23rd March 2024

Saturday night and the Trowbridge Mayor’s annual Civic Dinner, what can I say? It really was a wonderful evening and, without a doubt, the highlight of my Mayoral year so far.

I’ve got to start by thanking all the Civic and Information Team staff here at the Town Council who didn’t just work hard on the night but had worked so hard over the preceding days, weeks, and months to prepare everything for the night. One of the reasons that I believe this year’s Civic Dinner was so successful is that it was very much an “in-house” effort. From the design of the menu cards to the decoration of the venue, the theming of the whole event has been coordinated and driven by a very dedicated, hard-working, and professional team of our Officers who embraced the whole event with enthusiasm and a sense of sheer fun.

Ticket sales had been particularly strong this year, and we knew it was going to be a packed hall full of local residents, businesses, councillors, and (of course) visitors from our twinned town of Leer in Ostfriesland in Germany.

Our relationships with our twinned towns have always been important to me. We are very lucky in Trowbridge that our Town Council has signed twinning charters with four communities across Europe and North Africa.

Towns and cities in Germany, France, Poland, and Morocco have tied the twinning knot with Trowbridge. but I think it’s safe to say that our civic links with Leer in particular have led to a genuine and lasting friendship between our two communities.

I was incredibly happy, therefore, that the leader of Stadt Leer Council, Herr Hauke Sattler, along with four of his fellow councillors and friends—our friends—came to Trowbridge from Leer to my Civic Dinner on Saturday.

After we had all been called into the hall by Town Crier (and local legend) Trevor Heeks, the evening started with The Grove Primary School Choir singing as we took our seats and settled down, ready for dinner to be served. The songs they sang were the compositions of a very talented local composer/songwriter, and they all had a very topical environmental message.

The whole point of the annual Civic Dinner is to both celebrate all that is good about our town and, at the same time, raise money for the charities nominated by the Mayor as their chosen charities in their Mayoral year.

As part of celebrating the town, each year we present a number of awards to deserving people or groups in Trowbridge.

We’d already decided before the night that The Grove was going to be this year’s recipient of the Mayor’s Award. This award is in the gift of the Mayor and goes to a recipient who, in the opinion of the Mayor, has contributed significantly to the civic life of our town. The Grove Primary School has repeatedly and willingly given up their own time to support Mayoral and Civic events here in Trowbridge. They’ve done this over a number of years now, always with a smile, always with a positive attitude, and always with an unswerving willingness to engage in the civic life of our community.

Giving the Mayor’s Award to The Grove Primary School was my opportunity to publicly thank the school for all their efforts over quite a few years in making numerous civic events here in Trowbridge more entertaining, more inclusive, and more reflective of the positive impact that our children and grandchildren can have on our lives.

So, as they wound up their final song, I surprised them by presenting them with the Mayor’s Award for 2024.

We then settled down to enjoy our meal and have a good chat. I have to say that the caterers did us proud this year; the food was excellent, and the service was professional, attentive, and prompt.

As soon as the main course was cleared away, Trevor Heeks called for the Loyal Toast which was given by Herr Hauke Sattler, Leader of Stadt Leer Council and Chair of the Leer Twinning Association. We were very grateful and honoured that Herr Sattler had agreed to lead us in raising our glasses to His Majesty King Charles III.

We then came to the rest of the awards that we were presenting that evening. Firstly, the Town Enhancement Award this year went to Stone Development for their conversion of the old Ship Inn on Frome Road and the addition of six new homes on the site of the ship’s now-defunct car park.

Credit had to be given to Stone Developments for their efforts in preserving the history and heritage of the old Ship Inn. Even though the original building needed underpinning, re-roofing, re-rendering, and transforming internally, Stone Developments took the time to retain, restore, and reinstate the original front door and the historically significant Frome Road sign that had graced the front of the building for more than half a century.

The final outcome is the development of energy-efficient homes, all suitable for twenty-first-century living while retaining the character and charisma of one of Trowbridge’s landmark public houses, which were, in the opinion of the judges, well worthy of the Town Enhancement Award for 2024.

The last formal award was the town’s Civic Award for 2024. This is awarded annually by the Town Council to someone who has made a significant material contribution to the welfare of the people of Trowbridge.

We’d been very hard-pressed to choose between two extremely deserving nominations this year, so we’d decided to award two Civic Awards!

The first went to someone who is a regular presence at events across the town. His involvement as a volunteer in and around the Town Hall, at the Weavers Market, and with Trowbridge Future has made him a familiar face to many of us. In fact, it sometimes seems as though wherever I go, whatever event I’m attending, I’m fairly certain to run into this person, usually in some sort of hi-vis jacket, and always front and centre when it comes to being an active part of a volunteer team somewhere in the town.

The first recipient of a Civic Award for 2024 was Robert Colebourne.

The second person to receive a Civic Award tonight is a truly unstoppable force whose determination to help those in need in our town is not just admirable. To be honest, it’s a little bit scary as well!

Her dedication to those in our community who have lost safe access to the physical necessities of life—food, warmth, and often a place to sleep—is a true testament to her philosophy that whoever you are, whatever your circumstances, with a bit of help and support, you can regain hope and rebuild your life. To me, this philosophy is validated by the fact that so many of those who volunteer to help her deliver her support were once recipients of that support.

The second recipient of a Civic Award for 2024 was Jill Neighbour of Storehouse Foodbank.

That concluded the “official” awards for the evening. However, we still had a couple of surprises in store for our long-serving (37 years!) Town Crier, Trevor Heeks.

The day after the Civic Dinner was Trevor’s 80th birthday, and we couldn’t let that go unrecognised. So, not only had Trowbridge Town Council gotten a gift to give to Trevor at the Civic Dinner….. so did our friends from Germany.

Leer is a town where Trevor has made so many friends over so many years. He’s made a really enduring and positive impression on their Civic life, and, as a town, Leer has truly taken Trevor to their collective heart. I’ve seen this for myself when thousands of Leeraners stood in front of their old Town Hall cheering for Trevor at last year’s Gallimarkt.

Our friends from Leer had brought with them a present from the Burgermeister and Town Council. This was the final presentation of the evening, and a very well-deserved one it was!

Now, I’m in danger of repeating something that I’ve mentioned many times in the past, but it IS important, and it was one of the two main reasons for holding last Saturday’s Civic dinner—raising money for my two chosen charities for my Mayoral year.

Last May, when I first became Mayor, one of my earliest tasks was to pick the charities that I wanted to support during my mayoral year. I had set myself certain criteria, and I deliberately chose two that had deep and established roots in our community, had no agenda other than to help, and who had a proven track record of successfully supporting those who fell within their remit.

The first that I chose was Stepping Stones District Specialist Centre, a wonderful charity based in Longfield within my own ward that helps pre-school children with complex special needs.

Currently, Stepping Stones has 79 children who attend sessions at their Longfield centre each week, with another 21 being supported through a dedicated outreach programme.

But new referrals are received by the charity every week, and Stepping Stones expects to have worked with approximately 140 children and families in total over this academic year.

Each year, an average of 40 children successfully transition from Stepping Stones into a school environment. Each of these will leave Stepping Stones with an education, health, and care plan suitable for meeting their often complex and challenging needs. While all of these children will have been offered a mainstream school, most will take advantage of the more specialist provision available locally.

Stepping Stones really does transform the lives of our youngest and most vulnerable children and offers them and their families the support they so desperately need at the very time they need it most.

And then there’s Trowbridge Future. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a local charity that looks at all the diverse challenges that residents in our town face, from poverty to mental wellbeing, loneliness to a lack of self-confidence, and just thinks, “What can we do to make lives better?”.

From one end of Trowbridge to the other, across the full width of the town, Trowbridge Future builds community links, challenges stereotypes, and empowers those who’ve taken a knock in life to rebuild their resilience and self-reliance.

In the last year alone, Trowbridge Future has opened a new Youth Centre on Mill Street in the Centre of town that can accommodate 50 young people at a time in an environment that allows them to interact and grow.

As well as opening the Mill Street Youth Centre, Trowbridge Future will soon move from their current unit in The Shires shopping centre into a much larger one that will allow them to support even more residents that need support and signposting while providing the space for them to be supported with more privacy than the current space provides. We will be able to offer one-on-one support while providing other activity groups, which will enable us to work in partnership with other specialist services.

But throughout this period of change and expansion, Trowbridge Future has never lost its focus on the Longfield, Seymour, and Studley Green areas of our town. The charity runs three community fridges in these areas that feed up to 150 people each week by distributing unsold food donated by local supermarkets and food outlets.

I’ve been lucky enough to have visited the Trowbridge Future community hub on Charles Street in Seymour on a couple of occasions. The lasting impression I’ve taken away on every visit is one of a true community venture. The Seymour Hub is a community meeting place, a shared space that isn’t just about distributing food. The hub offers everything from a simple cup of coffee and a chat to cooking classes in Egyptian cuisine. Incidentally, I’ve tried one of these Cultural Cuisine sessions and can vouch for the quality and sheer deliciousness of the dishes that were prepared, cooked, and eaten.

This sums up what I believe is so wonderful about Trowbridge Future: it works with the community without imposing itself on the community. There’s no attitude of “good works,” there’s just a team of fantastic volunteers, originating from within the community, giving up their time to give something back to that community.

So, in the spirit of raising money for our charities, we next held an auction of items donated by local businesses. Trevor “officiated” with Ben Deadman of TTC and my Mayoral Cadet acting as “bid spotters.” We’d already sold all the raffle tickets and charity bags, so this was the final fundraising activity of the evening, and it certainly attracted some serious bids. What it also did was ensure that a brand new washer and dryer were going to Storehouse Foodbank, courtesy of Knees Electrical!

While we’re on the subject of sponsors and donors, I really have to thank all the marvellous local business that sponsored tables at the Civic Dinner. These included: Cloudy IT, Prosec Consulting, the White Horse Business Park, Gabby’s Ice Cream, Stone Developments, Allworth Carpets, Appleby and Townsend, Freddy’s Double Deuce Bar, Jolly Jumpers, the Labyrinth Challenge, L J Hugs, and the Platinum Motor Group.

I also have to thank the cadets of 2196 Squadron Trowbridge Air Cadets who acted impeccably as the Guard of Honour and Standard Bearer before the Civic Dinner. Also, thanks must go to my Mayoral Cadet, Sgt. Rose Church, also of 2196 Squadron Trowbridge Air Cadets, who was by my side throughout the evening. Rose represented her unit admirably, helping out and anticipating needs tirelessly throughout the whole event.

Anyway, after the auction was over, we wound up the formal part of the evening and all retired to the Usher’s Suite (renamed The Mayor’s Parlour for the evening), where we were treated to the soulful sounds of Paul Weimar on his saxophone and Tom on piano, who entertained us for the rest of the evening.

All in all, it was a great success. Everyone I spoke to said it had been a thoroughly enjoyable evening. We’d celebrated some truly deserving people and groups, and we’d acknowledged a true milestone in the life of our Town Crier. Trevor Heeks and we had managed to raise some funds for my two chosen charities.

Those are Trowbridge Future and Stepping Stones.

***

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

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