4 November 2023

The town’s Civic (Mayoral) Chains are back!

After an absence from Trowbridge of more than four months, apart from five days in mid-July when they were returned for our Civic Service, the centrepiece of the town’s civic regalia, the Mayoral Chains and Jewel (the Jewel is the gilded and enamel town crest that hangs from the Chain itself), are back in Trowbridge.

They’ve been cleaned, repaired, and regilded where needed; the enamel on the jewel has been redone; the velvet backing has been replaced; and additional links have been added so that all the “missing” Mayors’ names from the last eight years since any work was last done on the chains can be properly displayed.

Why is this so important? Some have questioned the need for the chains to be “serviced.” Some have even questioned the need for the Chains to exist at all.

Let me try to answer those who would strip away the symbols of our town’s rightful pride in its heritage. The Chains and the rest of the Regalia are the physical manifestation of the town’s civic history; they embody the origins, growth, and prosperity of the town in the Jewel, and they acknowledge the continuity of service provided by the succession of past mayors whose names are inscribed on the links of the Chain. When a serving Mayor wears the chain, they carry around their neck the full weight of the town’s history!

You have to remember that the mayoralty is a civic office, not a political one. The mayor is an ambassador and an advocate for the town. Whoever holds the office of mayor does so independently and in isolation from their (parallel) role as a councilor. As Mayor, they represent the whole town, and as Mayor they are an impartial figurehead rather than a political leader.

When people see the Mayor, they don’t want to see me; they want to see THE MAYOR. The chains and the rest of the regalia are the outward signs of that office. I’m always acutely aware that the people I meet as Mayor don’t want to see an overweight and occasionally grumpy old codger wearing a suit and tie; they want to see the bling and the trappings that the chains, and where appropriate, the robes, bring to the office of Mayor.

I can give the speeches, cut the ribbons, and present the prizes, but the “legitimacy” of my actions comes from the regalia that I wear, not the words that I say.

The reality is that the chains and the robes ARE the Mayor….. The person wearing them is, to all intents and purposes, a temporary clothes horse! People recognise the chains and robes; they know they’re looking at the Mayor. Without these trappings of office, and I know this from my own experiences over the last four months, in most cases they don’t recognise the person in front of them as Mayor.

And that’s how it should be! The office of Mayor is bigger than any one person. It’s certainly bigger than any one local councillor.

That’s why it’s important that we have the chains, and that’s why it’s important that they are visible whenever and wherever the Mayor is “on duty”.

Anyway, moving on. Last week, I also had a couple of really pleasant tasks to perform.

First, I had to pick my choice for this year’s Trowbridge “Shining Star”.

The Shining Star is chosen annually from nominations sent in by members of the public. Suitable recipients of the title will be a resident of the town who has either overcome adversity to achieve something extraordinary, someone who has regularly gone out of their way to make the lives of their fellow Trowbridge residents better, or someone who has excelled in their chosen field in such a way as to give their fellow residents a lasting sense of pride in their town.

I’m not going to reveal here just who has been selected as this year’s Shining Star. All I will say is that there were a number of nominations, and although many of them were thoroughly deserving, I am confident that the final decision was the right one and that the person (who will be on stage with me to switch on the town’s Christmas lights) is a fine example to all of us.

Then I had to choose the winning entry in this year’s Mayor’s Christmas Card Design Competition. Again, there were multiple entries from children across the town who had each designed what they believed should be the Mayor’s Christmas Card for 2023. I’ve got to say… there were some wonderful examples of creativity and artistic flair to sift through, and once again, it wasn’t an easy decision.

The winning design was selected because, to me, it WAS my call to make) It combined a beautiful take on the town and its landmarks, along with a quirky sense of humour that really made me laugh. That’s all I’m going to say. You’ll just have to wait for the official announcement!

On Friday night, I was at the Storehouse “Come Dine with Us” fundraising event. Storehouse is just one arm of an amazing local organisation that offers help to local residents who find themselves in need. Storehouse Foodbank itself is a project that aims to support families, couples, and individuals in short-term need of food and toiletries. The service began in 2006 in response to a growing need within our community and has grown in scope and reach year by year since then.

The evening was an opportunity for those attending to sample the sort of fare that Storehouse regularly provides to those in need of hot food, a warm space, and a supportive environment. We were treated (and I really do mean treated—the food was really good) to a sausage and mash dinner followed by a fruit crumble. Storehouse not only (absolutely rightly) charged those invited for their meal, they also raised funds through a charity auction and raffle held on the night.

Jill Neighbour, who coordinates Storehouse’s activities, very passionately told us all about the work that she and her volunteer staff do. We also heard from a number of those volunteers themselves, some of whom had really inspirational stories of their own journey from needing Storehouse’s help to finding stability in their own lives and giving back through now volunteering to help Storehouse help others still in need.

The unfortunate reality is that Storehouse has seen a depressing increase in the number of people in need of help in the town over the last few years and is constantly looking, not just for donations but for new volunteers to help them continue to help those less fortunate than us.

Access to Storehouse is freely available to people referred by a supporting professional such as a teacher, social worker, doctor, key worker, minister, community adviser, Wiltshire Council, Citizens Advice Centre, or another agreed-upon referral agency. Provisions can be collected from Storehouse’s centre based at Emmanuel’s Yard on Church Street, where individuals, couples, or families will be provided with a three-day’ supply of food and toiletries.

Opening hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, 10 a.m.–12.30 p.m.

If you would like to help, volunteer, or donate, you can contact Storehouse by email at info@communityactionwestwilts.org or by ‘phone at 07702 583143.

My final engagement last week was to attend the annual laying of poppy crosses on the graves of those residents of Trowbridge who lost their lives whilst serving in, or in direct support of, our armed forces. This event is organised by the Friends of the Down Cemetery, a voluntary group of dedicated local citizens committed to the upkeep and preservation of Trowbridge’s municipal cemetery.

The graves in the Down Cemetery where poppy crosses were laid were numerous. From what I learned that day, they totaled over 160. Each and every one had a small wooden cross with an attached poppy placed respectfully and visibly on it. Many were marked by Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstones, but many weren’t. The graves of those who died in service before the First World War are not marked by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, for instance, nor are those of those who died “on duty” but not necessarily as a result of combat.

There were two very poignant graves that I came across. One of the sixteen-year old army cadets who died in the 1950s in an accident while training with his cadet corps Another of two young girls, sixteen and seventeen years old, died when the Royal British Legion was directly hit by a German bomb in 1943. To me, these two graves truly deserved, and got, the same respect and honour as those of the serving squaddies, matelots, and flyboys whose lives were lost in direct conflict.

At the same time as this Act of Remembrance was taking place, the Polish community in Trowbridge was gathering in the Down Cemetery to commemorate All Saints’ Day and remember family and friends who are no longer with us. I was lucky enough to meet up with Dr. Simon Selby, the Honorary Consul for the Republic of Poland, and be invited to walk over after we’d completed our act of remembrance and chat with the Polish priest officiating and members of the Trowbridge Polish community.

It was truly lovely to witness the way this tradition of honouring all their dead in this regular way keeps individual memories alive, families bound together, and communities whole and cohesive.

I’m going to end with a plea. If you are considering booking the Mayor of Trowbridge for an event in the run-up to Christmas, please do so as soon as possible. I’m very conscious of the fact that the diary is filling up fast!

To book the Mayor, please complete the online form at https://trowbridge.gov.uk/mayor-of-trowbridge/. Please give as much information about your organisation and the event as you can, and maybe include any quirky anecdote or particular person that you want me to mention. That way, I can prepare any speech needed well in advance.

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


Image courtesy of Kevin Hartley

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