Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary
Early days - now a Melksham Town Councillor
"A week is a long time in politics". It's not quite a week since the results of the Melksham Town Council election were declared, and I have had a lot to learn.
I stood with every intent of doing my best to be elected within what I consider to be best practise. And also with every intent of doing my very best over the coming four years, perhaps beyond, for the electorate of the ward and the town, whether or not they voted for me should I have been elected. And that intent / committent remains.
Melksham's Town Council now consists ...
8 Councillors elected for the "Together for Melksham" team
5 Councillors elected for the Conservative Party
1 Councillor elected for the Liberal Democrat Party
1 Councillor (myself) elected as an independent
We - the councillors - should all work together for the common continued provision of excellence that we inherit, and for the forward progress and development of that and other provision.
Our first Town Council meeting is on Monday - in person, and a long agenda. That agenda shows a great number of appointments to subcommittees and outside bodies, and I have to believe that each of the groups and parties will come to that meeting with ideas formed. It will be an interesting evening. There are also a couple of councillors who were on the last council, and a couple of others who have been there previously, who ill be able to start from a position of prior experience. I look forward to taking advantage of their experience, while adding a fresh new independent voice to help robustly test and develop for the future.
I am publishing this on my online diary (blog) and it will remain in place; minor edits may be made to make it clear if anything goes out of date, but my nature is such that I will stand by what I write. I have done for many years, and - thank you - that continuing record is one of the things you tell me is what brought me your vote. I hope to not let you down, but I must continue to stress that in this Town Council role I'm just one in fifteen and do not want to build false or unrealistic visions of influence of activity. The Town Council has big powers to influence, but very few statutory powers. But positive development can come from persuasion, partnership and a darned good case.
Published Friday, 14th May 2021
Graham Ellis - elected to Melksham Town CouncilA huge "Thank you" to everyone who voted for me last Thursday. Results out yesterday (Sunday) have me elected as one of the four councillors serving for the SOUTH WARD for the next four years. I am independent of all groupings, but look forward to working with councillors of all other parties and teams for the mutual progress and development of matters in Melksham for all residents of the ward and the wider town.
Independent for South Ward
I live on Spa Road in the ward; my address, phone number, etc, no secret and people are very welcome to get in touch. I am here primarily for the people of Melksham South, no matter who you voted for, or whether you voted. But in so much of what goes on there is common interest, so really I'm here for Melksham as a whole - and where it's appropriate the catchment beyond the town.
The Town Council and councillors have great powers to advise and suggest; they carry the power of the electorate's vote and in many cases the weight of many years experience. However, many issues important to you are decided by our Unitary Council, or even subRegionally or nationally, or are in the hands of other bodies. As the only councillor out of 15 elected on an unaffiliated platform and as such I will have the ability to question, encourage, tune and support positive moves, but no real voting power to overturn anything should either of the two major teams decide on a course of action (or inaction). There is already talk of suspending standing orders ... and I need to understand what that means.
Much more to be written over coming days.
Congratulations to all the other successful candidates too - the hard work begins!
Here are the full results for all wards of Melksham Town Council
Published Monday, 10th May 2021
Thank you for voting - How I reached youGraham Ellis - Campaign for Melksham Town Council, South Ward.
1st April to 6th May 2021.
Some stats for the record:
First leaflet - every available door (say 2200)
Second leaflet - almost all doors (say 2000)
Melksham News - all candidate data, almost all doors (say 2400)
37 blog articles written / topics addressed
892 users - 1st April to 6th May, 1869 page views
12 unboosted posts > 10 engagaments 5645 reach, 588 engagements
4 boosted posts, 4417 reach, 692 engagements, 192 link clicks
Topics raised with me most frequently face to face:
* Race / equality / diversity
* Bus to station; empty double deckers
* Traffic around schools at let out time
* Too many takeaways and too few "real" shops
* Mistrust of [others, to my face!] candidates / politicians
* Always vote for xxx party or never for independent
* Person knows me as having been consistently around for years
Published Saturday, 8th May 2021
Thank you for voting - results awaitedThank you for voting - by post, or in person, yesterday - whoever you voted for.
The more votes cast, the stronger mandate those elected will have.
Today - Friday 7th May 2021 - Postal Votes will be opened and verified
Tomorrow - Saturday 8th May 2021 - Count for WILTHSHIRE COUNCIL Divisions
Sunday 9th May 2021 - Count for contested TOWN COUNCIL (and parish) Wards
Monday 10th May 2021 - Count for the POLICE AND CRIME COMMISSIONER
Once the result is published for Melksham Town Council (South Ward), I will follow up on this blog. That much is for sure. Then it's "Plan A", "Plan B", "Plan C" or "Plan D" depending on whether I'm elected by a long way, just elected, have a near miss, or have been trounced. I'll tell you about the plan that's activated early next week.
Published Friday, 7th May 2021
Election Day!Please vote for me - GRAHAM ELLIS, for Town Council - if you're in Melksham South Ward. Your polling station will be at the Assembly Hall, Canberra (on Spa Road) or Queensway Hall.
I'm an independent candidate - not linked with any political party or grouping, so that means I can think for the electorate where I live, without being directed by third parties from outside. I've lived in Melksham for many years, run a business in the ward itself for 16, and live here in the ward. It's my first time standing, but I have done a lot of work volunteering and supporting community development and activities, so I know a bit about what goes on, what needs cherishing and what could do with updating. And in those activities, I'm so familiar with working with others to persuade the community and wider authorities to do what works for us, and makes sense for them. I would much appreciate your vote so that I can continue to work for the community with an electoral mandate.
All through April, I wrote a daily piece covering everything from personal details to what a town council does and where it spends its money - all accessible via http://grahamellis.uk - though as it's now voting day, you will have little chance to read and absorb before you go down to the polling station. But that's important stuff, both for now and for the future. I'll keep you informed after the election too.
Published Thursday, 6th May 2021
Please vote - here are your polling stations
Some readers of this note will have voted already (*), by post, here in Wiltshire. Others will be visiting polling stations to vote tomorrow (6th May 2021). And, sadly, the majority of people who are registered to vote won't do so.
Can I ask you, especially if you live in Melksham (South Ward), to vote tomorrow for between one and four Town Councillors. You have a choice to make between seven candidates. And I suspect it will be a pretty close run election with a narrow margin between those elected and those not elected. Your vote will count and the more votes a candidate gets, the stronger his or her mandate to represent the electorate.
(*) - edit/update. I understand that some postal Votes have only just arrived - too late to be sure of getting them back. You may take them to any polling station in your ward on election day. Rather nullifies the point of having a postal vote, but Wilts Council assure us that the "vast majority" went out in time, and that the usual reason for late returns is that people leave them "sitting on the kitchen table" for too long.
Polling Stations in the South Ward are open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on 6th May as follows:
• The Canberra Centre, (To The Rear of The Front Building), 56 Spa Road (FM1 - 1687 voters))
• Melksham Assembly Hall, Market Place, Melksham, Wiltshire (FM2 and FM3 - 1205 voters)
• Queensway Hall, Queensway, Melksham, Wiltshire (FM4 - 726 voters))
Your polling card will have a voter number starting FM1 through FM4 telling you which is your place to vote. If you sent in a postal vote, you cannot vote in person, but if you had and did not return a postal vote, you can take it, completed, to any of the three polling stations and hand it in during voting hours.
My information is online - perhaps in more detail than is good for me - at http://grahamellis.uk
Published Wednesday, 5th May 2021
Graham Ellis - your candidate revealedI feel uncomfortable being addressed in personal (or Zoom) conversation as "Mr Ellis" or "Sir". I'm Graham and happy to be called / addressed as "Graham" routinely; that indicates a discussion and a level playing field, or at least that the person I'm talking to isn't putting me on some sort of unwarranted pedestal.
But I have become aware in the last few weeks, while campaigning for election to the Town Council, of some embarrassing "pedestal" appearance. Look, I'm just another person. My advancing years may have given me more of life's education than you have had, but they have also started to reduce my energy levels and I need to be efficient in what I do and take on new things carefully - which is what I am doing; Town Council only.
I am a person - with life experienced and background, just as anyone has. They may differ, but they are there; I have not been through what some of you have, but I have been through some things you have not. I have had my rights read to me including a threat of six months in jail in front of my customers. I went through a marriage breakup after 17 years; I should point out that was not the horror that I see others have. I met Lisa after that divorce went through, and we're still happily married nearly 23 years later; "damned geography" as we describe it, with Lisa's original sole nationality being outside the EU and outside the Commonwealth. We know a little about the immigration process, pitfalls, acceptability into certain parts of our society. Health-wise, a few issues (knees, back, shoulder) that were cured with time, and a hearing and balance issue which will never be cured and leaves me at around 75% activity / capacity. I have had a real enjoyment and pleasure in almost every job I did in my working life, but it did include being declared redundant twice - on one occasion with a young family to support. BUT ... these things try us at the time, yet build us as people and build empathy for others.
At our age in life, we have had children, brought them up and been through all the experiences of that. We are now grandparents. Delighted with how they have turned out and that we brought them up to be thinking and self-sufficient. Indeed so self sufficient that it brings both a pride and an element of pain that we don't see them enough - and of course the last year has been an exceptional one. Parents, bearing in mind our age, have naturally passed on - but being natural did not make it any the easier, and we're now seeing friends and colleagues of our own generation pass on too.
Headline picture - our dog Billy; our family. Billy is happy to be seen and posted whereas I respect the family wish for privacy and I do not post pictures of them. Pet pictures generate interest and I note that at least one other candidate has used a picture of herself and her Labrador to help position her. Billy is a greyhound (well, mostly) and came to us via a rescue; both he and "Gyp" (who we lost two years ago this week) were extreme cases and we have learned a lot about how cruel the human race can be, and how forgiving, loving and faithful animals can be even after what they have been put through.
Sanity returns in a week ... elections on Thursday, results on Sunday. Realistically, as the only independent first-time candidate in a large field, I need every vote you can give me to have a chance. Should the unexpected (but possible) happen, I look forward to the role. I am committed to it for the next four - and if re-elected eight - years, and I will NOT change my allegiance aftet Thursday. I have the time and I have the desire. I'll leave the reader to decide if I have the knowledge and vision, and the marketing ability over these few weeks to do that strange thing of selling myself!
Published Tuesday, 4th May 2021
Cycling (and signage, safety and security) - MelkshamIllustration - that's me having my bicycle marked by The Police at Melksham Station on 1st May. Thanks for the picture, Bob.
I didn't cycle for many years until 2020. Medical issues which left me completely deaf in one ear also destroyed my sense of balance. It happened overnight - I went to sleep normal, woke the next morning, and was immediately "sea"sick. It's never going to get better - but it's something I have learned to live with; by some measures I am technically disabled (I qualify for a disabled railcard, for example), but I don't feel disabled, nor in most circumstances do I need to point out the shortcoming. Here, however, I'm doing so, so that readers understand why I'm a new cyclist.
Last year, I needed exercise. And I needed to get around locally. So (during one of the inter-lockdown periods) I hired a bicycle to take along the canal and see how I would get on. Suffice to say I didn't end up in the water. I am now the proud owner of a bottom-of-the-line folding electric bike.
From my home, I usually walk into town - really I live too close in to get the bike out. Headed for the Railway Station, it cuts a 25 minute walk to a cycle ride of less than 10 minutes, and I can take the bike on the train and use it at my destination too - indeed I prefer to do so rather than risk it being stolen or damaged, and cycles on trains are free of charge. It also saves me the cost of parking at Melksham Station, and should I find myself with a long wait for a connection back from either Trowbridge or Chippenham I can (and have) cycled.
Now - I find  I have to know where I'm going to cycle around Melksham and  I find there are certain routes which don't feel as safe as they should be. There are also  some routes that go a very long way round. Examples:
 Need to know
- Coming out of the Underpass from Melksham Station, headed for Murray Walk
- No clue at the top of Hazelwood Road as to how to get out to cross the river
- Coming into Snowberry Lane / The Spa Roundabout - which way to cycle for the town. Also to sign to Town at Heather Avenue - see cyan pins on map.
 Is this safe?
- Town Bridge; if you walk over, you can't pass someone coming the other way, and if you cycle over you may be fearful of motorists trying to sneak past.
- Challeymead Bridge - fast traffic and no safe walking or cycling route.
- Lower Woodrow - part of National Cycle Route 403 and a ratrun of fast cars passing close.
- Most Town Centre approaches (problem with lack of road space)
 Long way round?
- National Cycle Route 403 goes around 3 sides of a square from one end of Lowbourne to the other. You may argue that the direct road is major (the A3102), but then so is one of the sided of the square you are sent around.
- Inwards from Bowerhill - see map; blue line is the recommended way, magenta is direct.
- Try the Railway Station to McDonalds!
A lot of our local signage IS good - it's just that one missing sign can lead to confusion for newcomers / visitors (and, surely, signage is for them!)
These are just examples from personal experience in the last year. The encouragements to cycle that I've taken up should help encourage more people, and locally there's so much we can do to encourage cycling. Good to see the hoops in the Market Place to secure your cycle, and they are there in Avon Place too. Perhaps we need more, and it would be useful in making total journeys if we could take our cycles on the bus ... it's not a new idea - I came across this example from the Isle of Wight when searching for an example I've heard of in Devon ...
Published Monday, 3rd May 2021
Melksham Train Service - then, now, futureWhen I asked the ORR (Office of Rail and Road) in 2005 how busy the railway line through Melksham was, they came back with ticketed passenger journey numbers of around 3,000 per year. The figure to March 2020, including the start of the first lockdown, was 75,000. Absolutely not just my doing - team work, and identifying a setup that had become unfit for the purpose at the time. Having said which, I received the 2017 Sheile McKechnie award for Transport Campaigning, and second place in the Association Of Community Rail Networks "Volunteer of the year" category - not bad for our little town of Melksham in national and heavily contested competitions (Gala dinner presentation, 500 people present type stuff).
A decade ago, trains called before dawn and after dark (but not between) at a single carriage platform at the back of the trading estate. If you missed the quarter past six from Swindon to Westbury, which called there, there was another train at quarter to seven. Problem was ... it was quarter past six in the morning and quarter to seven in in the evening.
Illustration - the station sign at Melksham when I first saw it, and again on 30th April 2021. Symbolic of how we have progressed out of almost all recongition.So where are we now? Where might we be in the future?
|Melksham Station||A decade ago||Now||Four years ahead|
|Trains each way per day||2||8||14|
|Daytime frequency||every 12 hours||every 2.5 hours||every hour|
|Passengers per annum||3,000||75,000||250,000|
|Length of platform||1 carriage||3 carriages||3 carriages|
|Number of platforms||1||1||1|
|Normal Length of train||1 carriage||2 carriages||3 carriages|
|Normal Southbound destination||Southampton||Westbury||Southampton|
|Normal Northbound destination||Cheltenham||Swindon||Oxford|
|Buses to stations||No||No||Yes|
|Car parking spaces at station||6||50||50|
|Accesses to station||1||1||3|
|Live real-time information||No||Yes||Yes|
|Cafe / Loo etc||No||40 hrs/wk||100 hrs/wk|
|Taxis||On call||On call||Rank|
The most important line in this table is Passenger Journeys per annum. A railway exists for its customers. Quarter of a million journeys per annum (more than three times what is was pre-Covid) is a conservative estimate, given reliable, safe and affordanble services running every hour during the day and a late train. Actual numbers could rise far higher than that - comparing train use at other town's stations in the area, and adding in the growth of Melksham that is ongoing and planned to continue. A modest 17 journeys per head of population per annum, with a catchment population of 30,000, would make it half a million journeys.
What has been achieved so far is huge - don't get me wrong - but we have only moved from an unusable service to a poor one. Enormous thanks to everyone who has helped with that, but we need to continue and move to an appropriate service. And it's not even all that big of a change from where we are today.
Where a bigger change is needed is in helping people get to the station. At present, people get there by (in order of numbers)
2. Lift in a private car
5. Driving themselves
The numbers driving themselves has plummetted since the start of 2020. A combination of Coronavirus under which people were encouraged to drive meant that those people already in their cars are now staying in their cars all the way to destination, and the imposition of car parking charges means has put people off - varying changes include people who now drive to Chippenham ("if I'm paying to park, I may as well go to a station with a more frequent service"), and people such as myself now walking, cycling or getting a lift. Walking and cycling to the station are, it should be noted, much healthier and more carbon friendly than driving.
Five or six years ago now, just after the train service has been improved, a bus service was run to the station - just twice a day each way, to connect into and out of the busiest trains from and to residential areas. It quickly built up to a run rate of 9,000 journeys per annum (180 per week), using a bus spare at the time of day at which it ran. But it was withdrawn by Wiltshire Council (who were paying for it to run) to save money after a survey during a bank holiday week by a councillor that was kept secret at the time. Water under the bridge, yet just yesterday I met up with someone who had become a regular user in those few months it ran.
Why aren't other buses used to get to the station? Because they don't go to the station, nor even call at the top of Station Approach (though they go past!). And then - even if you walk to or from the next stop - you are left with a very long wait for the bus or a train. Information is scant, and often totally missing. Then you have the buses not actually going where people ant to go. People who try it once say "never again".
There was no point in the town bus going to the station during the day when there were no trains during the day. But now there are trains. Now we are looking to a a reduced carbon footprint. And now the Govenment has a national bus strategy which encourages Bus / Rail intechange. And that strategy is backed up by funding for councils that implement it, and a cutting off of bus support to those that do not.
In four years time - in line with the table above - I can see travel to and from Melksham Station looking something like this:
1. Walking (99,000)
2. Bus (57,000)
3= Taxi (26,000)
3= Cycling (26,000)
3= Lift in a private car (26,000)
6. Driving themselves and paying to park (16,000)
Just because driving has dropped to the bottom of the list does not mean that the new car park is going to be underused - the 16,000 estimate equates to 30 to 35 spaces occupied on most days, and note that my guestimated numbers only add up to 250,000 ... which earlier on I suggested is a low estimate of where we should be - be it in four years, or perhaps a little longer.
If elected to the Town Council next Thursday, I will be very much working to reach the sort of numbers / targets above. The Town Council role in this is very much an advisory one (the real power lying elsewhere) but a strong and mandated voice for these further developments can help no end. Should I fail miserably to get even close to being on the council, a rethink may be in order. Having said which, I am very much aware of the importance of taking part and also of the magnificnce of glorious failure as a stepping stone to respectful development whihc has kept me going over the years. I was a laughing stock when I suggested a better train service for Melksham. To some extent, it was provided via an experimental funding route in case it did not work, with a target of 108,000 journeys to from or through Melksham by the third year - a six fold rise. We achieved not 108,000 but 180,000. We achieved it not in three years but in one. We achieved it with a great deal of help from all quarters, including former sceptics. We created other problems such as seriously overcrowded train - now fixed ...
Further analysis ((here)) including the necessary steps that need to be taken to achieve these numbers.
Published Sunday, 2nd May 2021
A Tale of Two This morning, two new cafes in Melksham opened. The Cricketers (In the King George V) park was serving for the first time, and will be open from May to September, 7 days a week, from 9 a.m. And the MelkshamHub at the station, which has been softly open since March, was formally opened by Michelle Donelan MP. It will be open from 07:30 until early afternoon, Monday through Saturday. Here's wishing both cafes every success.
Both bring welcome facilities to Melksham - very different facilities. In the park, the Splash Pad has opened for the summer (and I managed to get pictures without children, as is required these days) and there were lots of people out enjoying the sunshine. At the station, the British Transport Police were marking cycles to help prevent thefts, and cycles are for hire. There was a petting zoo there, and Melksham Shed crafts on display, but they're one day only. More normally, a chance to pick up a bacon butty as you head for the 07:53 or 10:02 to Chippenham and Swindon, or the 09:10 to Trowbridge and Westbury.
For me, an excellent opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new ones at both events. Having been involved with Melksham's train service since 2005, and being mocked at even the idea of more trains, it was a real pleasure to see. I wish TransWilts (of which I was a co-founder) well in that venture. It's three years now since they moved on and appointed a replacement for me - (link here). I will admit that my priorities would have been buses to the station and a northern access rather than a cafe and more (and paid) parking, but in the longer run, cafe, access and bus are all needed so I'm rather talking about how we reach what remains the same target. I remain an officer of the Melksham Rail User Group, which is the official (Community Rail Network) Station Friends group. I was down there yesterday when no-one was around; covid rules require that timing to do litter picking and light gardening.
Published Saturday, 1st May 2021