Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary
Looking forward - Assembly Hall
Jump down to (here) for Town Council suggested options and (here) for another alternative of mine also (here) for an account summary.
* Assembly Hall "cannot" carry on as at present
* Town Council vote on options next Monday
* Are they the right options
* Will the community step up, offer, implement and sustain an alterative (and would such an offer even be considered?)
The rest of this blog entry and the previous one suggest a way it could be done
I note from the report to the Town Council that something has to change with regard the Assembly Hall - decision already made: "A ‘retain the status quo’ option has not been explored in this report. The acuteness of risk this would place on MTC in light of COVID-19-impacted losses and the impact this has had on the General Reserves is simply too great for taxpayers to bear."
The Assembly Hall is loved and heavily used, but only by a small proportion of Melksham Town residents. It does bring many people from outside Melksham Town in, for the benefit of businesses in the town. It's the largest hall / such space in West Wiltshire - though for some uses it's really too big. Other spaces are around too, and coming (back) on tap in due course - the campus has a large sports hall, and there's supposed to be a re-opened hall in Melksham House.
I have added a very brief summary of the Assembly Hall accounts into the end of my recent blog. A loss (expenditure over income) of £50,000 per annum equates very roughly to £10 on the council tax charge per band D property, and it has been stated that's "unsustaiable". That £50k year was the last full year before Covid (so typical income), but did not include any major capital / repair / refurbishment work as far as I can see.
OK - if someone (who? - I'm a Town Councillor and haven't seen this at one of our meetings - one of the Committees I'm not on?) has already decided that things must change. The report offers a choice between Option 1 - 'Moth ball’ the AH / Option 2 - ‘Village Hall’ format / Option 3 - Operate as a ‘Hosting Venue’. I have asked about something else ... a lease to an operator such as is done with the old Fire Station , the Cricketer's Cafe, etc. But let me qualify that.
As a commercial venture for a "for profit" company, the Assembly Hall would be a tough nut. Employment costs high, significant risks, limited business growth opportunities, concern at local sentiment and buy in to what has been a community asset, worry about competitive venues such as Melksham House. But with a structure such as a CIC (Community Interest Company), it may have potential. I could write long here but what that would need is drivers who would put their time where their mouth is. We have an incredible number of very skillled people locally who, whilst they are busy, may each have some time to give. Melksham can and has done things like this before and could again.
I am NOT going to write long on this today. I am NOT the one to lead - rather hoping perhaps to seed an idea. What I am happy to offer is to present a case on Monday for the extension of the status quo, or option 2 on a temporary basis (a few months) while you get set up. But to do that, I need someone to say "I will chair and drive the initial meeting" and a handful of others to say "I will have at least a few hours each week to help", and to come along (zoom or In Real Life) to an initial meeting in the next few days; I would be happy to invite a handful around to my home if you want to discuss in real life too, and to share further thoughts, ideas, experience of a CIC.
Huge credit is due to the team who have worked at the Assembly Hall so hard over recent years; I would hope and look to help facilitate the building of the future on their hard work in the past, and in such a way that we can continue to make best use of their knowledge, skills and enthusiasm. And also to say "Thank you" to them for the incredible job they have done so far, which has built up the swell of use and love for the hall which we've seen on Facebook in recent days.
Published Thursday, 5th August 2021
Melksham Assembly HallJump down to (here) for Town Council suggested options and (here) for another alternative of mine also (here) for an account summary.
I would welcome resident's views, and pointers to the manifesto comments and promises made by grouping and parties at the May election, on the future of the Melksham Assembly Hall.
The Hall is not my speciality, but it comes up on the agenda at full council next Monday (9th August): "To receive the report of the Facilities Manager and the Head of Communications. Members are requested to make a decision based on the recommendations contained therein." The full meeting papers, including the report are on the public website at ((here))
1. I wish to be speak and vote on this matter in representation of the residents, informed of what they voted for as part of the packages in May, and also informed directly of their views.
2. I would appreciate comment as to whether the options we are asked to choose between offer a good wide range of possibilities or whether there are other significantly different alternatives which [should] have been considered.
I am aware that no decision on what happens at or with the Assembly Hall over the coming years will be to the satisfaction of everyone. As I write this, I'm looking to learn about views and objectives such that I can make my best contribution to the discussion and vote next Monday for Melksham as a whole.
If you're on Facebook, I have started a thread ((here)) where you can answer; otherwise email, phone, etc ... as per my contacts page. Or stop me in the street at tell me!
I have followed up in a couple of places on Facebook - too many people posting in many places for me to try to get to them all. It fills you in further on the text above.
I have linked to the meeting agenda from my blog at http://grahamellis.uk/blog216.html , where I have solicited views of residents, and also inputs from the parties / teams / groups elected in May as to what they said about the Assembly Hall prior to you voting their councillors in.
The agenda asks us "To receive the report of the Head of Communications. Members are requested to make a decision based on the recommendations contained therein" and I am looking at inputs to help me understand views on options 1 to 3, whether option 4 should be followed through in conjunction with 2. or 3., and I would also like to understand any other options which may not have been explored (I am concerned about pre-selection eliminating something good before it got to full council). All options are explored in more details (starting on page 33, after the bypass stuff), looking at costs and risks, though there is little if any reference to the relative community benefit the council would buy with each.
Option 1 - 'Moth ball’ the AH
Option 2 - ‘Village Hall’ format
Option 3 - Operate as a ‘Hosting Venue’
Option 4 - Greater focus on Cinema; "This is not so much a standalone option, but one that is worth greater consideration in conjunction with Option(s) 2 or 3."
Option 0 - A ‘retain the status quo’ option has not been explored in this report. The acuteness of risk this would place on MTC in light of COVID-19-impacted losses and the impact this has had on the General Reserves is simply too great for taxpayers to bear.
I'm newish to this - first time I saw the report was this afternoon - so a bit jumbled at the moment - but please follow up and help understand the community element too, at https://www.facebook.com/Graham4Melksham/posts/184617870394038
Note that there IS a published Zoom code for the meeting, and as a public meeting residents are welcome to observe. There is an opportunity to speak at the start, and the council might "suspend standing orders" during the meeting to give further input opportunities.
Edited to add ...
A new lease - a life for the Assembly Hall?
I'm noting that the cricket pavillion on KGV is being leased to the people running the Cricketer's Cafe and that the old fire station (most recently Art House Cafe) is being leased to the Good News
Would that be "Option 5" for the Assembly Hall? Has consideration been given to leasing it to an opertor or management team as their mainstream business, rather than continuing to operate it as an adjunct of the activities of the Town Council?
A correspondent writes "I think with the right management, right staffing ( it’s at least half way there ) and a few quid on updating it’s got a huge potential, personally believe that historically a lot of the ideas for what should happen to it are based on views of people who use it for their own specific needs, it’s needs to be a multi use venue that can adapt, it’s been stuck in the mud for many years... a discussion on it is really positive, it’s never going to be making a colossal profit, but it could easily deliver brilliant event space and not lose a fortune." - is he or someone he knows the right person to take it on and explore this possibility?
Would a majority of Town Councillors support this option, which would allow the town to retain and develop the benefits the building offers "This is a valuable community asset, which also a key role in the recreational activity of the town. It also attracts visitors, generating income for the night time economy" writes another. Amongst our number and in our wider community we have some people with extensive experience and wonderful vigour and drive, and great vision and contacts. Would any of them fancy taking this on? I am just sewing the seed of an idea ...
Edit - added 5.8.2021 at 06:30
Summary from Assembly Hall accounts via http://melksh.am/AH_accounts
Salaries and employment costs such as NI contributions have been around 120,000 per annum
Expenditure (2019) included 62,000 fees / percentage to live show acts
Expenditure (2019) included 17,000 on live show production costs and film hires
Expenditure (2019) included 23,000 on bar supplies
Income (2019) of around 100,000 from ticket sales and events
Income (2019) of around 60,000 from the bar
Income (2019) of around 37,000 from general lettings
Income (2019) of around 18,000 from luncheon club
Income has collapsed due (in part or whole-ly?) to Coronavirus effects
I look at the income to 31.3.2021 and suspect it does NOT include furlough income, even though the expenditure shows salaries at the 'usual' levels.
Published Wednesday, 4th August 2021
Get your Covid vaccination TODAYPlease don't leave until tomorrow what you could do today. If you are 18 or over and have not yet been vaccinated, please walk, cycle or drive up to Spencers (on the main road towards Beanacre and Chippenham) and get your vaccination. Times and details in the attached graphic.
I have several very good friends who have been very seriously ill (life changing debilitation with Covid and its after effects) and one who has passed away. Lived locally. This is not a "somewhere else, someone else" problem.
Published Tuesday, 3rd August 2021
Staff announcementsFrom my councillor inbox - following announcements to all councillors and staff members of Melksham Town Council. I would like to add my voice to those of Patsy and Linda in thanking Tim and David for all their hard work, and wish them both all the very best for the future.
30th July 2021:
Dear Councillors and Colleagues
I write to inform you that Tim Cross, Facilities and Hospitality Manager will be leaving his role with the town council on 31 August 2021.
We are extremely grateful for Tim’s hard work at the Council over the past five years and hope that you will join us in wishing him all the best for the future.
26th July 2021:
Dear Councillors and Colleagues
I write to inform you that David McKnight, Economic Development Manager will be leaving his role with the town council on 31 August 2021.
We are extremely grateful for David’s hard work at the Council over the past eighteen months and hope that you will join us in wishing him all the best for the future.
Published Sunday, 1st August 2021
Councillor Interaction on Social MediaMelksham Bypass. The Campus. Encouraging visitors. Canal. Speeding Cars. Council expenditure. Safety, security, CCTVs. Dog Poo. Zero Carbon. KGV Park. Assembly Hall. Brambles and maintenace of paths. Double deck buses. Lighting. The Spiritualist Garden. Car parking. School drop-off congestion. Online access to Council meetings. The old fire station. Housing growth. Cycle lanes on the road. A lot of topics pass through my laptop either out of a general interest, or because of my new role as a Melksham Town councillor.
As I understand it, all parties / teams on Melksham Town council have requested that their new councillors refrain from social media discussions on the sort of topics I have listed. From their position, there's a lot of sense in that. It leaves the way clear for other sources, such as council officers and party / team spokespersons to put out a single clear message. It avoids elected members new to the job finding themselves in a flood of strongly felt (so emotionally written) views on topics on which as yet they may be under-informed, and where they could at times look less than impressive in response. It avoids alienating the electorate by publishing their own views or reasons where perhaps electors might not agree. And it avoids the risks of publishing risks (copyright, libel, etc) as well as concerns about what people may read about themselves.
All sensible, but it can leave the electorate feeling left out, and feeding on snippets of hearsay and rumours which can get blown out of all proportion. And councillors can be accused of failing to listen to their voters - a real shame because your parish (Town) councillor covers the smallest of geographic areas of any elected representative and lives (well, I do anyway) in the area they represent and they should - in my view - be available via any practical route, that availability being tempered by a practicality of the time available to someone who's doing the whole thing on a voluntary and unpaid basis.
It's either a very brave or very foolish (or both!) newcomer to council and social media who sticks his/her head above the parapet and encourages interaction - the more so if "the party" tells him/her not to do so. But, yet, so much of the authority of the councillor relates to them listening, discussing, learning, considering. Considering the silent majority as well as the vocal, impassioned minority, mark you!
I am personally in a somewhat different position to other councillors on Melksham Town Council. I am not a member of a party or team; happy to work with them and doing so, but not encumbered by "party lines" nor advised / directed by leaders who have prior experience of being elected representatives, and agendas they are following. I am not looking to build or continue a career in politics. And, though new to council, I have a number of years of online forum and social media experience which helps me handle the significant pitfalls that are there, while gaining huge benefit for myself (in keeping informed and in letting people know) and my community. I described new councillor on social media as brave, foolish or both - but with my background, I don't feel brave and I'll risk being considered foolish.
My Facebook page at Graham4Melksham is public, and open for anyone to follow up on any topic which I start. I will stick to topics which are relevant to Melksham and the role, and encourage follow up and discussion. I am happy to start new topics / share from elsewhere to trigger discussions too - sometimes I may need to be prompted to pick up a topic.
The code of conduct that I and the team at the Great Western Coffee Shop use ( see http://www.passenger.chat/1761 ) has proven to be a good one over the years, and I'm following the same principles on my Facebook page. In summary, keep it legal, keep civil, keep reasonably close to topic and don't flood post, don't get personal and you are very welcome. Happy for you to air views that are not mine. I do reserve the right to delete comments and switch of commenting, but will do so very rarely and only when the principles are broken. Where such things are broken and it appears accidental, I'll send a personal message to let you know why. People are pretty good and understanding about that (that you) - from my message box yesterday when I felt I had to 'moderate' - No problem ... I do appreciate that you won’t want to get dragged into it ... you are just unfortunate enough to be one of the few councillors who actually posts and gives opportunity to pass comment. and that answer gave me a wonderful confirmation that my social media engagement is about right.
The Facebook feed is far from the only place you can reach me or indeed your other councillors. We are all on email, for example. Our meeting are public for the most part, and most of them have a public participation before they start. A system through which meetings can be attended on Zoom and watched via YouTube is coming in (some issues which I hope are teething ones at present). My home address and phone numbers are well publicised too. I have taken a strategic decision not to dilute my time by having a continual monitoring of LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram or other social media; better to do one or two (Coffee Shop and Facebook) well than try to do have a dozen and do them all too thinly.
Published Saturday, 31st July 2021
Picture Melksham - MAPGThe Melksham Amateur Photography Group ( Facebook Private Group ) met outside the Town Hall a couple of day ago. They meet every Thursday for 2 hours of photography in towns, villages and countryside in the area and when it's practical by public transport, cycle or walking I go along. No quality-of-photography pre-requisites, as you'll note from my contributions.
I've not been going long, and Thursday was the first of their meetings I was at within Melksham. And how much that confirmed to me:
a) What a lovely town and hidden gems we have
b) What lovely people are here about
c) How being a parish councillor is a 24 hour 'job', and I can't walk around without people stopping for a chat - I love it, and it helps keep me informed, and it helps me inform you.
Topics: The commercial economies of running a cafe (two having opened recently - the Cricketers and the Melksham Hub). What's needed and how to set about applying for a license for a cafe (elsewhere). Whether or not the canal will actually be built. Noisy "boy racers" late at night. Future prospects at The Avon / Cooper Tire / Goodyear. Noise and vibration from the A350. Improving the path from the cemetery gate parallel to the A350 that's behind the bund to encourage cycling. Blocking of footpaths. The farmer's bridge over the river to the north of Murray Walk. And one lady (PLEASE call me!) who parked up to catch me, but wants to talk away from the High Street where we were.
If you want to see your local council in action, we're now back meeting in the Town Hall and virtually on Zoom. You can also watch on YouTube. Please come along on Monday to the Economic Development and Planning Committee. I have links to the agenda (short cuts) at my http://melksh.am page which is set up to help you get places quickly.
There's public participation at the start, where any residents can make statements and raise concerns. Questions raised will not be answered right away (the councillors don't know what will be asked, nor will they be able to debate an answer), but they will be noted and followed up as appropriate. That's followed by typical business - taking a look at planning applications to Wiltshire Council and highways issues, and perhaps making local inputs to each of them. Then other business such as (on Monday) noting Wiltshire Council Gambling Statement of Licensing Principles, and the Wiltshire Council By-pass Consultation where there will be a presentation by Steve Wilson, Major Highways Project Engineer, Wiltshire Council. If there is substantial public presence on an agenda item, it was traditional under previous councils for such items be moved up the agenda as the meeting starts, but that swap around is not guaranteed
Published Saturday, 24th July 2021
My personal short cutsIf you are looking for Melksham Town Football club - see ((here))
If you are looking for Melksham Town Council - see ((here))
This article will be updated as new short cuts are added.
Added and Update, 6th September 2021
These links take me (and you) to other web sites.
|http://melksh.am||This Index Page|
|http://melksh.am/climate||Consultation / Wiltshire Climate Strategy, to 17.10.2021|
|http://melksh.am/fomah||Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall (web page)|
|http://melksh.am/@fomah||Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall (Facebook)|
|http://melksh.am/a_2021_08_09||Council Agenda and pack for 9th August 2021|
|http://melksh.am/AH_accounts||Assembly Hall Accounts for 9th August 2021|
|http://melksh.am/z_2021_08_09||Zoom for 9th August 2021|
|http://melksh.am/myhall||Assembly Hall - my blog article and personal comment|
|http://melksh.am/bypass||Melksham Bypass - Consultation to 8th August 2021|
|http://melksh.am/wc_bypass_dropins||Melksham Bypass - Library dropins 30.7 and 6.8.2021|
|http://melksh.am/mybypass||Melksham Bypass - my personal view|
|http://melksh.am/town||Melksham Town Council|
|http://melksh.am/without||Melksham Without Parish Council|
|http://melksh.am/mtug||Melksham Transport User Group|
|http://melksh.am/trains||Melksham trains (current running)|
|http://melksh.am/timetable||Melksham trains (timetable)|
|http://melksh.am/graham||Graham Ellis - home page|
|http://melksh.am/blog||Graham Ellis - Councillor Blog|
|http://melksh.am/coffeeshop||Coffee Shop public transport forum|
|http://melksh.am/museum||The Well House Collection (History and Museum site)|
|http://melksh.am/server||Web server status page|
Published Thursday, 22nd July 2021
Your representative within your communityYour parish councillor is uniquely informed to represent you. Higher level authority representatives (your Unitary Councillor, your MP, and in the past your MEP) are elected by the geographic area, then spend a lot of their time, rightly, away from your area to work for you, for which they are paid an allowance. But your parish councillor lives in (or in some cases near to) your community and meets and represents you there. And your parish councillor differs too in that he/she is an unpaid volunteer - giving his or her time freely to represent you.
Melksham Town is a parish council. As a larger (population) parish, it's divided into wards (areas), and I have been elected to represent the South Ward - one of four councillors with an electorate of 3,841 - that's 960 potential voters per councillor. That's a lot of voters compared to many other parishes - Pewsey has 21 councillors for 3,062 electors, for example - that's just 146 voters per councillor. There are other urban wards in Wiltshire with around 1,000 voters, but "my" South Ward is pretty close to the upper limit.
I am delighted that Melksham Town Council organised a new councillor induction day on 10th July, and a session with Prof Colin Copus on 16th July to help us appreciate the various roles. I attended both and found them very useful; if I have any criticism, it's that both sessions should have been run soon after we were elected on 6th May, and not after half a dozen meetings at which there was an awful lot of business transacted which will echo through the next four years and beyond. Part of me worries about whether this was indecent haste, but then the leaders of "Together for Melksham" and the Conservative group on the council hold 13 of the 15 seats between them, and are both experienced representatives, and they were aligned for their groups on the decisions. So these changes are, in essence, made by the people you (the voter) have chosen to represent you. Every ward in Melksham had an election in May - in each case, more candidates than seats - and as such that shows a strength of interest, and also gives those elected a greater authority than they would have if they were "only ones who stood".
"You'll no longer be able to quickly nip down to the local shop for a pint of milk - people will stop you and want to talk. You will become public property and people will contact you, knock on your door, phone you at all times of day and night. People will know you, even if you don't know them. Things will feel very different." warns Colin Copus.
Yes - on much of that he is right. And more so, I think, in my particular circumstance. I am one of only two councillors on the Town Council (Colin Goodhind is the other), who live and attend town council meetings all in the ward we represent. I walk to town council meetings through my ward. Not that residents limit their interaction to contact within the ward - walking along the Kennet and Avon canal last week, a cyclist stopped to ask me questions, and I was chatting with folks in KGV park - in the Forest Ward - last Sunday.
No - things do not feel different! I can appreciate that they would for many people, but I am used to it already from ... being President of the Chamber of Commerce for a number of years ... running a customer facing business in the town and appearing on "Four in a Bed" on national TV ... campaigning for and supporting improved public transport in the area for many years. So I have come in with my eyes open and I love it.
If you see me around, please feel free to come over and make contact. And please feel free to initiate contact in other ways too. Please do note, though, that I have a lot going on and I may have to have just a quick chat as I head for a meeting - but I can and will get back to you, either with a pointer to the appropriate person, or with a substantive answer or discussion. I really want to hear your views.
Published Wednesday, 21st July 2021
Melksham - Within and WithoutFrom the May 1927 directory (complete document (here) on The Well House Collection site) (census data updated over the last few days). The Well House Collection is Lisa's work; huge amounts on the site for you to explore.
Did you even wonder about the origins of Melksham Town and Melksham Without parishes?
Who was on the Town Council in 1927?
What were the sizes and populations of Town and Without?
What schools were there, and was there a bus from the station?
Published Tuesday, 20th July 2021
Burning our waste in WiltshireMelksham Town Council has asked our mayor to add his signature to a letter that's going from many Parish and Town Councils to the Secretary of State asking him to call in to review the decision by Wiltshire Council to grant planning permission for a waste incinerator to be build within the urban area of Westbury, and alongside a food production and processing factory.
The planning application itself was decided by the top level planning committee at Wiltshire Council, and so cannot be appealed on local grounds. However, there is concern that it breaks council and wider policies, and should not have been passed - which was on a "party" vote with all Conservative councillors present voting in favour, and all others against. The request to the SoS - from ourselves and from many other councils and organisations - is to have their experts take a look at the decision and technical data, and ask if it was the right decision for a waste incinerator (with all the effects it brings) to be built in that place and to those plans.
Only seven of the 15 town councillors elected in May made the meeting earlier this evening - Pat, Sue, Colin and myself seem consistent in attending formal council meetings, committees and briefings / training sessions at which we are invited participants. And we voted six to zero, with one abstention, to have the mayor sign the letter.
The solitary Conservative councillor who made the meeting (brave person!) spoke of the need for us not to export our difficult (not recyclable) waste to third world countries - though when I asked what proportion of Wiltshire's waste goes overseas, he was only able to muster up a UK tonnage figure, which without the context of a total waste figure did not answer my question. 0.1%? 1%? 10%? - I still haven't a clue. He has a good point that we should not be exporting a large proportion of waste "to be picked over by children in dumps in third world countries as you see overseas", but there is good reason for shipping specialist waste between countries where a recycling plant per country would be inefficient; we was talking export, but may I mention import - with the UK bringing waste to Windscale, for example.
But that issue looked like a valiant defence of the party line. The question being asked is "is Westbury, in the built up area, alongside the dairy, and with lots of road traffic coming in the right place to recycle" and not "should we ship our problem far away". I am not being a NIMBY (Not in my back yard); there could be a much more suitable local site. I look at our neighbouring authority and the Severnside Energy Recovery Centre (Seabank Power Station). "Delivery of waste is primarily by rail" and set amongst brownfield sites which will take decades to redevelop, near a barren and damaged seashore. Sounds a much more suitable type of site that Westbury (though, good heavens, Westbury is close to the railway) and I could make other suggestions. And, yes, I'm aware that Wiltshire Council initially bought Woolmore Farm on the outskirts of Melksham with a view to using it as a waste processing plant ...
The maps that support this post show a one mile radius from the proposed Westbury site, and the Seabank site. Note that Seabank has the railway, major trunk road, motorway right there ... in a pretty desolate area. The Westbury map shows where the railway is close by but not planned to be used, and an absence of trunk and motorway service. Lots more housing too - and the map is old; more has been built between the two railway lines since it was produced.
Watch the Town Council meeting - and see the discussion for yourself - at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qUsP4eTnDOU .
Published Monday, 19th July 2021