Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary
Far away, but still learning
Subject line says it really - Lisa and I are catching up on holidays, recharging our batteries, but still with an eye open to how things are done elsewhere so we can learn lessons to bring home.
Well - that was the theory.
In practice, we have been helping behind the scenes with the local Ukraine Support Group - helping under the "Homes for Ukaine" project to connect hosts in North and West Wiltshire who are offering accommodation to guest with families fleeing from Ukraine. See http://ukraine2uk.info/65 for my summary letter to hosts over the last few days.
Published Wednesday, 20th April 2022
One year on - Environment Part Three - Environment
I have last what is potentially the biggest subject to last - the Environment. I believe that we need to take care of this planet of ours - use our resources carefully and work with natural cycles - in order for the planet to be sustained through our and future lifetimes. Over the last couple of generations, scarse and valuable assets, many of them irreplacable over millenia, have been used to excess and in the persuit of modern life that continues to this day. There is very much a need to reset and reconsider - and urgently - but this has only become an agenda item very late in the day and it is now very popular to support in principle, but most unpopular where it's going to put a burden on people's lifestyle.
Your new council, last May, suspended their Environmental and Climate working group ("don't know what they did"), but I am relieved to report that the council's overall policy in every decision now places the environmental effect on the table for us to consider. And I am happy to report that the Environment and Climate Working Group (ECWG) was reformed late last year and has hit the ground running - at least as far as documenting all the subjects in hand. Of around 60 line items, three have been selected for initial concentration; I was asked to take a look at the subject of messaging with a sub-group ... various pitfalls in there; and we have reported, but been asked to go back and suggest something which meets a very wide range of aspirations and views as to how it should be done - so wide that I find it hard to see how they can all be accomodated. There's an elephant in the room too - the "Virtual Hub" project - see http://grahamellis.uk/blog424.html - which should be so good to work with, but has slipped in timescale and as I write I'm unsure as to when it will be ready, what data feeds it will take, what data it will carry and what it's publication policy will be.
So - "Environment" is very much a subject that needs urgent attention, but the council is only realistically able to turn a few of the wheels and feels to be doing so frustratingly slowly - delayed in getting started last summer but headed in the right direction. In my opinion, needs to do so faster, and I will press for more effective work and communication, somehow.
Published Saturday, 9th April 2022
Assembly Hall - name and rate change?
Monday's full Town Council agenda included the following (item 7.1), but time ran out and the item was deferred to a future meeting.
"To receive the report of the Acting Head of Operations regarding the operation of the Assembly Hall for the coming financial year, and to approve the revised pricing structure."
I have mirrored a copy of the report (five pages of it) (here)
In addition to hiring rates, the report suggest a rebranding to "The Assembly -the Place where Melksham meets" and describes how the team is catching up on maintenance. It also talks of VAT issues, and state "We propose to operate the Assembly Hall this year within the budget set on 13th December 2021 and minimise the costs wherever possible". No discussion was invited on the items.
Please take a look at the five pages. What do you think? Looks like the item may come up at an extra meeting next Monday which is on the Council web site tonight, but for which no agenda has been published.
Stop Press. The full council meeting shown on the council website for next Monday has been removed and there will not be a full council meeting that evening.
Published Wednesday, 6th April 2022
One year on - OpennessPart Two - Openness
A year since I started campaigning in public for the Town Council. Today's post in this series is on transparency and openness. I believe that local government should be made accessible to the electors and general public as widely as practical. There have been too many times that I, and others, have learned about things too late to make inputs to a process and perhaps help that process along for the better.
I wasn't shocked - but I was disappointed - when a fellow councillor "strongly recommended" at our first meeting after election that we be silent on social media. A firm lecture rather more recently has strengthed my resolve to keep the public informed - and to listen to the valuable feedback that results. I'm also keen on guiding the system so that information is more easily found; much of it is around and published, but buried. I had to go through 4 pages to get to the link for tonight's meetings at 7 p.m. when I think the next meeting should be featured on the front page. Here you go, from 19:00, Today, 4th April 2022
It took a long time - in my view, longer than it should, to get our Council meetings on line. And we are still learning - but getting there. And I look forward to other projects in the pipeline which should bring far better waymarking of information and resources.
Published Monday, 4th April 2022
One year on - EqualityIt's a year ago this week that I first let people know that I was standing for Town Council. I didn't expect to get in, but plan in place in case I did - to do a good job in representing the people of Melksham's South Ward, and at the same time being true to my own values.
Funny how you remember little things, isn' it? During campaigning, I offered one gent my second leaflet, and he politely declined. Market research, I asked him why and he told me he would never vote for anyone who had supported the Black Lives Matter ... and I thanked him for letting me know. On just a few topics (the environment is a second, and openness of government the third) I'm uncomfortable representing opposing views at Council for my electors. I am very happy to help any of the electorate with other issues, but if it's supporting opposition to equality, count me out - perhaps Councillors Crundall, Goodhind or Hubbard would be better to support you.
Part One - Equality
I was going to post about the other topics today, but I got a reminder of the equality issue. Lisa and I have been working hard for the last week putting together a web site, forms and database to help match up potential hosts and guests under the Homes for Ukraine program, and help share information so that experiences of one person may prepare others. And so that we know where local resources are to be found locally. As a sponsor or host, we'll be entitled to a payment of £350 per month for a family staying with us if it happens, and it has been suggested we're only doing it for the money. No - it's basic humanity, and we have the resources to help.
I got a second reminder too. "Well - if you take them in, good luck getting rid of them" said another correspondent. Err - I'm speechless. We have no time limit and next steps will be by mutual agreement; we don't know what the future holds but we do know these are real people just like you and I (well - not "just like" - they have been through horrors that we have not)
I look forward to helping further with the matching, help and support site for Stuart. I look forward to welcoming [I'll give you names later] if the pieces fall in place. And I look forward to them being with us for as long as it mutually suits.
I have been asking myself why I am really confident in what we're doing here. So many people we know and respect and know are doing the same. We used to run a hotel and we're very used to guests from all over the world. We have provided emergency "fleeing" accommodation before - and it has worked out and enriched. And we feel we have the capacity to do it. Yes, of course there are risks - but there are risks in everything - nothing ventured, nothing gained. Back to the beginning of this piece - standing for council. There was a risk there too but I'm so glad I took it.
Find out more - (here)
Published Sunday, 3rd April 2022
Linking sponsors in the UK to guests from UkraineThe 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