Mayor-Trowbridge-Chains-Robe-Park

16th March 2024

Wow, there’s less than a week to go until this year’s Mayor’s Civic Dinner in aid of my two Mayoral charities, Trowbridge Future and Stepping Stones. I honestly can’t believe that this has come around so quickly. It only seems like a couple of weeks ago we came up with the idea for the evening’s theme, but in reality, it was the best part of ten months ago!

I’ve got to say, though, that the team at TTC has really pulled the stops out to make this an evening to remember, and yet they’ve also managed to attract more sponsors than ever before (mainly because they’ve done so much themselves) and bring the whole event in well under budget.

It’s been a real pleasure working with such a professional and dedicated group of people. They truly are a credit to our town!

Anyway, back to the events of last week.

***

Last week I told you about the Trowbridge Community Action Forum that Rev. David Ross from CATA had approached me about and which we’d agreed to set up for Wednesday, April 24th. Well, the invitations to this event went out to twenty-seven community and faith groups on Monday.

So far, in just a few days, I’ve received sixteen responses indicating an intent to attend. I’m pleased by this, but I will be sending out reminders to those who haven’t replied sometime next week.

I do believe that getting all these groups together to see where they either overlap, leave gaps, or can find ways of working together can only be a good thing for the town, so “thank you” for the encouraging response so far.

***

On Tuesday morning last week, my wife and I were treated to a very convivial gathering at the BUPA Trowbridge Oaks Residential and Nursing Home on West Ashton Road.

I don’t think this get-together was in recognition of any particular event (although I do gather that it was held on the occasion of at least one resident’s birthday). I think this is an initiative Trowbridge Oaks has recently adopted to hold regular coffee mornings where residents can gather and chat with each other and visitors.

Over the course of a couple of hours, we met and chatted with some really interesting and talkative residents. Listening to their life stories certainly makes you realise that behind every door there’s a wealth of knowledge and insight into a world that is sadly slowing disappearing. We really should value our older residents and try to learn from their experiences. Maybe if we all did this a bit better, we’d stand a chance of not repeating the mistakes of history!

The morning was rounded off with a quite marvellous recitation of a poem adapted from W. B. Yeats’ “An Irish Airman Forsees His Death.” I’m sure many will recognise Yeats’ opening lines.

I know that I shall meet my fate.

Somewhere among the clouds above,

Those that I fight, I do not hate.

Those that I guard, I do not love.

 

but from there on, it was Beatrice’s work alone. It was an incredibly emotional reworking of a classic piece of early 20th-century Irish poetry that was delivered with passion and pride. I think everyone who heard her voice grow stronger line by line couldn’t fail to be moved. I know I was!

***

Then, on Wednesday lunchtime, I’d been invited to come down to the Trowbridge Future Seymour Community Hub on Charles Street. The occasion was their biweekly celebration of Egyptian cuisine, courtesy of Nariman Ismaiil, one of Trowbridge Future’s stalwart volunteers.

Last week, Nariman showed us how to prepare and cook Sayadieh, a traditional dish of fried fish served with spiced rice and salad. I have to say it was fascinating (and not a little bit humbling) to watch Nariman prepare all the spices, fish, and rice, and then absolutely a joy to be served the finished meal for lunch. It was delicious (I admit to having seconds).

Now I pride myself on being quite adept in the kitchen, but Nariman’s fingers were a blur as she explained everything she did while chopping the vegetables, preparing the spices, and cooking the fish and rice to a rapt audience. The finished result was proudly presented and consumed with great gusto by everyone present.

The great thing about these sessions (which take place every other week) is that they don’t just introduce people to a different cuisine; they encourage those present to attempt the recipes themselves. Recipe sheets are available for all Nariman’s dishes that list all ingredients and the preparation and cooking method. All you have to do is work through her instructions and… hey presto, delicious Egyptian dishes at home in Trowbridge!

If you want to know about any of the fantastic community initiatives and activities that Trowbridge Future and Trowbridge Future Youth are engaged in across our town, you can find out more at info@trowbridgefuture.org.uk.

***

Now, throughout my Mayoral year, I’ve had an arrangement with my Deputy Mayor, Cllr. Denise Bates, that we’d alternate attending the monthly Citizenship ceremonies at County Hall. This arrangement was (I think) originated by Denise herself when she was Mayor a couple of years ago, continued under Cllr Graham Hill’s mayoralty last year (when I was Deputy), and has carried on this year.

This month was Denise’s turn, and she attended the Citizenship ceremony representing the County Town of Wiltshire last Thursday afternoon.

These ceremonies are always a pleasure to attend, and we get to meet our new countrymates at the very moment they actually become UK citizens. It’s all quite an affirming experience, and you always walk away with an incredible feeling of well-being.

I really hope this tradition of sharing the role between Mayor and Deputy continues next year and for many years to come.

***

While Denise was welcoming our new citizens, I was sitting in the Civic Centre with Aby Cooper (I keep saying it, no relation) and putting the final details on the preparations for the Civic Dinner this coming Saturday. The seating plan for dinner is now complete (last-minute ticket sales notwithstanding), and I’ve seen the themed decorations and printed material that will grace the main hall, foyer, and Usher’s Suite.

I’ve said it before, but I think the team has pulled a metaphorical rabbit out of the hat this year. It’s going to be great, and hopefully I’ll see a lot of you there!

***

Thursday night last week saw me in Westbury representing Trowbridge at the Annual General Meeting of the West Wiltshire/Polish (Elbląg) Twinning Association. Our twinned relationship with Elbląg is different from that we hold with towns and cities in France, Germany, and Morocco in that it is not Trowbridge alone that is twinned; it is the combined towns of Bradford-on-Avon, Warminster, Melksham, Westbury, and Trowbridge.

Elbląg is a city in the Warmia-Masuria Province of Poland, located on the eastern edge of the Żuławy region less than thirty miles from the border of the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad (once the Prussian Königsberg) and only about one hundred miles from the border between Poland and Russia’s puppet ally Belarus.

One of the repercussions of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is that communities across Eastern Poland, including Elbląg, have for two years now been on the front lines of a standoff between NATO countries and Putin’s Russia. They are very conscious of the fact that any escalation on the part of the Russian aggressors puts them directly (and literally) in the firing line.

Indeed, Russia has already tried to cut off Elbląg’s only natural access to the Baltic Sea by blocking the navigable route across the Vistula Lagoon, which unfortunately passes through the “Russian” controlled waters off Kaliningrad. Poland has responded by building a canal wholly within Polish territory through the Vistula Spit that obviates the need for shipping from Elbląg to enter Russian waters at all. This canal opened in late 2022, and while it undoubtedly alleviates the stranglehold that Russia has tried to put on the Polish city of Elbląg, it does demonstrate the fragile and febrile nature of cross-border relationships in Eastern Poland.

Twinning activities are therefore understandably not high on Elblag’s agenda at the moment, and the political will to devote time to the relationship with a group of towns in Wiltshire is also understandably lacking.

This is an incredibly sad state of affairs, but an inevitable consequence of the current conflict in Eastern Europe. I would therefore view our Polish twinning association’s main function at the moment as metaphorically keeping a candle burning in the windows of West Wiltshire in the hope that one day soon we may rekindle our deep friendship with the wonderful city of Elbląg in Eastern Poland.

***

My last “engagement” last week was on Saturday morning at the Storehouse Community Brunch in Emmanuel’s Yard Café.

Storehouse, as many of you will know, is a fantastic organisation, largely staffed by volunteers, who don’t just operate a community foodbank out of Emmanuel’s Yard; they offer shower and washing facilities to those without a permanent home in the town; they run a café in Emmanuel’s Yard on Friday mornings; and they have a weekly Community lunch. In addition to practical help, Storehouse also offers a referral service for those in need of specific, more specialised help.

Saturday’s brunch event was primarily a fundraiser. It costs a lot of money to provide the level of support that Storehouse routinely delivers, and the sad fact is that the need for that support is growing in our community. Without public help, the reality is that Storehouse would probably cease to function.

We were treated to a nice home-baked bagel filled with bacon, egg, mushrooms, and avocado (a veggie version was available) and a cup of tea or coffee. More importantly, we were treated to a morning of conversation with people who, whatever their backgrounds, beliefs, or politics, all had the best interests of Storehouse at heart.

It was actually very pleasant to just sit for a couple of hours and chat with a group of people who, whilst we may well all hold very different opinions on many things, actually share a lot of common ground as well. All it takes is the willingness to listen with an open mind and treat other people’s opinions with respect to realise that there’s usually more that unites us than divides us.

It’s something of a shame that we often seem to have lost this realisation in the headlong rush to promote our own opinions at any cost.

If you want to find out more about Storehouse or even consider volunteering or helping fundraise, you should follow this link: https://www.communityactionwestwilts.org/storehouse.

***

That’s it for now, so until next time… keep safe, and please, be kind to each other.

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