4 May 2024

A relatively quiet week last week, with only three outings for the Mayoral Chains of Office. Having said that, one of these was a major event in the town’s Civic calendar, so maybe “quiet” isn’t quite the right word! 

*** 

That event was on Tuesday evening, when the town of Trowbridge held its annual Town Meeting. This was immediately followed by the less formal Town Gathering. 

One thing that became very apparent during the Town Meeting was the fact that there was a certain degree of confusion over its status. So, I’m going to try and explain exactly what a Town Meeting is, what powers it has, and who is entitled to take part. 

The Local Government Act 1972 states that every parish in England must have an annual Parish (in our case, Town) Meeting which must take place between 1st March and 1st June each year. 

This Town Meeting is usually chaired by the Mayor. The purpose of the meeting is to allow the Town Council to report on what it has done over the last year. It also enables the electors of the town to have a say on anything they consider to be an important issue for the residents of the Town. 

It’s important to stress that the Town Meeting is NOT a meeting of the Town Council and that the Town Meeting does NOT fall under the Standing Orders that govern all meetings of the Full Town Council, its Committees and Sub-Committees.  

The Town Meeting is simply an annual meeting of the residents of the town at which they have the opportunity to question their elected Town Council. 

 Simple; yes (in theory), but also a legal requirement. 

One major difference between a Town Meeting and a meeting of the Town Council is that at a Town Meeting, an issue brought up by a resident of the town can be discussed and debated. This is not possible at a meeting of the Town Council (or any of its committees and sub-committees) as questions asked at a council meeting by members of the public in the “Public Open Forum” can only be answered. They may not be debated or voted on.  

This is a legal necessity based on the fact that only issues placed on the agenda for a formally called Town Council (again, this includes committees and sub-committees), meeting can be debated and, if necessary, voted on. This is because there is a legal requirement for there to be a notice period for any issues brought to a council meeting for debate and, if necessary, a vote. As no formal notice is given of an issue raised at a meeting by a member of the public speaking during the Public Open Forum, that issue has not complied with the required notice period for that meeting and therefore cannot be debated. That is the law. 

Quite often, however, you will hear the Town Council meeting answer a question asked by a member of the public during the Public Open Forum by committing to take the issue away and place it on the agenda for a future meeting of the Full Council (or any of its committees or sub-committees). Then, because at that future meeting the issue will have complied with the notice regulations (by being placed in advance on the formal agenda for the meeting), it can be debated and, if necessary, voted on. 

Another major difference between a Town Meeting and a Town Council meeting is that ONLY elected Town Councillors can legally vote on issues placed before a meeting of the Full Council, any of the Council’s committees or sub-committees, whereas at a Town Meeting, ALL elector’s resident in the town attending the Town Meeting have the right to vote on an issue brought to the Town Meeting. 

It is important to note here that ONLY residents of Trowbridge are allowed to vote at a Trowbridge Town Meeting. If you live just outside the town itself, say in Hilperton or North Bradley, you are not entitled to vote at a Trowbridge Town Meeting (even if you consider yourself part of the wider Trowbridge community). 

I hope this goes some way to make the purpose and scope of the Town Meeting clearer, explain the legal basis for it, and point out the major differences between this and any formal meeting of Trowbridge Town Council. 

Phew! 

After the formal Town Meeting, at which the Leader of the Town Council, Cllr. Stewart Palmen, delivered his Annual Report and was questioned by members of the public on issues close to their hearts, we moved on to the less formal Town Gathering. 

The purpose of the Town Gathering is to recognise and celebrate all that is good about our town. To this end, every year Trowbridge Town Council asks residents to nominate people or groups that they think should be considered for awards recognising outstanding contributions to our community made over the last year. 

These Civic Awards can fall into a number of categories, each aimed at recognising a particular type of winner. This year, we presented Civic Awards in the following categories: 

  • Spirit of Youth (Under 13) – winner: Oliver Clark 
  • Spirit of Youth (13 to 18) – joint winners: Emmy Jones and Charlie Cadwgan 
  • Charity Fundraiser of the Year – winner: Robin Dallimore 
  • Community Champion – winner: Mark Marshall 
  • Club of the Year (Sports) – winners: Trowbridge Basketball Club 
  • Club of the Year (Community) – winners: Trowbridge Sea Cadets 

If I were to now include complete biographies and details of who won what and why, this segment of my blog would run for a few thousand more words and then nobody would read it!  

So, full details of all the winners in each category have been released to the press and published on the Town Council’s website and social media channels. 

*** 

My next engagement was on Thursday last week. I had been invited to attend the opening of Trowbridge Future’s new BA14 hub in The Shires in the centre of town. 

It was in 2017 that Trowbridge Future first took over a vacant premise in The Shires Shopping Centre and established the BA14 Community Hub.  

Working initially with a group of local charities, Trowbridge Future turned that space into a volunteer staffed drop-in centre where people could come to ask for advice and help. 

Over the last seven years, Trowbridge Future has transformed that original space in the Shires into a welcoming environment where anyone looking for a calm haven can come and sit, have a cup of tea, seek advice, get assistance in making phone calls or writing letters, and access online resources.  

Now they’ve moved from that original space at Unit 19 in The Shires into a much bigger space at Unit 46. 

Trowbridge Future’s hubs (not just in The Shires, but in Seymour and Studley Green as well) have successfully made self-empowerment available to our most vulnerable residents. Rough sleepers in the town, those who find themselves in temporary housing, the elderly, the disabled, veterans suffering PTSD, people experiencing severe mental health concerns, those recovering from strokes, and those suffering from social isolation – anyone needing a helping hand and a listening ear can count on Trowbridge Future to be there when they need them.  

This, of course, is all in addition to the essential work they do with the youth of our town. Work that gives our children and grandchildren a purpose and a sense of self-worth. 

Over the last year as Mayor, I’ve been lucky enough to learn a lot about Trowbridge Future. In particular, I’ve learned that Trowbridge Future is not just about offering immediate practical assistance to those in need, although this is still important.  

They also look at need in a more holistic way; they bring people in our town together and provide them with the opportunities to communicate and build strong relationships; they help residents feel more positive about where they live; and they support those residents in improving their community and influencing the things that matter to them. 

This mission to empower those who seek their help and give them the means and confidence to take the necessary steps in helping themselves is, for me, what makes Trowbridge Future something special.  

This constructive and forward-thinking approach was one of the main factors in my decision to make Trowbridge Future one of my “Chosen Charities” for my Mayoral year. I’m very glad I did, as everything that I’ve seen and learned about the charity over the last year has only reinforced the feeling that that decision was right.  

Anyway, back to last Thursday. Trowbridge Future, with the help of Nationwide and Selwood Housing, have successfully created a new, welcoming, bright, and airy space at Unit 46 in The Shires. The opening of this larger and better equipped hub will now mean that the constructive and forward-looking assistance that Trowbridge Future offers to residents will now be even more accessible and open to even more people… and that’s a very positive thing that will hopefully help change the lives of more of the vulnerable here in Trowbridge! 

*** 

My week was rounded off on Saturday when my wife and I went to hear the Trowbridge Philharmonic Choir perform a programme of Venetian Baroque works at St. James’ Church. 

The last time we heard this ensemble perform was at the beginning of December last year. They were very good then, and they certainly haven’t lost their touch in the intervening five months! Musical Director Graham Dalby had put together an interesting programme mainly featuring pieces by Vivaldi and Montiverdi, culminating in a complete rendition of all twelve parts of Vivaldi’s “Gloria.” 

This evening, the choir was accompanied by a small orchestra of violins, violas, oboes, cellos, trumpet, keyboard, and a theorbo.  

No, I’d never heard of a “theorbo” before either, let alone seen one live and in its natural habitat! So as soon as I got home, I googled it (other search engines are available) and discovered that a theorbo is a large, plucked string instrument of the lute family with an extended neck that houses the second pegbox. Like a lute, a theorbo has a curved-back sound box with a flat top. The whole instrument must have been about six foot long and towered over the player (Matthew Nesbit).  

This orchestra was a wonderful accompaniment to the choir, and, as you’d expect from the Trowbridge Philharmonic Choir, the whole evening just gelled. 

The only sad note (ouch, no pun intended) was the departure of soloist Cassie Dalby during the interval. She’d put up a brave performance during the first half, but a severe cold that she’d been suffering from all week hit back, and by the interval, she’d lost her voice. Her role was covered admirably by another member of the choir during the second half of “Gloria,” and I think everyone who was there would take their hats off to this very accomplished singer who stepped in at the last moment to cover this key solo voice. 

Both my wife and I managed to have some good chats with both members of the audience and of the choir during the interval. It’s good to see that there’s a demand and a following, for a wide range of the musical arts here in Trowbridge. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve always loved live music, and I’ve always tried to explore as wide a range of genres as possible. Saturday night, I will admit, was my first foray into a live baroque choral performance, and all I can say is that it was a very worthwhile, almost serene in fact, experience. 

All in all, it was a very enjoyable evening and a beautiful way to round off the week. 

*** 

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

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