds
i. Except as hereinafter provided erect any post, rail, fence, pole, tent, booth, stand, building, or other structure; provided that this prohibition shall not apply whereupon an application to the Council they grant permission to erect any post, rail, fence, pole, tent, booth, stand, building or other structure, upon such occasion for such purpose as a specified in the application;
ii. Sell, or offer or expose for sale, or let to hire, or offer or expose for letting to hire, any commodity or article, unless in pursuance of an agreement with the Council, or otherwise in the exercise of any lawful right or privilege, he is authorised to sell or let to higher in the pleasure grounds such commodity or article.
15. A person shall not in the pleasure grounds intentionally obstruct, disturb, or annoy any other person in the proper use of the pleasure grounds, or intentionally obstruct, or disturb any officer of the Council in the proper execution of his duty, or any person or servant of any person employed by the Council in the proper execution of any work in connexion with delaying out on maintenance of the pleasure grounds.
16. Every person who shall defend against any of these byelaws shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds.
17. Every person who shall infringe any byelaw for the regulation of the pleasure grounds may be removed therefrom by any officer of the Council or by any constable, in any one of the several cases hereinafter specified; that's to say –
i. where the infraction of the bylaw is committed within the view of such officer or constable, and the name and president of the person infringing the byelaw unknown to and cannot be readily ascertained by such officer or constable.
ii. Where the infraction of the bylaw is committed within the view of such officer or constable, and, from the nature of such infraction, or from any other fact of which such officer or constable may have knowledge, or of which he may be credibly informed, there may be reasonable ground for belief that the continuance in the pleasure grounds of the person infringing the byelaw may result in another infraction of a byelaw, or that the removal of such person from the pleasure grounds is otherwise necessary as security for the proper use and regulation thereof.
Principle provisions of the foregoing bylaws which shall come into operation on the 12 Day of October 1983
A person shall not in the pleasure grounds –
* Climb any tree or remove or displace any seat ornament or playing equipment
* Bring into the pleasure ground any cattle, sheep, pigs, goats or horses
* Ride any bicycle, tricycle or motorcycle in any part of the pleasure ground
* Affix any bill placard or notice upon any structure, tree or furniture
* Bathe in, foul or pollute any ornamental lake, pond or stream
* Permit any dog in his/her charge to cause annoyance to any person or worry any other animal or waterfowl
* Permit any dog in his/her charge to run free (this applies to King Georges Field only) permit any dog in his/her charge to enter any area reserved as a children's play area erect any tent, booth, stand or other structure
* Obstruct, disturb or annoy any other person using the pleasure grounds
* Obstruct any officer of the council in the proper execution of his duty
Published Sunday, 14th August 2022
Sensory Garden and other projectsIn answer to a correspondent, but may be of more general and archive interest - correspondent expressing concerns at the lack of progress and apparent change of direction with regards to the sensory garden planned for KGV.
Dear [name withheld]
Thank you for your email to all councillors about the sensory garden.
I share some of the concerns you express - indeed I have wider concerns about projects and the use of assets taken over by the new council elected last year. But having said that, I have to acknowledge that an absolute majority was elected under the “Together for Melksham” banner, with at least four of the previous councillors defeated at the polls. Only Pat Aves and Jon Hubbard of the “old guard” were reselected, the whole thing being a significant change in what the town voted for.
A very great deal of good work was done in looking forward for the town, and projects underway, by the previous council. But very quickly, the new council decided (a majority decision I did not support) to declare two key staff members redundant so we no longer have a general development officer, nor an officer promoting the Assembly Hall and events elsewhere. Coupled with having 13 out of 15 of us new to this council, this has meant an unfortunate hiatus in a lot of projects, and a number looking rather lost. New councillors are on a learning curve, not only in general council terms but also on specific projects.
Personally, I am taking a strong interest in the Assembly Hall. It’s in my ward (which KGV is not) and it’s a facility that is in urgent need of attention, to the extent that it’s eating up much of my councillor (volunteer) time. I can report that underneath the press and social media coverage, I am reading into reports and suggestions from the period prior to March 2020 when the Coronavirus shutdowns caused a seismic shock though the whole council finances and through the Assembly Hall in particular. I would hope that ward councillors, and those on the parks working group, will be doing the same; I note that your email was sprayed to all councillors, so it will have included them and I commend you to their answers.
Amongst the 15 of us, councillors Goodhind, Houghton, Hubbard, Lewis, Mortimer, Oatley, Price and Rabey were elected on a “Together for Melksham” ticket and would be best placed to fill you in on their policies and platform when elected, though their views may have changed since. Councillors Goodhind, Houghton, Hubbard, Mortimer and Rabey are on the Parks Working Group at present (only members elected under Together for Melksham” are on that group). Councillors Aves, Forgacs, Oatley, Price and Mortimer represent the Forest ward in which the King Geroge V park is located, though of course it is very much a facility for all of the town. Names from amongst that list are going to be far better informed that I on current status and plans, and are in a position on / with the council to provide far more effective help than I can - however, if you live in South Ward and would like me to take this further, please get back in touch; the four ward councillors here are myself are Councillors Jacqui Crundell, Jon Hubbard, Colin Goodhind and myself, and I note that both councillors Goodhind and Hubbard are on the working group so should be your natural contacts.
I am not a fan of spraying all councillors with my emails, so this reply is purely to you. However, you are welcome to copy it on to others as you wish, and I will place a copy on my diary too - anyone who searches for “sensory” at http://grahamellis.uk/search.html will find it.
Melksham Town Council, South Ward
Blog at http://grahamellis.uk/perm.html
Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Graham4Melksham/
I only visit other social media occasionally.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Phone: 01225 708225 / 0797 4 925 928
Home: 48 Spa Road, Melksham, SN12 7NY
Published Saturday, 13th August 2022
Extrordinary meeting report (1) - 9.8.2022Extraordinary in name, and extraordinary in what happened. Last night's full Melksham Town Council meeting was agenda-ed as being a private session on "public owned assets". There was disquiet amongst councillors at it being a confidential session, and indeed more public turned up to "be excluded" than turn up to take part in our regular meetings. A number of people spoke in the public participation session which precedes all council meetings, including requests to remember the hall users and reminders of unique characteristics which mean that other meeting places currently in Melksham are not alternative venues.
The mayor sensed (and shared) the disquiet, and we quickly carried on to the main business of public owned assets in open session after a unanimous vote amongst the 12 councillors present to do so. And, going around the room, each of the 12 councillors agreed / confirmed that we have work to do, in particular relating to the Assembly Hall. "Doing nothing" would, it was generally accepted, lead to a worsening of the condition of the hall to the extent that it had to be closed down, and that's not what any of us indicated that we want to happen.
As well as councillors in the room, we had a number of people attending the meeting on Zoom and we were live streamed on Facebook - at https://www.facebook.com/melksham.town/videos/610869710447679 ... as I write, 206 views. How many extras came along because they expected to see fireworks as we went private, I don't know. How many with an interest in the Public Owned Assets didn't come along on the basis of "no point, we'll be chucked out", I don't know - "If I'd known it was going to be public I would have come" already in my incoming data feed this morning.
One effect of the confidentiality proposal was what the document we were to discuss was not available to the public prior to the meeting. We ended up NOT discussing the document, which said nothing about what the users wanted, but rather looking ahead at what the users, and people who do not use the hall at present, might want, how to reach those people to see what would encourage them along, and to look to use that baseline of information to progress things. There is a separate article to write on that (tomorrow's?) once I have shaken off / written up the events of last night and am looking strategically forward. For completeness, the document - no longer confidential - was handed around (in an annotated copy) to member of the public present in person, and there's a copy I have scanned(here).
Published Wednesday, 10th August 2022
Searching my blog Since I started writing a Melksham Town blog on 31st March 2021, I have written 176 articles (this is the 177th). What words have I used?
Public in 94 out of 176 articles
Community in 67 out of 176 articles
Staff in 51 out of 176 articles
Assembly in 43 out of 176 articles
Climate in 39 out of 176 articles
Buses in 32 out of 176 articles
Trains in 31 out of 176 articles
Environment in 30 out of 176 articles
Planning in 29 out of 176 articles
Campus in 29 out of 176 articles
Bypass in 26 out of 176 articles
Elector 23 out of 176 articles
Politic 23 out of 176 articles
Strategy 20 out of 176 articles
Canal in 17 out of 176 articles
KGV in 13 out of 176 articles
Equal in 11 out of 176 articles
Ukraine in 11 out of 176 articles
Splash in 5 out of 176 articles
And ... support in 80 but oppose in just 1 ...
To help me (and readers!) find the wood for the trees, I have added a simple search to the blog - if you go to my site ( http://grahamellis.uk/ ) you'll find a "look for" box at the top right corner. Type in a word or number and press Go!
Published Tuesday, 9th August 2022
Our Town - 7.8.2022A letter in the Melksham News that asked if our town is the dirtiest in Europe has brought a flurry of indigation on social media. People are entitled to ask - this is a country of free speech. My answer is a resounding no it is not - it is far from it, and that's very largely due to the people of Melksham itself. Yesterday, I took a walk around our town and took random pictures. A few indeed show places where attention is necessary, but most are of things we should be proud of.
Can you place where each picture was taken?
Published Monday, 8th August 2022
Friends Garden - a quiet oasis Today saw the opening in our ward of the Friends Garden now in the trust of the Town Council, gifted to us for the sum of 1p by the Spiritualist Church and formerly in the care of the Quakers. Along with Councillor Goodhind, I represented our ward; the current Town Council also represented by the mayor and deputy mayor (Councillors Simon Crundell and Sue Mortimer) and Councillor Pat Aves and three council officers. Good to see (and here are the people who really got this off the ground) former councillors such as Terri Welch, Pam Wiltshire and Richard Wiltshire. And so many other friends too.
The Garden will be open daily as a quiet place to reflect, close to the Town Centre - very different from the crowds at yesterday's event which is why I have chosen to illustrate this piece and other posts mostly with my pictures from a week or two back. For that's how you will find the garden if you visit a week or two, a month or two, or we plan a year or two or decade or two into the future.
Published Saturday, 6th August 2022
How come it's just one standingChanging scene at the Town Hall
On 10th May 2021, the first working day after local elections, we had nine full (or almost full) time admin staff in the centre of town - * Dxxxx * Txx * Lxxxx * Pxxxx * Cxxxxxxxx * Jxxx * Hxxx * Mxxxxx * Txxxxx *.
How things have changed! Of the nine staff noted when the new council came in, just one was available for duty yesterday. Four have moved on or been moved on and there's no replacement in post. And a further four are sick, or on leave. It means that the Town Council team cannot do as much as they could before, and when working are under a pressure to get things done; less time for checking or doing "nice" things, more temptation to cut corners and certainly more likelyhood to be fraught and stressed, which in turn leads to a spiral of more things not going right, adding to the workload and to things being more fraught and stressed! How has this changed in just fifteen months?
This week, the Town Hall has been closed to the public in the afternoons to help with the workload. My councillor suggestion made last week that for the month of August we open for public walk-in from until lunchtime only (as Bradford-on-Avon do) to give our working team some headroom did not gain any traction and at the time of writing I can't give you any predictions for coming weeks.
How did things change
On 11th May 2021, we had a new council with an absolute majority of councillors elected on the "Together for Melksham" ticket, organised and promoted by Jon Hubbard. A hurricane of changes in following weeks lead to two members of staff being declared redundant; we lost the "head poncho" for the Assembly Hall , and our Economic Development Manager. And around the same time, we lost our apprentice at the end of her secondment to the council and there hasn't been the full-year replacement which I understand usually happened under previous councils, neither has there been an apprentice assisting with Assembly Hall admin and marketing as there used to be. Finally, at the end of July we wished our Communications Officer a fond farewell on his move to Canada.
So here we are in summer 2022, with half the centre team we had last year. They're asked to cover around the same number of council meetings (next week, for example, I have evening meetings on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday) - and "covering" involves meeting preps and agendae, clerking and advising at the meetings, minuting and circulating notes and following up on actions which can be substantial work. For the time of the meeting itself, the council runs a TOIL (Time off in Lieu) system - so three hours at Full Council converts to an afternoon off. And at this time of year, community events such as the Jubilee weekend call staff in at the weekend - again time in lieu giving time off rather than overtime payments. We have some team members who are very professional and committed - but there's a limit to what even they can do, and by piling so much onto them we are push them towards a breaking point.
Staffing matters are looked after by The Town's staffing committee of five councilors and due to individual confidence elements, other councillors are very limited indeed in access. As a former employer of staff in Melksham, I can appreciate some of the issues they'll come across, and in some ways wish I could help. But perhaps I am doing so by publishing this explanation comprising elements which are in the public domain, but bringing information together in a way that may help readers be clearer about where we stand.
Where are we now - with a personal thought
We (councillors) are asked to carefully consider requests made to avoid unnecessary loads being put on officers. We should (and perhaps have always been) doing so in the past, but now this is all the more highlighted to us. And projects that require significant officer support may not happen where they would before.
I personally take a great interest in looking ahead, planning for the future. And that's not the future for next year, but for the next ten years. But that interest is not without cost - it doesn't go down well in some quarters to invest in planning for the future, and at a time of staff shortage it's the urgent and immediate that will get prioritised over the imporant.
As chair (this year) of the Economic Development and Planning committee, it's my role to help guide that group looking ahead, and I sorely regret the lack of an Economic planning expert, and Assembly Hall promotion expert, and an established Communications Officer to help inform me. I've been around a while, I can listen, but we don't have the team of advisors for me and the committee that we would have had a couple of years ago. I question whether our decisions will be the best ones possible, and on long term matters that's important as we're looking at year after year of implications and not just a single event or even our own popularity on 8th May 2025 when we may ask the voters to re-elect us.
So - where are we going and how do we go there?
Information systems have been updated to give councillors direct access to project statuses - I wrote about this a few days ago. Good move - better information for the public and less need for staff to be fielding bitty casual questions - however, outcome will only be good if system is used and kept up to date. I worry that with the departure of our information officer we have no local champion, but look forward to learning that's a needless worry
Reduced Town Hall hours and cut our cloth in so doing. I'm far fom convinced that we need to be open 5 full days a week for walk-ins and we already went some way to admitted the cost in terms of work interruptions of widened services when we decided not to put a public PC there but delegate to Library/Campus. Interaction with the public is vital, but we should be able to reduce the need for it in routine enquiries and data entry through the virtual hub project, at the same time providing an "open all hours" service to the residents.
Delegate Assembly Hall and other elements too. Perhaps to a CIC or Community group? Perhaps delegate ticket sales and bookings to the Campus front desk, the very purpose of which is a "one stop shop" and indeed Melksham Without PC are already served by it.
Make use of consultants of which we have some on board or available. We do need to manage and direct carefully as they could so easily run ruderless without our own managers in place to provide a framework.
Employ assistant(s) - be they apprentices or enthusiastic people looking to help the town - taking pressure off the current team though not looking for the pressure of learning into the complexities themselves. We're four senior staff down from a year ago. We should be able to have two at intermediate level to replace two of the leavers, though we cannot take on people to replace those made redundant, as that would suggest that they weren't really redundancies at all.
Robustness / Inheritance planning. Too much now relies on one individual - "it'll have to wait until XXXX is back" when that should not be the case. Emails to roles (e.g. "clerk") rather than by name, and where a role is already used in emails, it should be picked up by the standin person for that role and not wait for the return of the "regular". Consideration should be given in planning this that "Gardening Leave" can take a while, as can recovery from stress or an operation, and these things cannot be scheduled ahead of time.
Published Friday, 5th August 2022