21 October 2023

This week’s report actually covers a period of two weeks. Last week’s blog never materialised, mainly because I wasn’t actually here to write it!

Let me explain.

The week before last, on Monday the 9th of October, I attended the AGM of the Trowbridge Guild of Community Service. The Guild is one of the organisations in the town that appoints the sitting Mayor as their ex officio Honorary President. Some of these I already knew about, and some came as something of a surprise. Maybe there’s a full list somewhere of guilds, groups, and organisations in the town that appoint the Mayor in an ex officio role, but if there is, I’m not aware of it, and if there isn’t, well, there should be!

Anyway, back to the Guild of Community Service!

This group has historically provided transport for elderly and disabled people and community groups in Trowbridge and surrounding areas. They mainly used the two wheelchair-accessible minibuses they own to take customers to and from activities, day trips, shopping trips, etc.

Unfortunately, the Guild had been hit by a perfect storm of recent events, and Chairman Stephen Brackenbury told the meeting that the minibus service, which had been suspended in mid-2022, remained unavailable because they could no longer afford to run it at a financial loss.

The service had been compromised by both a catastrophic downturn in the group’s income during the COVID pandemic and then by the more recent phenomenally rising costs of fuel, servicing, and maintenance for the two vehicles. In fact, Mr. Brackenbury explained, the group had been forced to make their three drivers redundant and had planned to sell the two Mercedes minibuses to raise funds so that they could continue more localised activities.

Unfortunately, having made this difficult decision, one of the two minibuses was broken into, and the vital Mercedes specific Engine Management Unit was stolen. This appears to have been targeted theft rather than mindless vandalism, as nothing else was removed. However, the Guild has been waiting for over a year for Mercedes in the UK to source a replacement, and at the time of their AGM, they were and are still waiting!!

In the meantime, this minibus just sits there, still immobile and unsaleable.

They’re a fantastic group of people who just want to do something positive in and for our town, so if you want more information about the Trowbridge Guild of Community Service or would like to volunteer with them, please contact the Information Team at Trowbridge Town Council, who will put you in touch with the guild.

Then, on Tuesday the 10th of October, (and this is the reason for there being no blog last week), I drove with my wife and a couple of friends the 200+ miles over to Harwich, where we put the car on a Stena Line ferry and set sail on an overnight crossing to Hoek van Holland. After a very smooth crossing, we arrived early the following morning and set off driving across the Netherlands and into Germany.

We were going to spend a couple of days in the small spa town of Bad Oeynhausen in Nordrhein-Westphalia, where my wife’s family hails from. It’s a lovely town, just a bit bigger than Trowbridge, on the River Werre/Weser at the southern edge of the Wiehan Hills (the Wiehengebirge). The spa waters are known to be therapeutic in the treatment of rheumatic problems, and many clinics and treatment centres have grown up in the town that not only specialise in rheumatic problems but are now a renowned centre for the treatment of cardiac and general osteo problems as well.

We stayed there a couple of days, and, having fully taken advantage of the waters, we drove up to our twinned town of Leer in Ostfreisland on Friday morning.

Leer is a totally different town from Bad Oeynhausen. While Oeynhausen nestles in the forested hills of east Westphalia, Leer sits on the coast, close to the border between Germany and the Netherlands. While the food of choice in Oeynhausen is the local westfälische kartoffelsuppe (potato soup, often with smoked sausage), followed by breaded pork schnitzel and bratkartoffeln (sauté potatoes), the diet in Leer is far more reliant on the sea, with locally caught fish, shrimp, and eel being widely available.

We were in our twin town because it was their annual Gallimarkt. This event originated as a cattle market (and still features one) but has grown into a massive town-wide funfair and general (sometimes noisy) celebration that lasts five days!

We arrived on Friday, but a contingent from Trowbridge had been there since Tuesday, and our own Town Crier, the legendary Trevor Heeks, had been invited to help declare the Gallimarkt open from the steps of the old Rathaus (town hall). I wasn’t there to witness this, but the video of five thousand Leeraners chanting “Trevor! Trevor!” shows that our chap is just as much a legend in Leer as he is in Trowbridge!

On the Friday we arrived, we, along with Trevor and the other “Trowbridge twinners”, were invited to a dinner put on by the Leer twinning committee. This was a lovely evening that culminated in us all watching the Gallimarkt fireworks display that lit up the night sky in the most spectacular way. It was lovely to reconnect with old friends and make some new ones as well.

Saturday saw us explore the Gallimarkt by ourselves and sample some of the many food and beer stalls that seemed to go one street after another. I have to admit that I probably ate far too many “snacks” but I’ll also admit that I resisted the pull of some of the wilder fairground rides on offer! In the evening, there was a water-born display of brightly illuminated boats (of all types and sizes) that sailed up and around the harbour for about an hour. Oh yes, the ship’s horns were heard as well!

On Sunday afternoon, we were invited to visit Burgermeister (Mayor) Claus-Peter Horst at his home just outside the main town of Leer. We’d first met Claus-Peter and his wife Edith at the Coronation of King Charles III when the Leeraners were in Trowbridge, and we met up again earlier this year when we visited Leer as part of their bicentennial celebration. But this was a personal visit, and we were there as “ourselves” not as part of an official party. Anyway, we had a lovely afternoon with the Horst family that extended well into the evening. We chatted and ate, and maybe a bit of beer, wine, schnapps, etc. was consumed as well (but not by me; I was driving). I think we eventually got back to our hotel in the middle of Leer at about 10 o’clock that evening, but we were lucky; we could relax. The family Horst was driving to Berlin early the following morning, where Claus-Peter had an engagement at the Bundestag!

Monday morning we set off back down to Bad Oeynhausen, where we once again took advantage of the spa waters, visited my wife’s family, and generally relaxed, ate, and drank too much for a couple of days until we set off for the night ferry back to England on Wednesday night.

Wednesday night on the southern North Sea was not as calm as the outward trip had been!

Anyway, by Thursday evening, we were back in Trowbridge (I hate the drive back from Harwich towards London, round the M25, and out on the M4) and had settled back in our own beds in our own homes. It’s always lovely to go away, especially when friends and family are involved, but it’s also lovely to be back home.

Then, on my return to “active duty” after that short trip to Germany, I found myself not just “double-booked” but “treble-booked” for the evening of Saturday the 21st of October.

The first group to ask me to attend their event was 2196 Squadron, Royal Air Force, Trowbridge Air Cadets. They were holding their annual dinner and had asked me some time ago to attend as their guest of honour. This I was very happy to do as one of the squadron’s cadets (Cadet Sgt. Rose Church) is my Mayoral Cadet, and I felt it was only right to support her and her squadron in the same way that she and they have supported me.

It then transpired that the date of the squadron’s Annual Dinner coincided with not just the date of Trowbridge Carnival (where the Mayor is traditionally “on parade”) but also with the Trafalgar Day Dinner annually held by the Trowbridge White Ensign Association.

This really did cause some consternation. I really felt that I had to support the Air Cadets, not just because they have a personal relationship with the office of Mayor this year, but also because at the time I accepted their invitation, they were the only group to have actually officially invited me to attend anything!

Anyway, having accepted the formal invitation from the Air Cadets, I wasn’t going to let them down! Luckily, Deputy Mayor Cllr Denise Bates stepped in and represented the office of Mayor at the Trowbridge Carnival (thank you, Denise), but the White Ensign dinner lost out. I do feel sad about this, but it is inevitable that when there are three groups all vying for Mayoral attendance at the same time on the same day, somebody will always lose out.

If there’s any lesson to learn from all this, it’s to make sure that IF you want the Mayor to attend an event, any event, whether it’s a one-off event or an annual/traditional town event, please make sure you actually complete the Mayoral booking request (on our website at https://trowbridge.gov.uk/mayor-of-trowbridge/) in good time.

I can only apologise for the fact that I have yet to develop the superpower of being in more than one place at the same time!

Anyway, back to the event that I did attend: the 2196 Squadron, Royal Air Force, Trowbridge Air Cadets’ Annual Dinner.

This event was held in conjunction with 68 Squadron, Westbury Air Cadets. This was mainly due to the fact that the Westbury Squadron’s own premises had been rendered unusable as a result of a major water leak some months ago, and since then, the two Squadrons have been parading, training, and socialising together. Both contingents of cadets were there along with guests, their respective Commanding Officers, Officers and NCOs, staff, and parents.

It was a formal “dining in” evening, with both Grace before the meal and the Loyal Toast afterwards being eloquently delivered by a Cadet. There were speeches by the two COs, Flight Lieutenant Matt Harrin of 2196 Squadron and Warrant Officer Alan Smith of 68 Squadron (and one by me). There were awards recognising performance and commitment by Cadets (presented by me) and a number of promotions in rank for cadets (presented by Wing Commander Nick Watt).

One particularly notable announcement was the appointment of Cadet Flight Sergeant Emmy Jones from 2196 Squadron, Trowbridge Air Cadets, as the next Lord Lieutenant of Wiltshire’s Cadet. Emmy was described to me by her Commanding Officer as someone whose involvement within the Air Cadets is second to none; she has recently qualified as a first aid instructor and is now a part of the South West Region Air Cadet’s First Aid Team. In her CO’s own words, she’s “a shining example of a cadet and someone who has a bright future ahead of her”.

So 2196 Squadron, Trowbridge Air Cadets therefore now boast both the Mayor’s Cadet and the Lord Lieutenant’s Cadet amongst their numbers. This is a fantastic achievement and a testament to not just the cadets concerned, but the full complement of cadets, staff, and officers who provide the environment and support that allow young people to grow in confidence and assertiveness.

Trowbridge Air Cadets can also boast another recently won award. Every year, all the squadrons in the Dorset and Wiltshire Royal Air Force Air Cadets meet up at MOD Boscombe Down for a day of activities and competitions. The Trowbridge Air Cadets took part in the foot drill competition. This involves a set sequence of drills that the cadets must complete in a smart and disciplined manner, and they won! 2196 Squadron was awarded 1st place in the foot drill competition.

And at the same event, Cadet Flight Sergeant Jones from 2196 Squadron (yes, that’s our new Lord Lieutenant’s Cadet) was proclaimed the “best drill NCO”.

So next time anyone tells you that our town is full of anti-social youths, you can tell them that they need only look at the cadets of 2196 Squadron, Trowbridge Air Cadets, to see a very different picture. These young people (along with their counterparts in the other uniformed service cadet units, community youth groups, and voluntary organisations) represent the best of the next generation. We should concentrate on promoting their achievements and encouraging the growth of their organisations’ membership, not giving publicity and attention to the small number of idiots whose anti-social antics are a blight on our town’s wellbeing.

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

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