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17 December 2023

My week started on Sunday evening when I was out with the Trowbridge Lions collecting for their annual Christmas Appeal. I wasn’t by myself though; I was joined by members of the Town Council’s Information Services team (Aby, Zoe, and Ben), who were all old hands at what to expect having taken part in the Lions Christmas Appeal collections last year as well.

It was a cold, dark, and slightly damp Sunday afternoon when we all gathered at Painters Mead in the town’s Paxcroft ward. We were joined by the Lions’ “Santa Sleigh” float, members of the Lions, and even Santa himself! We all donned elf-like hats and adorned ourselves with sparkly lights; the music was fired up from the speakers on the float, and off we went walking the streets, knocking on doors, and generally doing our best to disturb everyone’s Sunday early evening, all in a very good cause, of course.

I have to say that it was really fun. It obviously helps to be doing something like this with a group of people who are genuinely fun to be with, but it helps even more when you get a positive reaction from the public on their doorsteps, and that we certainly did!

We walked the streets of Paxcroft ward for the next three hours and arrived back at Painters Mead at about 8 o’clock that evening. We were, it is true, all thoroughly exhausted, but we were also all left with a very satisfied feeling that we’d done something positive and good. I’ve got to say that 99% of all those who answered their doors to us gave something to the appeal. It didn’t matter how much; it was just as meaningful to receive a donation of a handful of coppers as one of a twenty-pound note. It was the act of giving and engagement in the appeal that counted. So a massive “thank you” must be sent to everyone who gave that night.

The Trowbridge Lions run this Christmas Appeal every year, and while it is always possible to donate remotely (online or by text), the Santa Sleigh will be visiting other selected areas across Trowbridge before Christmas. Collection points will also be available on certain days at retailers such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s. For more information on how to donate or how to get involved, please contact the Trowbridge Lions at https://www.trowbridgelions.org/contact-us/.

The Trowbridge Lions Club is a volunteer organisation, and all money collected from this Christmas Appeal is directed back into the local community and to international relief projects.

***

Thursday morning was spent at Silverwood School on Ashton Street, where I had been invited to judge the class’s Christmas Doors.

Silverwood School is a wonderful special needs school for students aged between four and nineteen. The school, which was formed in 2020, has sites in Rowde and Chippenham as well as Trowbridge. The co-educational Trowbridge campus mainly caters to reception and primary-age children, although there are some classes of secondary-level students at the Trowbridge site as well.



Children come to school with many diverse needs. While I was there, I met some wonderful kids with physical, behavioural, and educational challenges. The one impression they all gave me in my short time was a genuine feeling that they felt safe and secure in the hands of staff who obviously cared passionately about their charges and their role in allowing them to develop to the best of their ability.

The school, according to its own website, “aims to provide an inclusive and supportive learning environment that allows everyone to achieve their best with high self-esteem and mutual respect for others in the community.”

Another thing that I learned during my visit is that Silverwood has close ties with one of my chosen charities this year, Stepping Stones. Stepping Stones caters for children of pre-school age, and on Thursday I learned that many of these children, who have been given such a supportive start in life, go on to continue their “formal education” at Silverwood.

The staff at Silverwood—the teachers, teaching assistants, and therapists—are clearly a dedicated and caring group of people. They use their skills and knowledge to ensure that what they provide for the children in their care is relevant, exciting, and innovative. Each pupil’s development is supported by individually tailored programmes of education and stimulation designed to fit precisely with their individual needs.

But back to my reason for being there: judging the Christmas doors that the children had created.

How on earth is one meant to judge between artistic creations from such widely diverse groups of children of different ages, abilities, and needs? You can’t, not in any fair way anyway. All the doors represented their creators’ vision of what Christmas meant to them. That’s so subjective. You can’t possibly judge one group’s perception of Christmas against another’s and then say that one is better than any other, can you?

But I had to, and therein lay my dilemma. I had to pick three “winning” creations from a pool of twelve classes’ entries, and I honestly didn’t know how to go about it! It certainly helped that I was assured that every entry would get a commendation, but I still didn’t feel comfortable singling out winners from such a collection of talent and effort.

Obviously, I did it, though. I finally realised that this was what the school wanted. It wasn’t about who was first and who was second; it was about being part of the competition. It was about entering and having your entry held up for everyone to see. It was about working as a team. It was a lesson for life.

So I ended up choosing my favourite three Christmas doors purely because they were the ones that appealed to me the most as pieces of creative art. It was a very subjective way to judge a competition that was never going to be anything else, but it was the only way I could realistically do it!

***

On Thursday afternoon, the last Citizenship ceremony of 2023 took place at County Hall. I’ve said this before, but I always find these events very uplifting; you’re there to witness the culmination of a process that’s led to someone, even a whole family, achieving their dream of becoming a citizen of the United Kingdom. This is a big step for anyone to take, and to be able to play even a very small part in this final stage of our new citizens’ journey to reach this point is really quite amazing.

I’ll miss these events when my term as Mayor comes to an end; they’re always so joyful and happy.

***

On Thursday evening, my wife and I were invited to Parade House for their annual Christmas Drinks Reception. I was not formally there as Mayor, but nevertheless, I’ve learned over my Mayoral year so far that as soon as the people realise they’re talking to the Mayor, they open up and share their opinions regarding our town.

Thursday evening was therefore a very good opportunity to meet people from outside the confines of the Council “bubble” and find out what they really think about life in Trowbridge.

The general perception seems to be that the town is improving from its position a decade ago, but there is still more to do, especially in the areas of attracting more independent retailers to the town centre and making the town centre more attractive (and accessible) to visitors.

There is general satisfaction with the work being done on the back of the Future High Streets Fund, but there is still a remarkable lack of understanding about who is responsible for administering the spending and who decided what the fund award should be spent on.

Another area of confusion seems to be over who is actually responsible for what in our town. What services does Wiltshire provide, and what are the responsibilities of the Town Council.

This is not the first time that I’ve been made acutely aware that there is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about council activities and spending. I honestly believe that we, the Town Council, have a lot more work to do in better explaining exactly what we do, what we’re responsible for, and what we’re spending your money on.

***

On Friday morning, I, along with the Lord Lieutenant of Wiltshire, Civic and Military dignitaries, and Mayors from across the County, was scheduled to attend the Wiltshire Christmas Carol Service at Larkhill Garrison Church.

Unfortunately, a family emergency that emerged overnight between Thursday and Friday meant that I had to send my apologies at the last moment. I’m sure that the event was well attended and memorable, and I’m only sorry that I couldn’t be there. Part of the Mayor’s function is to represent our town at events such as this, but there are also times when family must come first. I truly believe that we shouldn’t lose sight of this, especially at this time of year.

***

Friday evening, the Wiltshire Singers (a local amateur group made up largely of Wiltshire Council staff) entertained us with a Christmas Concert at St. Thomas’s Church (with all proceeds going to the Storehouse charity in Trowbridge). My wife and this year’s Mayoral Cadet, Cadet Sgt. Rose Church, came with me, and we all thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

The concert was in two halves. The first half was a recital by the singers of a selection of traditional and more modern Christmas songs. They were accompanied by a very talented flautist, Sorcha Rudgley, and Christiana Nemeth on piano (ably assisted by Penny Roberts). The ensemble itself was vocally led and conducted by the group’s musical director, Denise Drew, and virtually all members featured as soloists at some stage in the programme.

Immediately after the interval, Jill Neighbour from Storehouse Nexus Food Bank delivered a heartfelt and compelling address to the audience, highlighting the activities and achievements of the local charity, including news about the opening of the charity’s new shower and laundry suite that will be open and available soon to those sleeping rough in Trowbridge.

The second half included an element of audience participation. We all joined in while the singers sang Mele Kalikimaka (a Hawaiian-themed Christmas song written in 1949 by R. Alex Anderson), the classic favourites Jingle Bells and Wham’s Last Christmas, oh, and a beautifully chaotic rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” with sections of the audience charged with standing up and delivering their numerical line, “three French Hens,” etc., before hurriedly sitting down before another group jumped up to deliver “Two Turtle Doves” and so on. This lasted almost without loss of coordination for the whole twelve days’ worth of verses, largely due to Denise running around the church, directing the correct sections of the audience to stand up, sing, and sit down in turn.

It was great fun and, when accompanied by a collection of appropriate animal noises from the singers themselves, ended up with quite a few of us getting giggles!

The evening ended with a quite moving rendition of “Feliz Navidad!” that left us in no doubt that we were now on the cusp of Christmas.

All in all, another wonderful evening of song and entertainment from the Wiltshire Singers.

If you’d like more information about Storehouse Food Bank or want to find out how you can help, you can visit their website at https://www.communityactionwestwilts.org/storehouse

***

Saturday morning was the occasion of Trowbridge’s “Living Nativity Procession,” organised by CATA (Christian Action in the Trowbridge Area). CATA is a local organisation that provides an opportunity for churches to work together to provide outreach activities to the community.

CATA had put on this light-hearted telling of the Christmas story through the heart of Trowbridge. There was Carol singing, shameless over-acting, and a donkey appearance. The procession started at the Civic Centre and stopped five times for a sequential recounting of the Christmas story and a carol. Everyone attending had been encouraged to dress as nativity characters and sing along to the carols, which were enthusiastically backed by the Salvation Army band.

I’d been asked to play a small part in this moving (in at least two ways) telling of the Christmas story by announcing that “everyone needs to return to their home town for the census” at the second stop by the war memorial. There were four more stops (including at the Albany Palace for the “no room at the inn” scene) as we made our way up to Fore Street and on to St. James’ Church, where hot drinks and mince pies awaited!

It was all great fun, and it was a very inclusive and welcoming way for the churches to spread their message at Christmas.

***

The Trowbridge/Leer Twinning Association held their Christmas dinner on Saturday evening at the Lamb Inn on Mortimer Street.

As Mayor, I’m the association’s honorary president, but both my wife and I are members of the Leer twinning group as well. It was a lovely evening; the food was excellent, the bar was open, and the company was entertaining and interesting (as, to be fair, it always is).

The Lamb did us proud with a really good Christmas dinner, and although there had been a few last-minute cancellations and gaps at tables (Covid does seem to be on the rise again at the moment), the general level of conversation and good humour across the room kept everyone engaged and on their toes all evening.

After the dinner,, there was an auction of a beautiful hand-made large crochet throw and a raffle that raised funds that will go towards the association’s trip to Leer in October 2024, and following that, there was a lighthearted quiz ably conducted by Geoff Whiffen.

… and with that, the activities of the Mayor in the penultimate week before Christmas 2023 came to an end.

***

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

 

Image courtesy of Kevin Hartley

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