Mayor-Trowbridge-Chains-Robe-Park

20 April 2024

The first half of last week was spent in Germany. If you know me, you’ll probably already know that my wife is half German and that her family comes from a small town in North-Rhine Westphalia.  

Well, last week we had a family trip to see our German family. My wife, my daughter and son-in law, and my two grandsons all set sail on a two-day crossing from Southampton to Hamburg before travelling by train down to Löhne (a small town in North-Rhine Westphalia), where my wife’s family still lives.  

It’s always good to see them, even if it’s a short visit (as this was). It’s an opportunity to reconnect, catch up, and have a chat.  

My daughter and family have the twin pressures of work and school, so they returned to Hamburg before flying back to the UK, but Sharon and I stayed on for a couple of days in the nearby (approximately 5km away) spa town of Bad Oeynhausen. 

Löhne is quite small, so when we’re there, we tend to stay in Bad Oeynhausen. It’s only about a ten-minute drive from door to door, and as Sharon’s aunt is quite elderly (she’s 93), it makes a lot of sense.  

Anyway, I’ve been going to this small town in Germany with Sharon for over a quarter of a century now, on average once a year, sometimes more, during Covid obviously not at all. Sharon, of course, knows the area much better than I do; she spent much of her childhood there and to this day, has some very deep emotional roots in Löhne and the surrounding villages and towns. For her, when we visit, she’s really going home. For me, I have to admit that Löhne and Bad Oeynhausen have now come to feel like a second home to me as well. 

So, it’s almost inevitable that when we’re there, we’ll meet up with family and friends and talk about our respective lives in our respective communities. While it’s undeniably true that a lot separates us as nations and as communities, it’s also abundantly clear that there’s an awful lot more that unites us.  

For instance, it’s good to see that the Neighbourhood Services team in a beautiful spa town in North-Rhine Westphalia is almost indistinguishable from our great team here in Trowbridge. Similar equipment, a similar look, and similar challenges.  

It’s also good to see that “No Mow May” has been adopted in areas of the public open spaces of Bad Oeynhausen as well as Trowbridge. Like us, areas of grass are being left unmown for a few weeks in order to allow wildflowers to bloom and provide food for pollinators such as bees. We do tend to think of open grassed areas as only being attractive if they’re kept mown and free of dandelions, daisies, and other “weeds”, but to a bee, that neatly mown patch of beautifully manicured weed-free grass is as sterile as a concrete carpark. It’s vitally important to remember that what we think of as weeds are essential food for bees and other insects emerging after a long winter, and without these insects being around to pollinate our food crops later in the year, we’ll soon notice their loss! 

Another thing I liked in their town’s main park (the Kurpark) that we could maybe emulate here in Trowbridge is the labelling of trees in their park. Now I don’t know about you, but I can recognise some tree species, but not a lot, so it would surely be good and give us a better connection with our environment to be able to identify all the types of trees that we’ve got in our public places.  

The last thing I took away from my brief visit to Bad Oeynhausen (which, with a population of just over 49,000, is a similar size to Trowbridge) was that they too suffer from some of the same challenges as us. For instance, just a few yards from the main railway station is an empty and slowly decaying shopping mall. This may not be as big or as derelict as our Innox Mills site, but it does show that it’s not just Trowbridge that has a site ripe for redevelopment slap bang in the centre of the town. Like our Innox Mills site, this site in Bad Oeynhausen has preliminary approval for development, but also like Innox Mills, the current owners are still looking for developers prepared to invest in an “off the shelf” project. 

We left Bad Oeynhausen after a few days and travelled by rail back via Cologne to Brussels, where we got the Eurostar back to London. I do have to say that travel on German railways (Deutsche Bahn) is a lot cleaner, faster, more reliable, and infinitely cheaper than rail travel in the UK. Whatever they’re doing, I think we could learn a few lessons from them!  

*** 

Having arrived back in the UK, my Mayoral duties resumed on Friday morning when I met up with Deputy Mayor Cllr. Denise Bates to go through all the nominations we’ve received for Civic Awards this year.  

The winners in all the categories will all be announced at the Town Gathering on Tuesday 30th April, so I’m not going to give anything away here as to who may or may not have “won.” All I’ll say is that we spend quite some time going over all the nominations, then going over them all again. We even “googled” some of the nominees to see what their publicly available online presence said about them. Some we already knew, some we knew by reputation, and some we had never met or even heard of. The one thing they all had in common was that they had ALL contributed something wonderful to our community here in Trowbridge. 

… and that made Denise’s and my task of picking the winners very difficult indeed, but we eventually succeeded, and I have to say that looking back now, the whole exercise was a real lesson in community spirit. 

*** 

On Friday afternoon, I visited the newly opened Creative Minds Arts & Crafts in the old Café Italiano premises on Mill Street. 

Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, I was meant to have visited Creative Minds a couple of weeks ago, but due to an administrative oversight, the appointment never made it through to my diary. Friday’s visit was therefore my attempt to make amends for this, and I have to say I’m very glad I did. 

This new Community Interest Company has been set up to offer children and adults a wide range of therapeutic arts and crafts. The (in their own words) vibrant new art studio is purposely designed to accommodate a wide range of art and crafts activities, regardless of age or ability. 

The team of employees and volunteers offers a selection of free-play art sessions for younger children, therapeutic art sessions for children and adults, and specifically tailored art classes demonstrating multiple painting techniques. There’s also a wide range of artistic pursuits like pottery throwing, jewellery-making, body painting, and textile crafts. 

For sheer entertainment, the centre also offers Paint & Prosecco and Beer & Brushes nights. These are obviously for the over-18s and are aimed at those wanting to learn or develop new art skills. There’s also an escape room being built at the rear of the studio. 

I have to wish this venture well, and I hope they make a go of it. Yes, it’s a business, but it’s one focused on providing a genuinely therapeutic experience to people in our community who could well find a genuine and beneficial release in artistic expression. 

Good luck to them. You can get more insight into what they do by visiting their website at: https://www.creativemindstrowbridge.co.uk 

*** 

My last official duty for the week was on Saturday afternoon, when I was a guest at the Trowbridge Moroccan Association’s Eid Mubarak celebration at Longfield Community Centre. 

Eid celebrates the end of the Islamic month of Ramadan (a period of fasting for Muslims when they abstain from food and drink between the hours of dawn and dusk), and this community celebration is an annual event here in Trowbridge. 

Saturday’s Eid Mubarak party was therefore a joyous event packed with a veritable cornucopia of food, mint tea, music, and dance. The kids had a bouncy castle to play on, and it gave the adults the opportunity to break bread with each other during the day and just get together and celebrate as a community.  

I think the party started about two o’clock, so when my wife and I got there at about twenty past three, it was already in full swing! I’ve never seen so many people packed into Longfield Community Centre. In fact, the Chair of the Moroccan Community Association confided in me that they’ll need a bigger venue next year! 

The bouncy castle came down after a few hours play, and a traditional Moroccan musical trio from Marrakesh (via London), who had arrived mid-afternoon, entertained the packed community centre with traditional Berber music that consisted of just voice, drums, and cymbals. It was, in truth, quite mesmerising! The gathered women, many in wonderfully colourful embroidered traditional dresses, danced, clapped, and ululated. The food just kept coming and coming, and I lost count of just how many people I met and chatted with.  

The whole afternoon was a vibrant and colourful expression of both community and faith, that both my wife and I felt very honoured to have been invited to join.  

That surely is what community is all about, and the very fact that our local Moroccan community had taken the time to invite so many from the wider Trowbridge community to join with them on Saturday really demonstrates to me the benefits of inclusion and integration. Maybe we should all learn to act this way towards each other.  

I started this blog by saying, with reference to my German family-in-law, that there’s always more that unites us than can ever divide us. I’m going to end it by saying exactly the same about our Moroccan friends here in Trowbridge. We’re lucky to have this community as our neighbours; they enrich our lives and give us alternative perspectives on life, and that’s something I think we could all benefit from sometimes! 

*** 

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

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