Mayor-Trowbridge-Chains-Robe-Park

25th May 2024

I was incredibly proud and honoured to have been re-elected Mayor of this wonderful County Town of Wiltshire at the Annual Meeting of our Full Council on Tuesday, May 21st May. 

I think the best way for me to both sum up the last year and set my stall out for the next is to simply reprint my speech to Full Council from that meeting, and yes, it also avoids me having to write something completely new that says exactly the same thing just in different words! 

So here it is. 

When I was elected Mayor this time last year, I distinctly remember feeling both incredibly honoured and also somewhat nervous. I was honoured to have been considered a suitable advocate and ambassador for the town we all call home, and I was nervous that I somehow lacked the experience or acumen to do the role justice. 

Now, a year on from that civic responsibility being placed on me, I can honestly say that I’ve found the whole experience both highly enjoyable and incredibly enlightening. 

It has truly been an honour and a privilege to serve as mayor of our amazing town. As mayor, I’ve tried to both represent the residents’ wishes and aspirations and promote the town’s economy and investment potential wherever and whenever the opportunity arose. 

This last year has also given me the opportunity and, if I’m honest, the impetus to learn so much more about our town. I’ve been amazed by the true spirit of community that pervades so many aspects of what happens in our town. I’ve watched in awe as so many people in our town freely give their time and energy in the service of others. In short, I’ve had my eyes opened to the amazing capacity for good that runs across and through our town.  

Of course we have our problems, and what town doesn’t, but this last year made me realise that while negative stories will always sell more column inches or attract more “clicks” than the positive, the reality is that here in Trowbridge, the negative actions of a few individuals are vastly eclipsed by the positive efforts being made in our community by the majority of our residents. 

And that’s something we should all be celebrating. We have a truly wonderful town here filled with truly wonderful people, and it’s been a real privilege to serve as Mayor for the last year. 

One new introduction to the mayoral repertoire this last year has been the Mayor’s weekly blog. Over the course of the last year, I’ve penned a total of 49 blogs (I missed a couple of weeks when I was “off duty”), totalling over 55,000 words! I have to admit that I do sometimes wonder just how many of you here in this chamber have taken the time to read any of these? I suspect I may not want to know the answer!  

Don’t worry though; I have them all archived, and I will be collating them into a memoir of this past year. Then there’ll be a quiz!  

Seriously, though, I’ll say it again: I’m incredibly grateful to have been given the opportunity to spend the last year getting to know the town I live in. I’ve been so lucky to have met so many marvellous people who do what they do without recognition or reward. I’ve also had the opportunity to chat with some of the recipients of that community spirit. I’ve seen just how lives can be changed forever by a simple act of kindness.  

There are so many people I want to pay my thanks to for making this last year so memorable. 

It may sound a bit of an oxymoron, but I want to start by thanking the two charities that, back at the start of my term, I chose for my Mayor’s Charity Appeal. Over this last year, I’ve grown to understand just how both groups—for any of my fellow councillors who have been hiding under a stone for the last twelve months—that’s Trowbridge Future and Stepping Stones… really do change lives here in Trowbridge. They’re two very different organisations, offering help to very different groups of people, but the one thing they have in common is the abundance of empathy they show for those they exist to assist. 

They’ve both taught me so much, and so I thank both Trowbridge Future and Stepping Stones for helping me shed the somewhat cynical blinkers that I think we all sometimes wear. 

I’d also like to thank the many schools, community organisations, charities, faith groups, sports clubs, and voluntary groups who have opened their doors to me and welcomed me into their arenas, if only for a few hours while I cut a ribbon, judged a cake, opened a building, or presented a prize. I know it’s not about me; it’s about the office of Mayor…. and that itself is a really grounding realisation.  

I then need to thank last year’s Deputy Mayor, Cllr Denise Bates, and my predecessor as Mayor, Cllr Graham Hill. 

Without Denise’s tireless support and willingness to share her experience and understanding, standing in for me when double (or even occasionally triple) booked, and happily covering for me when I couldn’t attend an event, always with a cheerful smile and an encouraging word, this last year would have been far more daunting. Denise is one of the most genuinely empathic people I have had the pleasure to know. She is both a great ambassador for this town and a calm and respected member of this council.  

Thank you, Denise. 

Then there’s Graham Hill. Without Graham’s sympathetic mentoring and guidance during his term as Mayor, I’d have struggled far more than I did to get to grips with the role when I took over. His patience and excellent communication during his term made the transition from deputy to the real deal so much easier for me this time last year. 

I also want to make it clear that the individual who wears the chain as Mayor is only the tip of a much larger iceberg. Behind that individual lies a dedicated team that supports, advises, and helps the Mayor.  So, I must pay tribute to all the members of the team there at Trowbridge Town Council who supported me over this last Mayoral year. That’s Aby, Laura, Zoe, Ben, and Louisa, who together formed what was called the TTC Information Services Team. Without their help and assistance in managing my diary, publishing my blog, advising me on protocol, and generally keeping me on the “straight and narrow,” I would have found this last year far more stressful than I did. They were always there, always ready to deal with my “Mayoral quirks and demands” quickly and efficiently, and above all, always doing it all with a smile and a friendly word. 

But it was not just the Information Team that helped me navigate around the potential pitfalls of this last year. In the last 365 days, I’ve called on so many of our wonderful officers here at Trowbridge Town Council to advise and assist me in what I saw as my role.  

Both our Chief Executive Officer and his now-deputy have been an invaluable font of knowledge, experience, and expertise, and for that I’m incredibly grateful, but I also have to thank all the officers here at Trowbridge Town Council who have gone that extra mile to help me as Mayor promote our residents’ interests, represent the town both locally and wider afield, and bring together community, faith, and voluntary groups from across the town in a spirit of collaboration and mutual welfare.  

I would, of course, be remiss and quite probably unfed, unwashed, and homeless if I failed to thank my wife Sharon. Without her support, encouragement, and help over the course of the last year, I would undeniably have struggled to meet all the various demands of the role.  

It’s very easy to forget that being Mayor isn’t just a personal commitment; you’re signing your immediate family up as well to a year’s worth of unsocial evening and weekend engagements, speech proof-reading, and a need for a constant supply of coffee and clean white shirts. Without Sharon’s willing partnership and engagement with the role, this last year would have been so much harder and an awful lot lonelier. 

Now… this roll call of thanks could never be complete without mentioning my Mayor’s Cadet, Sgt. Rose Church of 2196 Squadron, Trowbridge Air Cadets. Rose has been an invaluable asset to the office of Mayor throughout the last year. Her awareness of occasion is perfect, and yet she has a cheeky sense of humour that can be guaranteed to bring a smile to everyone’s face. She is undoubtably a real credit to both her parents and her Cadet unit, and it’s been a real pleasure to have her as my Mayoral Cadet this last year.  

Finally, and possibly most importantly, in this pantheon of people to thank, I want to thank the residents of Trowbridge. Without their trust and engagement, there would be little point in having ceremonial civic offices like the mayor. They are the lifeblood of our town, and it has been the honour of my life to serve as their and your Mayor this last year. 

Now, this is obviously going to be both a valedictory address from an outgoing Mayor and an acceptance speech from an incoming one, but please rest assured that there will not be a second full speech from me tonight. I simply want to say a couple of things. 

I’ve learned many lessons from this last year, some hard, some obvious in hindsight, but all worthwhile and necessary. Obviously, my learning curve in my first weeks of this second round will be less steep, and I intend to take full advantage of that and hit the ground running. 

So, thank you for placing your trust in me for another year, and please let me give you a few commitments. 

I want to continue, even expand, some of the community and voluntary sector engagement initiatives that were started last year.  

I want to engage more with our Chamber of Commerce to help promote Trowbridge’s economy and business potential. We have a demonstrably healthy entrepreneurial spirit here in Trowbridge that we need to encourage, harness, and build on.  

We need to put the revitalisation, rejuvenation, and reinvention of our high street economy front and centre on our agenda in order to make Trowbridge a more vibrant town. We can do this, but we need to work in close partnership with our business community to do it well. 

I want to find ways to promote Trowbridge’s prime position as a base from which to explore the south-west of England. We are only a short distance from prime visitor attractions such as Bath, Glastonbury, Avebury, Wells, Lacock, Salisbury, Stonehenge, and Bristol’s historic docks, and yet we singularly fail to attract the hordes of tourists looking for an affordable and convenient place to stay while they flock to these world-renowned destinations that surround us.  

Why? Surely, as the county town, we can do more to take advantage of this ready-made market. 

Finally, as I look around this chamber tonight, I see a Town Council that is predominantly middle-aged but also overwhelmingly male and white. In this day and age, this is neither acceptable nor representative. 

I’ve already mentioned that I’ve found a wealth of goodwill and community spirit out there in our town, but despite this, too many of our residents are still disengaged with us here in this chamber. We need to reach out and help those disconnected from us realise that, far from being an irrelevance, or worse, an obstacle, in their lives, being involved in community activities, even their local Council, is a positive and affirmative way to help shape their town’s future. 

So, I want to do what I can to engage more young people in our community with this council. I want more women to feel that their voice can and will be heard in this chamber, and I want, above all, to encourage members of our ethnic minorities to take their rightful place around this table with us.  

I want to now finish with a plea from the chair. Over the course of the next twelve months, we shall see both a General Election and Local Elections here in Wiltshire. I am sure these will be rightly hard-fought by all political parties at both a national and local level.  

However, I would implore everyone to remember that we are only here in this chamber because we want the best for our town. As Town Councillors, we are all unpaid volunteers who give up our time freely because we each have a vision for Trowbridge and the desire to work towards that vision. We may disagree over what that vision is or the best way to achieve it, but I do truly believe that none of us want to do this town deliberate harm.  

So my plea is this: in what gives all the indications of being a fairly febrile year in both national and local politics, let’s take our partisan party agendas out of this chamber and spend the next twelve months trying to work together to do what’s best for the residents of Trowbridge.  

Thank you. 

*** 

My one and only outing as Mayor last week was, in fact, on the evening before I was re-elected here in Trowbridge. 

Last Monday, my wife and I, along with the then Deputy Mayor Cllr Denise Bates and her husband Graham, were in Calne to witness the election of their new Mayor, Cllr Jon Fisher, and, of course, to say a fond farewell to the outgoing Mayor, Cllr Rob MacNaughton, who has served his town so well over the last year. 

Calne is one of those towns that seems to get its annual switch-over of Mayors just about right. Not too much “pomp and circumstance” and not too little either. They inject just the right amount of gravitas and ceremony into the annual election of the new Mayor and given (like us here in Trowbridge) the fact that nobody knows for sure who will actually take on that ole until the vote takes place on the night, they still manage to make a ceremony out of an election. 

Well, done, Calne, and I look forward to working alongside Jon Fisher over the next year. 

*** 

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

 

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