Mayor-Trowbridge-Chains-Robe-Park

24th February 2024

The blue demi-beard continued to be seen out and about around Trowbridge last week. In fact, I’d started to get used to it and forget it was there, despite it being bright blue and on the front of my face!

I was, however, reminded of its presence when visiting a well-known opticians’ shop in The Shires on Monday afternoon. Sitting there, choosing my new glasses after having had my eyes tested, I started to notice a few sideways glances in my direction. Eventually, one of the staff members turned to me with a grin and said, “I’ve just got to ask… why…” I explained that it was all for charity and that I was the town’s mayor and had had my beard half shaved off the previous week during the pancake races on Fore Street.

It’s amazing the reception I got once people everywhere understood why I looked so unusual. I never got a single negative comment, and in fact, most people’s reaction was to ask about the charities I’m supporting and how they can help.

Anyway, I explained all about Stepping Stones and Trowbridge Future. I told them (as I have told everyone who’ll listen) how these two amazing charities do so much in our community and how they both work so hard to enrich the lives of those they touch.

Last weekend also saw the ultimate demise of the demi blue-beard. I’d promised to keep it going for a week, but in the end, it lasted ten days. Its final outing was last Friday evening at the Civic. It is now gone, and my “normal” facial hair will soon return in all its glory!

But if you’d like to donate to my charity appeal, you can still do so by following the Just Giving link below or by coming into the Civic Centre on St. Stephen’s Place and donating in person at one of the collection points available.

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/trowbridgetowncouncil-mayoralcharities23-24?utm_term=yKegN2VVr

I’ve got to say a massive “thank you” to all those people who’ve donated to my appeal so far this year. Your contributions will go to help these two marvelous charities and allow them to continue their vital work in our town.

***

Earlier on Monday afternoon, I had been booked to attend the official opening of the new water point and refill station at the Civic Centre on St. Stephen’s Place. This water dispenser, kindly provided by Wessex Water, is there so that anyone in the park can refill water bottles (or any other suitable receptacle) and thus never be in danger of dehydration when out and about in the town center.

Unfortunately, I was there, but the Cabinet Member from Wiltshire Council, who was also meant to be there with me unveiling (figuratively) the installation, wasn’t. Never mind, we managed to get a photo of me in my suit and chains posing with a Discover Trowbridge water flask by the refill station. Whether it’ll ever see the light of day or not is another matter.

The point is… the water dispenser is there beside the main entrance to the Civic Centre in the Town Park, and it’s available for the public to freely use.

***

Tuesday morning, you saw me at one of those engagements that just brought home to you the wonderful nature of humanity.

A couple of weeks ago, I’d been chatting with Sarah Cottle. You’ll remember the amazing Amy Cottle, who was our “Shining Star” at the Christmas Lights Switch-on. Sarah is Amy’s mother, and she works part-time at Stepping Stones, which, as you’ll also hopefully remember (if you don’t, you’ve not been paying attention) is one of my chosen charities this year. Anyway, I’d been chatting with Sarah and telling her about my upcoming beard shave. Sarah asked me whether I’d be able to come and visit Stepping Stones once I’d been shorn and dyed.

Of course, I willingly agreed, and on Tuesday the 20th of February, exactly one week after the Pancake Day races, I duly turned up at Stepping Stones’ door sporting my bright blue demi-beard for what was its last official engagement.

During my visit, I met one of the most engaging children I’ve ever come across. Young Willow is obviously a child with special needs, but she doesn’t let this dampen her enthusiasm for life, her clear joy at just interacting with the world around her, and her obvious delight in engaging with people. She is, in short, a wonderfully likeable small human being.

I was so privileged to be able to meet Willow and her mother, Holly. When I use the word “privileged,” I really mean it. I genuinely felt privileged to be accepted (weird blue half-beard and all) into her world by Willow—not just accepted, but welcomed.

This is what Stepping Stones does so well. Children of pre-school age with sometimes very complex special needs are given the best possible start in life. Parents of those children are involved at every stage and offered the support and help that they too desperately need (we often forget the parents in our rush to help the child). It’s a very holistic approach to care, support, and development that works so well.

I am, and I will always be, absolutely in awe of the dedication and commitment shown by everyone at Stepping Stones. They truly do transform not just the lives of the children in their care but the families of those children as well.

***

While not technically a mayoral event, I spent Friday evening back at the Civic listening to the soulful tones of Paul “Shilts” Weimar’s saxophone. I’m going to mention this because Paul kindly allowed me to get up during his gig and make my final “Brave the Shave” appeal for donations to my chosen charities before shaving off my remaining half-beard and allowing it all to grow back normally.

It was a very enjoyable evening with a packed and appreciative audience in the Civic’s Usher’s Suite (rebranded @The Café once a month for these jazz, funk, and soul evenings), and I really have to thank the amazing generosity of that audience, who donated so willingly to my appeal as they were leaving the building at the end of the night.

***

My Mayoral week then concluded on Saturday when my wife, my Mayoral Cadet (Sgt. Rose Church of 2196 Squadron Trowbridge Air Cadets), and I attended an early evening “Service of Remembrance and Hope” at St. Thomas’ Church. This had been arranged by members of the local Ukrainian community to mark the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

The service was both moving and incredibly emotional. It was a poignant reminder that in the spring of 2024, a viscous and unprovoked war still rages in Ukraine. It does seem sometimes as though the West’s focus on the war in Ukraine has waned somewhat in the last year. The media circus has moved on to new atrocities elsewhere, and Russian aggression (at least in Ukraine) is no longer the stuff of daily headlines. This may be understandable, even inevitable, in this age of immediate and unrelenting news coverage, but it is still a raw tragedy for those who find themselves still living as refugees in what must often feel like an alien land.

But it wasn’t an evening that exuded hatred for the aggressor or anger over the destruction of their homeland. It was all about hope—hope for peace, hope for a future where lives could return to normality, and hope that the Ukrainian children and grandchildren now living here in Britain will one day soon be able to stand on the free soil of their homeland and proudly say, “I am Ukrainian!”!

I want to share with you some words written by a wonderful Ukrainian woman, one of those responsible for Saturday’s service, who, two years later, finds herself still living here in Trowbridge.

“The war in Ukraine is still going on. We know how it was before the 24th of February 2022. We were full of life with our dreams and plans for the future. And now we know what it’s like after; life has changed forever. The month of February is forever in every Ukrainian’s heart.”

Anastassia, whose words these are, came to our town in the aftermath of Putin’s invasion of her homeland. She is a strong and resilient person, and yet you can see the pain in her eyes. I have been lucky enough to know her for nearly a year now, and I have nothing but admiration and respect for her and all the others like her who find themselves far from home.

It’s important to remember that many of the Ukrainians who have sought sanctuary here are women and children. Many of them are alone; many of them have left their husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers back in Ukraine, fighting for their freedom and the future existence of their country.

And yet, despite all this hardship and loneliness, they still find time to express their undying gratitude to us here in Britain, not just for supporting their country’s struggle but for offering friendship and welcoming their people into our homes and communities.

But all the sympathy, admiration, and respect in the world won’t, by themselves, give Anastassia and her fellow Ukrainians the ability to return to their beloved homeland and live there in peace. That will take a firm and unwavering commitment on the part of all freedom-loving nations to resist this latest European aggressor.

Surely, if history has taught us anything, it’s that autocratic nationalists with territorial ambitions should never be ignored in the hope that they’ll have some sort of moral epiphany. They probably won’t!

***

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

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