Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary
Linking sponsors in the UK to guests from Ukraine
The last ten days, I have been busy helping put together a web site to help contact, inform and match up in-need guests who are looking to stay in our part of England for a while with generous residents in the area who are prepared to house them for a while. Amazingly, although UK hosts have been asked to sign up, there has been no central site of body to help hosts and guests match up - no "dating agency" - but rather an online scramble with lots of really genuine people who have opened their hearst and, I regret to say, people of both natioanllities (and others) looking to take advantage of the situations of others.
There are lots of visas and forms and complexity for our potential guests, and a great deal to do here in the UK as each local authority is charged with ensuring that the housing offered is up to standard, and an adult residents there are suitable people to receive guests - and the information resource I have helped set up provides pointers in that direction, then going on to take a look at how to actually get here.
Getting in touch, getting approved and getting here are just the first stage. Just imagine, dear Melksham reader that you had to move with whatever you could grab to a distant land where you didn't speak the language and stay with kind people you had never met before. With that imagination, you're putting yourself in the their shoes - but only partly so; to be more complete, you also need to imagine that Melksham is a smoking ruin and you don't know (yet?) what's happened to your family and friends.
So the next stage is finding local help of all varieties; for sure "the authorities" will probably be helpful, but won't be there every hour of every day in each household, and their specialists will be in short supply - I don't expect there are many school teachers who speak Ukrainian, for example, nor officials to arrange transport and lifts of to provide (and there will be cases) bereavement councilling.
(*) - front page
(*) - our information database and forum
(*) - our smallprint
(*) - Sign up as a host (local support)
(*) - Sign up to offer other help (if you don't have a spare room)
(*) - Sign up if you are from Ukraine looking for somewhere to stay
(*) - Зареєструйтеся, якщо ви з України і шукаєте де зупинитися
(*) - our facebook page
Huge thank you to Stuart Pearce - A Melksham South resident - for setting up and running the group. Lisa and I are happy to be helping with the IT infrastucture, and to be working with a family to help them come and live with us.
Published Saturday, 2nd April 2022
Annual Parish MeetingsAnnual Parish Meetings - Melksham Town on 28th March and Melksham Without on 29th March 2022 - agendas published.
"At the Annual Parish Meeting, electors, public and press are invited are the to hear reports from the Chairman/Mayor, Unitary Councillors, community groups and any organisation that the town or parish council has funded during the year."
For Melksham Town - 28.3.2022 - 19:00 at Melksham Town Hall
No remote access details as yet - I have asked if it will be available
For Melksham Without - 29.3.2022 - 19:00 at Bowerhill Village Hall
Remote access details in that document
Also a keynote speech at Melksham Without from Adam Walton, chair of Biddestone and Slaughterford Parish Council and the Wiltshire Climate Alliance on "What Parish Councils can do about Climate Change".
Melksham TOWN covers most of the continuous urban area of Melksham, and Melksham WITHOUT most of the surrounding villages such as Bowerhill, Beanacre, Berryfield, and Shaw and Whitley. Both are within the wider area covered by Wiltshire Unitary Council, and both are currently in the Chippenham Parliamentary seat
Published Sunday, 20th March 2022
Melksham resources on FacebookThere are lots of pages and groups on Facebook that cover Melksham and "things Melksham". Here are some of the current ones, sorted by number of members / followers.
These are places where any member can start a discussion:
32900 - For Sale Free or Wanted, Melksham (link)
(*) 11000 - Spotted Melksham Town (link)
5100 - Historic Melksham (link)
4300 - Melksham Community Group: (link)
1400 - Melksham and Area Local events and things to do (link)
1400 - Melksham Free Stuff offered / wanted (link)
976 - Melksham East Residents Group: (link)
629 - Melksham Discussions: (link)
317 - Melksham Amateur Photography Group (link)
240 - Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall (link)
125 - Options 24/7 (buses) (link)
104 - Melksham Seniors (link)
91 - Melksham Town Centre Businesses (link)
(*) 83 - Shout out Melksham: (link)
43 - DWH Hunters Wood Melksham Community Page (link)
Numbers are number of members
* - Spotted Melksham Town is no longer available for updates. It has been replaced by Shout Out Melksham run by the same admin for the same purpose, and Melksham residents are encouraged to (re)join
These are places where only administrators / owners can start a discussion:
7600 - The Sham Shout Outs (link)
4200 - Melksham Town Council (link)
1472 - Melksham Now and Then (link)
564 - Melksham Tourist Information (link)
577 - Melksham Without Parish Council (link)
463 - Melksham Transport User Group (link)
360 - Melksham Climate Action Network (link)
336 - The Well House Collection (link) (link)
101 - Graham Ellis, Melksham, Independent (link)
Numbers are numbers of likes or follows
* Listing of a group or page here is for your information and does not represent an endorsement.
* List as at 18th March 2022
* There are a number of much smaller groups around; I have chosen a cutoff of 30 members in selection above
* Please let me know if you would like me to edit / update this list - happy to revisit up to 31st March 2022
Published Friday, 18th March 2022
Trolling may feel good but does not helpTrolling is deliberately being disruptive by email or on blogs, forums or other social media. It's rare for it to target a town councillor - or indeed all fifteen of your councillors. But it's been happening this weekend. I hope the troller has enjoyed his vexacious behaviour. It has done him no good; see such things before, though very rarely and it really removes respect I could have for him.
Onwards, upwards - town councillors can't please all the people all of the time, they cannot change most of what the previous council did, and they cannot ... oh, never mind, I have better things to do ...
If you have any queries of me or any other councillors, please let us know. Please tell us where you live (so we know who's best to answer) and don't lace your message with personal insults. We'll be delighted to get back with you - help you get your query or issue answered fully.
Published Sunday, 13th March 2022
Who should be Mayor for the next year?With the Town Council's year coming to an end in the next couple of months, thoughts turn to who we should elect as our mayor and deputy mayor for the next year. Last year, with just two of 15 councillors continuing from the previous council, it was natural for the choice to fall onto one of those two with prior experience while the rest of us learned the ropes. For next year:
a) Who could best represent the town and its council to the press, to residents, and to the wider community in Wiltshire, and ensure that the interests of the town are looked after in such circles?
b) Who could best lead the council's direction and team as it goes about its business, taking overall initiatives, chairing full council and perhaps other committees, actively garnering wide support and being the goto (wo)man of last resort.
The Town Council combined these roles last year, so (barring an exceptional change) you are looking for a person suited for both roles, and with the time and necessary resources to take them both on. Here are your potential candidates - and to help me think who I could best propose and support, I have added the number of meetings each has been 'invited/expected' to attend in the past six months, and the number of those they have actually attended.
|Councillor P Alford||9||9|
|Councillor P Aves||14||14|
|Councillor G Cooke||15||10|
|Councillor J Crundell||13||8|
|Councillor S Crundell||17||12|
|Councillor G Ellis||12||11|
|Councillor C Forgacs||10||9|
|Councillor C Goodhind||21||21|
|Councillor C Houghton||12||11|
|Councillor J Hubbard||18||14|
|Councillor L Lewis||10||9|
|Councillor S Mortimer||18||18|
|Councillor J Oatley||17||14|
|Councillor T Price||12||5|
|Councillor S Rabey||16||16|
More data on the Town Council's website (here) where you can drill down meeting by meeting if you wish. You will find all of our pictures there - the picture at the top of this post is purely illustrative in the interest of absolute balance.
• the number of meetings that councillors are invited to depends on how many committees they are on, and it would be a good idea for the next mayor to have a wide experience.
• I would be worried about supporting anyone who's missed more than a couple of meetings. It's a warning flag that indicates that they may not be in a position to fill an extended role. There may be exceptions due to short term personal issues.
• Just in case you ask, no, I do not wish to stand. I do not feel that I am smart and conventional enough to fulfill part (a) of the job speciication, and don't have the time, desire, or robustness to fulfill part, nor the general knowledge from being on lots of different committees to fulfill part (b). But I would love to hear your views!
Published Saturday, 12th March 2022
Museum for Melksham?A question triggered the question in the Melksham News - "What shall we do with the Round House"? Lots of likes on their Facebook page - a clear public sentiment in favour of it, but is that practical and sustainable over time? A Museum was tried in there once before, but it didn't last, and it's been tried in other places too. That was before my time, but from what I understand, there were issues - some of these I list below.
For a museum, you really need:
1. space for something big enough to house to attract visitors, and indeed to house some of the interesting exhibits you will gather
2. knowledbable people on hand to receive visitors when you are open, and opening hours long enough to attract visitors
3. a staff "rest room" and somewhere to make a cup of tea - tap, water, fridge
4. a place that's secure and an environment which is appropriate for the artefacts you have - heating, ventilation, humidity regulation
5. varied passing traffic on foot or something that draws the crowds to make you a destination
6. a passionate team who want to organise it and make it work
7. easy parking "just outside" especially for those with limited mobility
8. Funding to make the above happen, and publicity to ensure that people know it's there, are encouraged to visit, and are enouragage to come along with memorys and artefacts
9. Support from the whole (or most of) the local community with an interest in history.
10. Access to experts in history, running museums, evaluating artefacts, loan of items for exhibitions, training, etc
It's not just about putting a few small items on an old table in an otherwise-unused building somewhere and popping down to unlock it on the third Saturday of each month and extra over spring and summer back holiday weekends.
Melksham has a rich history, and a great deal in the past to celebrate and to inform people on. It's a growing town, with many new residents who won't know about its past, and indeed it's "ripe" for a museum. Looking ahead, as projects such as the canal bring in more visitors, and our town centre becomes much more a social centre and less a retail outlet, there is further reason for a museum.
It's been tried at the Roundhouse before, at Rachel Fowler, and we had/have a museum room here at our place - while we were a hotel, "open all hours", and now as we come out of Covid, by appointment. There was planned to be a museum / exhibition in The Campus and that would have provided a wonderful answer to many of the issues above (and the resources we have would have been very much available). At the time of writing, we know it won't be in the much-reduced Campus, Melksham House is up in the air (Wiltshire Council are advertising internally for users). There would be a logic to housing a museum in the Town Hall - many of the issues listed above are answered.
Lisa and I have a lot of background here. Every day, Lisa's On this Day report for Melksham appears on Facebook. Our much more stable Well House Collection page include links to the museum room and huge amounts of historic data.
I am more than happy to take a further interest in a museum project - I don't think the Round House is right, and there are many major issues to be addressed before "wouldn't it be a nice idea to ..." gets translated into a viable project.
Published Friday, 11th March 2022
A solution looking for a Problem?The Round House on Church Road in Melksham is a wonderful historic building. Philip Wilkinson wrote about it in 2007: (link)
This small surprise is tucked away in a side-street in the Wiltshire town of Melksham. It’s an 18th-century structure, built, Melksham being a wool town, as a wool-drying room. When the wool trade declined in the 19th century many such buildings were no doubt demolished. But this one survived, playing down the years a multitude of roles – armoury for the local volunteer militia, feed store, business premises, tourist information centre, and museum. England has many specialized structures like this, the often odd-shaped remnants of local industries – oast houses and lime kilns come to mind. Often they seem designed so precisely for their original function that adaptation appears impossible. But with a little imagination, many of them have been recycled to the delight both of their users and of passers by
Inspiration is needed for our Round House. It's owned by the Town Council and morally we retain it as part of our heritage (it's listed, so that is a legal requirement too) and we should also make best use of it an asset to the town in some way, at the same time keeping check on the amount of precept-payer's money we spend on it over the years. We could sell it, I suppose, the duty of care (listing) passing to the new owner, but I'm not sure anyone would want to buy it, and if they did your council would need to re-assured that the purchaser really could make a "go" of the building.
So - what use of such a historic buildings? It could be a shop but it's too small to be practical. It could be a 'bijou' self catering holiday flat but it has no sanitation. It could house an ATM machine though I have heard no expressions of interest. It has been suggested for a parcel hub but we have those elsewhere in Melksham and in any case it's not staffed for long hours as many opertors require. Perhaps it could house Pop up vendors but it is slightly off the beaten track and in an case that would only be occasional. It could be used for tourist information but the existing TIC is directly opposite! It could be uses as a store but I can't think that The Council needs a small store room there; could do if there were regular events in that parklet. And the perennial suggestion - it could be used as a museum. Actually, it was once but that didn't work out long term; nothing to stop us trying again, except that for a museum we need to learn from multiple past short-lived experiments in Melksham and find a suitable venue.
The next article will take a look at "Museum for Melksham" ... (it will appear above this one if you're reading my blog)
Published Thursday, 10th March 2022
Ukraine. Welcoming refugees and sending aid(From Sir Roger Gale, Conservative MP for North Thanet on Twitter):
So we now know the answer to the question that I posed yesterday: just fifty visas granted to date and families turned back at Calais. A disgrace.
Around a million refugees have moved across the border from Ukraine into (mainland) Europe, where they are typically accepted with little or no paperwork for up to three years. Should they wish to come to the United Kingdom, they have to go through a visa application process and (as I understand it) prove / have sponsorship from a settled close relative (and "settled" means someone who has a right of permanet abode, such as an indefinite leave to remain).
Personally, I strongly agree with Sir Roger. Western Europe (the EU + the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Norway) has a total population of over 500 million and between every 100 people here, surely, we could welcome one family. It is heartrending to read stories of wartime evacuees being welcomed eighty year ago - be they getting away from bombing in London or much worse in Germany. The picture illustrating this entry is of the statue in honour of the Kindertransport.
I appreciate that 17 million people voted, in June 2016, for Britain to leave the EU, bringing a separation of nations which has provided the foundation for the current stark differences. Personally, I am proud of what this country (and this town did in taking people in during the second world war, and embarrassed at the different mindset shown by our government as I write. I do appreciate it's what many of you voted for - though I suspect you might update your view if you met - as I have done in Melksham - with one of your neighbours who talks of her escape from the burning city on Danzig / Gdansk. I sat with open mouth and tears with the old lady who had made herself a quiet, useful life here - and with a family who had become the pillars of our town.
On recent previous refugee crises (since Idi Amin and Uganda in 1972), raw numbers arriving in the UK have been low and having them spread out right across the UK would make for a lot of lonely families at the very time they needed the support net of others in the same arrival situation. If our goverment were to step up to the marks, perhaps 50 to 100 family groups would arrive in Melksham, and that would mean there was no over-thin spread. And personally (for I intend to put my money where my mouth is), Lisa and I would have room for some in our home. We know it would be far from easy. But we know these are people too.
I am delighted at the response to the appeal in Melksham for goods and money to send to help the people of Ukraine. It's been magnificent. There are questions as to how effective it will be - but I note that whilst there is bound to be wastage along the way a lot of it should get through There are those who say "send money and to help people buy things they need locally" - ah, but is the shelves are bare, there is nothing for people to buy. The Solution has to be that we do both, and accept that there is going to be wastage along the way. Tough - if a coat saves someone from freezing to death, who cares if another 100 coats are thown away?
Back, sadly, to where I started. Here are some of the report of issues getting aid along the parts of their journey that would have been easy a decade ago. Also from Twitter:
|Vans are now being turned away at dover docks carrying aid for minimal value on commercial invoices - by the BRITS - not the french . They are enforcing the law 101% on humanitarian aid . Miffed and dumbfounded is an understatement|
It SEEMS that civilian staff are refusing to allow the issue of boarding passes , obsessed with the T1 export declaration / even zero rated invoices no longer suffice , I can’t help but think something is happening . Why refuse aid . There needs to be an agreement to get it out
Probably no better, if things can't actually leave the UK - the tweet says "- by the BRITS - not the french". It's not a complication created in Calais (or equally Netherlands), but in the UK.
The most astonishing thing about this is that brits reading this will still just assume that they are the good guys. Always. Johnny Foreigner will always be the baddy to the British, and if we’re being honest, almost half of brits think foreigners are just inferior to them.
A friend has just come back with his van full. When he remonstrated with the border people he was threatened with arrest and told to give it to a British charity!
Not futile but now no room for well meaning amateurs. it is international rules (here on humanitarian aid) across external customs & regulatory borders.
People from UK no longer moving goods (or anything else) into EU *internally* . Contact professionals
This is an utter disgrace. It surely needs only a word from government for this problem to go away. They're is patently no desire to do so. Just who's side are we on???
Why are we so surprised. We voted them in and now we have to watch as they abdicate any sense of human decency , kindness or respect for human life. Those who voted for them , this is your contribution to the process. I hope you can look your family in the eyes and feel proud.
To everyone who has been contributing goods and helping in Melksham and elsewhere, Thank You. There is determination along the suppy chain and - teething troubles though there may be - the pressure of the flood will get much through, and you are helping feed that flood.
Also to note - there is an urgency, but there is also a long term need. Do not be depondent at shorter term issues and get put off from ongoing support. We are on for a long hall in issued Ukraine. But yet look at the strength brough to the UK by those kicked out of Uganda by Idi Amin, or the families who are in out town and look back to their parents who came out of the horror of Poland during the second world war.
Published Monday, 7th March 2022
Facebook Moderation - Friends of Assembly HallWhat posts and comments should be allowed in Facebook groups? I find myself as an administrator of the Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall Facebook group - a private group which, however is visible, with well over 200 members.
What is the purpose of the group? "Melksham Assembly Hall - to provide live and recorded entertainment for public audiences of up to 400, and hire for events and groups commensurate with that space, for a customer base primarily in the West Wilts area."
In principle, I am in favour of "free speech" to allow wide ranging discussions, but there are limits. The group should be kept on topic, and to join us to post promotional material about events happening in neighbouring town at the same time that we have a major event public event in the hall, and without (as far as I can see) any previous posts of support and interest is cheeky. To post that without even asking the admins is double cheeky, or thoughtless.
Just about every group I am involved with Friends of Melksham Assembly Hall and Option 24/7 - our Wiltshire bus campaign as admin and members of others such as the Melksham Amateur Photography Group where - and it is so easy - I have accidntally broken a posting rule in the past and had my contribution deleted.
* Please post and help keep the groups busy and interesting
* If you are in and doubt, please ask an admin before posting
* And if you spot something you feel is out of order, please let an admin know.
Published Tuesday, 1st March 2022
A Virtual Hub for MelkshamSome questions you may ask
- What is the Melksham weather forecast for tomorrow?
- Where can I park in Melksham, how long and what cost?
- How do I research my Melksham Ancestors / history of my house?
- Are the Melksham trains running on time?
- When is the next meeting of the Melksham Historical Society?
- Where are keep fit classes in Melksham?
- When does the Melksham splash pad and cafe open?
- What's happening in Melksham about climate change?
- When and how can we replace our Melksham councillors?
- When is the next Melksham Council meeting I can bring a question to and is it on Zoom?
- Who is my councillor and how do I contact him/her?
- Where can I exercise my dog in Melksham?
- Where is my nearest playground?
- Do we have a neighbourhood watch? A neighbourhood plan?
- How do I report graffeti?
- Where can my friends, visiting with a child, stay?
- Is there a hairdresser in Melksham?
- Is [task] something for the Town Council or Wiltshire Council?
- What is the difference between Town, Without, and Area Board?
- Which takeways near me are open at the moment?
- When is the next market? Town Centre or Avonside?
- What is at Scoff this week?
- How do I get to the Royal United Hospital?
- What is Parkrun?
- Are the answers I am getting up to date?
I am just one of 15 Town Councillors here in Melksham and on many days. On many days, I write and share online on a topic that I think may be of interest.
In the last week, 265 different people have visited my blog pages, calling up 448 pages. I'm writing this very early on Monday morning and already 66 people have come to my website to view yesterday's post going into detail on car parking charges for the disabled in Melksham, and 92 on the lighting of the Town Hall in the colours of the Ukrainian flag which I posted on Saturday. 70 have looked at the detail of the Melksham play areas written a couple of days area. This is just the tip of the iceberg - Facebook reports 1220 people reached and 280 reactions to my disabled parking post, 741 and 129 to the Ukrainian flag and 1225 and 45 to play areas, 518 and 138 to my post about Waterloo Live at the Assembly Hall. Feedback is varied - there have already been 60 follow up comments on yesterday's parking post (quite a few, I admit from me as I clarify and explain further for people) and that is a valuable two way conversation in both me informing the public and the public informing me ... with other councillors welcome to read should they wish to do so.
There is clearly an appetite for information and discussion - these are not one-shot visitors I have written 126 posts in the last 11 months, and people keep reacting and answering. I am not unique - look at Facebook groups such as "Sham Shoutouts", the Melksham Community Page, Melksham Discussions, Melksham East Resident pages, and so on.
But my information feed like all these others is very "bitty" - it's one of many, and there is no common indexing. We do co-operate and share (to a greater or lesser extent - a few are protective of their data)
The Virtual Hub project
Your Town Council's Community Development Committee meets a week today (7th March 2022). at their last meeting, they set up a working group of three members to look to procuring a "virtual hub" to bring all these things together, with another councillor volunteering to help them come up with a specification for what they need. I look forward to hearing their report. This is not an easy task, and there is a danger of a lot of money and effort being poured into a project that's only partial and gets limited traction. There is also the possibility of coming up with something rather good.
I set up an online forum and information source (relating to the rail campaigning I do) over a decade ago, and it's still running to this day - a little long in the tooth, but we still have some 4,000 visits per (last) week, with members adding some 300 new items in that time which keeps encouraging people back. It included a map showing immediate issues with trains across the South West, a news feed from the BBC about "things transport", an "On this day", and a searchable archive of some 20,000 topics we've covered and 1,500 mirrored industry documents. There's a hot topic box showing what people are most liking, and a diary of events coming up that people can attend or consultations they can reply to. And there's a polling capability where we can survey our members. About 10 members have been appointed as "moderators" - our inner team who are regular visitors and who can step in if necessary and sort out issues they spot in their day to day visits without it being a big maintenance job. There are a number of things I would like to improve as "webmaster" ... it's not very good in presentation on tablets and mobile phones ... printing out pages for people not on line to take away has some formatting issues ... searching for things is a bit rudimentary ... feeding out to and in from Facebook and Twitter is not as automated as I would like. See http://www.passenger.chat if you want to take a look at this example of a "virtual hub".
The specification and writing of the software and initial "go live" for the system feels like a big task, and I wish the working group well. They really need to consider at this stage the lifetime maintenance cost of the software which will most likely by a higher figure, and the data entry and update effort which will - if the system succeeds - dwarf the other two elements combined.
The system specification is looking at the heart of the system - the engine. Inputs, outputs and feeds are important, as is how the system will be marketed to attract people to come along, read the posts and contribute in the crowded information world. Audience retention (with personalisation) and communication between, and moderation also need to be considered. Well planned and with a blaze of publicity with well populated pages at launch, it can take off well; there may then be a bit of a dip as it's no longer the "latest and greatest" news and will require perseverance and investment in encouraging and making contributions. I look forward to seeing this coming together - happy to make further comment if invited, and indeed I have already passed through ideas and thoughts to the lead officer.
Look at the questions at the top of this post, and the £64,000 questions
- are the answers I'm getting up to date, or from last year?
- what rules and guidelines do we set and how do we develop and apply them?
- can I advertise here and how do I do it?
- how do those without Internet access find out these things?
- can we to a tailored periodic compendium by email?
- how do I get my own thoughts and events added to and found on this data pool?
Not my project - but I wish them well and hope that they will at least take a look at my inputs and do a quick "check list" run to ensure they're aware and have given appropriate consideration to the items I raise.
I look forward to being the "Virtual Hub" being flagged up on my daily feeds when there is something of interest in the future, of it being my "go to" when I want to navigate to anything Melksham, and being able to easily add content there from time to time.
Published Monday, 28th February 2022