27 April 2024

I’m acutely conscious of the fact that my Mayoral year is drawing inexorably to a close, and there’s only three weeks to go until Trowbridge finds itself with a newly elected incumbent in this office.

I’m not going to wax lyrical about the last year just yet. I’ll leave all that for a proper valedictory address that will be correctly delivered at the appointed hour in a few weeks. All I’ll say for now is that it’s been a wonderful year, full of surprising insights into this truly fantastic community we all call home.

Those insights were brought home to me in spades last week when I was lucky enough to attend a meeting with a large and diverse group of people who all do what they do, not to advance their own agenda, but to make the lives of others in our town just a little bit better and more meaningful.

***

But before that, my first engagement of the week was on Monday evening, when I attended a meeting of the Trowbridge Town Fairtrade Group’s committee. The town’s Fairtrade Group is one of those bodies that I have the honour to be the Honorary President of just because I’m the current Mayor.

As it happens, I’ve been a member of this committee in my own right for the last three years, but the mayoral role trumps the personal, and thus my attendance on Monday evening can be properly considered a mayoral activity for the purpose of this blog!

Trowbridge has been an accredited Fairtrade town since the first decade of this century, and our Fairtrade status was only recently renewed. They’ve changed the status description from “Fairtrade Town” to “Fairtrade Community,” but the ethos and commitment to the aims of the global Fairtrade community remain the same.

One other thing that’s changed is that Fairtrade has unilaterally moved the dates for the annual “Fairtrade Fortnight” from the beginning of the year to much later, in September. This has had a major impact on us here in Trowbridge, as the move was done without consultation, and events that we had started to plan and prepare for have all had to be suddenly shelved. Local Fairtrade groups are heavily relied on to organise events and promote the aims and objectives of Fairtrade in their communities throughout this two-week period, and this move has thrown us a real curve ball at us. September is a prime holiday period, and time away from the town during the “new” Fairtrade Fortnight has already been booked by more than one member of the town’s committee. We’ll do what we can, but it’s going to be harder this year than it needed to be!

We also have the added pressure (like so many voluntary and community groups everywhere) of a lack of volunteers. Specifically, people prepared to get involved and help run the town’s Fairtrade group. Our Chair, who has diligently served in that capacity for a number of years now, is stepping down this summer, and we don’t at present have anyone to take her place.

So, if you believe in what Fairtrade stands for and you’d like to get involved in promoting the ethos of Fairtrade across our town, please do get in touch with me, and I’ll share your details with our local committee. One thing I can promise you is that you’ll be made very welcome!

***

Then, on Wednesday, came the main event for the week. The event that proved once and for all that Trowbridge folk are by and large caring, decent, and empathic folk and more than willing to give up their time to help others.

Wednesday afternoon last week was when Trowbridge Town Council hosted the first of what we hope will become quarterly Community Action Forums. These get-togethers of faith groups, community organisations, charities, and support groups in the town are designed to be informal and let all those attending compare notes and experiences, looking for ways in which they can better support the residents of our town.

They’re looking for ways in which they may duplicate work unnecessarily, but they’re also looking for gaps in the services and support they provide.

We welcomed twenty-seven people to the Civic Centre, who between them represented twenty-five of the groups invited. A couple of other groups had intended to come, but on the day operational issues meant that they were unable to be there. That, I suppose, is an inevitable risk when you’re providing support to vulnerable people with a predominantly volunteer “workforce.”.

That brings me neatly to one of the major concerns that came out of last Wednesday’s meeting. ALL our voluntary groups across Trowbridge were united in saying that they are desperate for new blood. They ALL need people to come forward and volunteer to help. So, whether you want to get involved via your local church, your favourite charity or community group, a specialist support group, a foodbank, or a mental health charity, PLEASE GET INVOLVED!

To this end, one other thing that we all thought would be incredibly useful is a comprehensive directory of all such groups and organisations based here in Trowbridge offering help and support to residents of our town. This would not just be useful to those seeking help but also to each and every group offering help in that it would allow them to refer anyone contacting them quickly and efficiently to the correct group for their needs.

The directory should include all the obvious contact information but also a brief description of the services they provide, along with details of any out-of-hours support that may be offered.

We’d also include a list of which organisations accept donations of food, bedding, clothes, toys, etc., along with the locations and times for dropping off these donations.

Trowbridge Town Council already publishes a list of “community groups” on our website, but this list has historically depended on organisations telling us about themselves and is not limited to groups offering support. It included sports and recreational groups as well. The directory we want to produce will be for support groups alone and will be available as a downloadable PDF file from the Town Council’s website.

We are obviously totally dependent on the groups in the town themselves taking responsibility for providing this information and then keeping it up to date, but with their engagement, I hope we can get this directory compiled and available by this summer.

Once we do get this directory ready, we intend to make sure that a link to it is placed front and centre on the Town Council’s website. We also want to place flyers or business cards with its URL in local supermarkets, doctors’ surgeries, etc.

We also talked about the relationship with formal elements around us providing statutory assistance in the town (such as the Homelessness Team at Wiltshire Council) and the ways in which local groups can access funding via the Trowbridge Area Board.

We finished by saying how productive the afternoon had been and agreeing to meet again in a few months. Watch this space for progress updates!

***

My Mayoral week was then perfectly rounded off on Saturday with a visit to Bradford on Avon. The occasion was Mayor Cllr. Katie Vigar’s Swansong, a very enjoyable charity concert in support of her two charities, Alzheimer’s Support and Oxfam.

What can I say? Wow! We (there were assorted Mayors from across Wiltshire present) first gathered for a cup of tea, a slice of cake, and a good chat at the Bradford on Avon town council offices. I have to admit these were rather hard to find, but when we did, the refreshment we were given was certainly worth the effort.

Just after half past four, we all formed up outside to process through the centre of town from the council’s offices to Holy Trinity Church, where the concert was due to be held.

What’s so special about half a dozen Mayors waving their chains of office and trouping through a small town on a Saturday afternoon, you (rightly) ask?

Nothing, I answer, apart from the fact that we were led through the town by the most marvellous wind (brass and woodwind) band from Bradford on Avon’s French twinned town of Sully-sur-Loire. This was the Société Musicale de Sully-sur-Loire; they were what people had come out to see, and very much deservedly so!

The concert itself features five “acts” from five very different sets of performers. There were the “Random Band” from BoA’s St Laurence School, the “West Wiltshire Young Singers” from the Wiltshire Music Centre, and the “Wiltshire Wailers,”  a local adult open-access choir that’s been going on in the town for seventeen years. These were three really very good groups of performers, representing local musicians and singers from the very young to the not-so-young. They entertained us, and they showed us just how much fantastic talent there is in our neighbouring town.

Then there were the other two acts. However good the three above were, these two took the whole event to a new level altogether. I really don’t mean to imply that the rest of the performers were in any way less than awesome; it’s just that these two really blew the whole thing away!

The first was a very colourful cappella group called the “Tow Path Singers”. This is an eclectic group of folks who live on the Kennet and Avon Canal and get together in a local pub once a week. Their repertoire on Saturday included shanties and working songs relating to the sea, the railways, digging the canals, and toiling down the pit.

The sheer enthusiasm and ability these folk brought to their “act” was infectious. It was foot-stomping stuff telling the stories of sailors in the King’s navy, the Irish “navvies” digging the canals, and fathers and sons pulling coal together from the bowels of the earth. All in all, it was quite an education in Georgian social history and a very rousing way to stir the emotions.

Then there was the aforementioned Société Musicale de Sully-sur-Loire.

The society was founded in 1883 and has won many awards in music competitions over the years. These days, it’s a strong and passionate band that participates in events locally, nationally, and internationally. We were treated to a wide selection of music arranged for a brass and woodwind band from films, popular music, and more traditional songs. They were flawless, but for me, the star of the show was the full-size sousaphone that sat on the shoulders of one member of the band who stood at the back of the band and provided a resonant and echoing bass line to accompany the rest of the ensemble.

The concert lasted two hours in all, with a brief interval halfway through, and at seven o’clock on Saturday evening, we all left Holy Trinity in Bradford on Avon with wide grins on our faces.

My only “complaint” (such as it is, more tongue in cheek than actual) was that the Indian restaurant in BoA that my wife and I had planned to eat at before we returned home hadn’t been able to reserve us a table. We’d tried at what we thought was a good time, but they were already fully booked all evening.

This seemed to be the general situation across the town, as evidenced by the numbers we saw as we walked back to our car just after seven. There were already quite a few people out and about, presumably heading to the local restaurants and pubs for an evening’s food and entertainment. It seems that the nighttime economy in the centre of BoA is thriving and generally well behaved. I know ours is picking up and is much better than it was, but maybe we could still learn a lesson or two from our nearest neighbour?

All in all, a very enjoyable Saturday afternoon and early evening in Bradford on Avon. Well done, Katie Vigar!

***

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

 

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