Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary
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• What's Important to YOU?
• Thinking forward
• MADE for Melksham
• Appreciating Volunteers
• Vision needed - Melksham
• Buy Melksham House?
• Dominoes, anyone?
• More tourists for Melksham?
• To whom shall I rant?
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• Home page and • town diary
• Graham Ellis - blog and • blog index
• Graham Ellis - background and • views
• Philosophies of working as a town councillor
• The Role of the Town Council and Councillors
• How YOU can help and • Contact me
• Links to other web sites and • pictures
How to reach me
I am delighted at the response to my personal Melksham Town Councillor survey at http://grahamellis.uk/blog829.html - please keep the inputs coming. Not only am I getting a significant number of responses, but their shape / pattern clearly shows a great deal of thought being put in. For just for another day or two, I am not even hinting at early results to encourage further responses unsullied responses.
What I will do, though, is to start to address some of the issued raise in the free text boxes. Let's start with "Thank you for the very useful information you regularly provide. Have you considered a regular newsletter in Melksham Independent News, to reach those not using Facebook?". Good question.
I have (and continue) to review how best to inform and reach people. And you are right that I should look to reach people in lots of different ways, because different people receive different inputs. I recall being on the SCOB (Shadow Campus Operations Board) where we wanted to keep the whole community informed and we had ten (I kid you not) different channels but still got people complaining that weren't informing them.
* There is a limit as to what an individual councillor can do. Both in terms of time, and in terms of what (s)he's willing to spend. Remember than the TOWN councillor role is a volunteer one - we are unpaid and do not get expenses; the best we get is the loan of a council tablet if we wish, and the occasional cup of tea or coffee and if we're lucky cakes or a sandwich when we're doing general volunteer work.
* The council as a whole has a communications feed, staff and a budget to inform. I hope you have seen huge improvements there in the last six months or so, thanks to our team - I have. But that feed does not / cannot convey individual councillor communications. However, there's is a limit here too - the information hub project which had the intent o providing all the town information in one place started at the start of last year with an intent to be running by the autumn, but stalled and has been defunded for the next financial year as part of costcutting to keep the precept down. It has been commented that's it's unlikely you'll see anything before early 2025.
And so ... you will hear from me regularly:
* Via Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/Graham4Melksham/
* On my blog, where I have written some 260 articles in 2 years. You can search at http://grahamellis.uk/search.html
* During council meetings, you are welcome to attend in public, or via Zoom or on the council's Facebook feed.
Irregularly, you will also hear:
* Twitter, LinkedIn, Nextdoor. And other Facebook Groups too
* In the Melksham News where I do something they consider newsworthy enough (and I do think of telling them when I do things so they are not in the dark).
* Where there's a local consultation or survey, you'll often find me helping with running it and meeting people, and I'm often to be found at events like the Christmas Lights, Assembly Hall Quiz nights, the Coronation event, River and Food Festival and so on. Happy to talk - I'm largely there to meet people
You are also welcome to make contact:
* Phone, email or social media
* In person - my home address is on this page an no secret; if you "just pop round" you are taking a chance because I tend to be out and about a lot.
* Stop me in the street or park, in the shops, or on the bus or at the station. (Photos - from a walk-around yesterday, 10th April 2023)
Where I am not normally to be found:
* I am not spending my personal money on bulk printed infomation - be that for a regular piece in the local paper or door to door literature, though I did withing the strict legal limits in the lead up to my election in 2021. Nor am I seeking sponsorship or political group backing to promote.
* I won't be on other social media - it's too easy to spread too thinly and to leave outdated stuff behind, or not respond to messages in obscure mailboxes
* I tried a regular Zoom session - open to anyone who wanted to come at a fixed time. Sorry, but once the excitement of the 2021 election was over interest dried up. I AM happy to chat by appointment on Zoom.
* Physical limitations mean that you're unlikely to find me going things like flower or litter duty, or passenger surveys, any longer.
And to summarise my role:
I am just one of fifteen Melksham Town (Parish) councillors elected summer of 2021 for 4 years to represent various parts of the town on the council. Along with three others (Jon Hubbard, Colin Goodhind and Jacqui Crundell) I represent the "South" ward which is most of the Town Centre and the area to the south as far as the A350 / bypass and the A365 Devizes Road. I do NOT represent Berryfield, Bowerhill or The Spa which are part of a quite separate parish council - Melksham Without - but there is a big crossover between the area; we are no longer separate villages except from an admin viewpoint, and we work together on many issues for the common outcome.
The Town Council looks after parks, allotments, the Assembly Hall, some street scene, etc. ... we are also advisory on the future direction of the town, making comment to planning applications and through the neighbourhood plan on the town's future direction. However, we are dwarfed by Wiltshire Council, to whom you (the council tax payer) each contribute some ten times what we ask from you. So for many things, you'll be looking to your Wiltshire Councillor where (in the south ward) you are represented by Jon Hubbard. Your Wiltshire councillor - with his much greater area of responsibilites - does get some income from Wiltshire Council to help him in his role, so feel free to trouble him. None of your Town Councillors receive any funding for that role - however, we all have a love of the town and are happy to give our volunteer time. Colin and I live in the ward and the other two not far away, so we have (or should have) the local knowledge. Even if we are not the right person to raise something with, we can help direct you as appropiate.
Health facilites, schools, shops, care in the community, taxis, buses, trains ... all things that come up and where as councillors we have little or or no formal mandate, and in some cases little influence. We can, though, help air overall views and often offer explanations and pointers, and also help set an environment in which these things develop in a positive way.
Published Tuesday, 11th April 2023
What's Important to YOU?Half way through my term as a Melksham Town Councillor. I feel that as a town council we have plenty of ideas but still no long term vision. We have done some good work, but we have much more we could do, and we need to prioritise both time and money in a way that benefits the medium to long term, and not just the views of our own term until we stand (if we wish) for re-election the year after next.
Which of these are IMPORTANT to you?
Which of these are IN NEED OF ATTENTION?
I am not just asking the question - I am asking you to tell me. Information entered will be used to inform me. I hope to use it to produce some overall views and trends which I may share, but personal data will NOT be shared.
* If you feel something is important, please check that box. That's to let me know what your priorties are, even if they are running sweetly at present.
* If you feel there's a need for action on something, please check that box. That's to let me know if it's something you feel the council should be taking a look at ... I will see if you have ticked the "important" box too as I prioritise things.
With some things we can help directly ... others are outside our control, but we can make inputs that will help persuade other authoritise.
Your help and guidance is very much appreciated - thank you.
* Inputs always welcome - this survey will be open at least until 30th April 2023, but I will be reading results as they come in
* Please get in touch / ask me about any of the things in that LONG list above if you want to ask or say more
* Your inputs here are to me as a councillor and not to the Town Council as a whole.
Published Sunday, 9th April 2023
Thinking forwardLater today, I get back to Melksham having been away for over a month - physically away, though on line every day and getting (somewhat) our local news. Over the weekend, I'll be catching up on Town Council issues - reading in and speaking with fellow councillors. I know that amongst other topics will be the Assembly Hall, the Cafe in KGV Park, staffing issues, Neighbourhood Plan, the Environment and Climate Group, Coronation Weekend and which councillors want what roles for the next year. The motion to move forwards towards a possible purchase of Melksham House which was raised with incredibly little time for thought at the extraordinary council meeting late last month has also filled my thoughts - I was able to watch that unfold, though not vote, via the public access zoom. I look forward to reading the minutes from that full meeting, including the confidential session at the end.
My Facebook Timeline came up with a memory the other day of 2 years ago when I announced my intent to stand for election as one of your councillors in Melksham South Ward. An opportune time to stop, think, review - exactly half way throught the four year term for which (thank you, I am honoured), you elected me for. And to think about what I want to do for the next two years. I have my thoughts, but it would be premature of me to share them until I have validated their sanity against the veritable floor of extra data I'll be wallowing in over the weekend, and during next week when some of our staff team will be available to answer questions.
I can give you some of my underlying personal thoughts - I suspect other councillors ask themselves too. They include "what am I still capable of?", "what do I have time to do?", "what will I enjoy doing?", "what else do I want to do?", "what else should I be doing?" and "can I stand the fire of the council kitchen?" Then within those thoughts, "what is the most helpful for Melksham, places and people I love and things I believe in?"
Published Thursday, 6th April 2023
MADE for MelkshamMelksham and District Entertainment - MADE for you. We are a Community Interest Company offering - from January 2026 ...
* Orchestral Entertainment and recitals in the Blue Room (formerly the Blue Pool)
* Stage acts in the Alford Hall (formerly the Assembly Hall)
* Swimming, dry side sporting activities and creche in the Hubbard Hall (formery the Campus)
* Library and Museum in Melksham House
All these facilities and venues are on the Melksham Campus, with pedestrianised entrance off the Market Place through Melksham House Gates. On your right, reception for the Blue Room (to the left of the new lobby area) and Alford Hall (to the right of the new lobby). Ahead and to your right is Melksham House, and ahead and to your left is Hubbard Hall. The Campus sight also houses the bowling club, the tennis club and the cricket club. Main vehicle access is from Orchard Gardens, and egress from via Place Road, and a new access is available from the A350 to the rear of the site to additional parking that helps keep vehicles away from the Town Centre.
Eat before your event at one our sponsoring partner in town ... Market Tavern, Refa Tandoori, Cornerstone, Henry's, King's Arms, Hiding Place, West End Malay food, Melksham Tandoori, The Bear, The Grapes, Casa and Devana Thai.
We would also like to thank Melksham Town Council (our landlords at Alford Hall and the Blue Room), Melksham Without Parish Coucil, Wiltshire Council (our landlords at Hubbard Hall and Melksham House) and the Swindon and Wiltshire LEP for their help in getting this leisure and entertainment hub off the ground, and the lottery fund for their generous grant support. Without your enthusiastic support, this vibrant new entertainment (and operationally self supporting) centre could not be taking shape.
Events will take place every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening from mid January to the end of July and from September to the week before Christmas, and with carriages at 10:45 and 11:15 each night offering homebound travel to neighbouring towns. These events will be booked by the CIC working with promoters and we are keen to be in touch with promoters and other groups of both estabished an new acts. Regular clubs and meetings will take place in our venues too which are available for hire for the rest of the week too - old favourites such as roller disco, jazz club and model car club and new events too. Alford Hall and the Blue Room can each accomodate over 400 people and we look forward to the return of major Melksham institutions such as TrainWest - formerly held at the Christie Miller Sports Centre - in coming years taking both venues.
OK - It's 1st April and I post this as a light hearted "April Fool" contribution - and yet - why not? Let's make a business case for an excellent entertainment centre in the heart of Melksham. Let's run it as a charity and CIC to allow it to be practical largely with enthuiastic volunteers on a not-for-profit basis and let's really meet the needs of the community. Why not? If YOU reading this are a Wiltshire or Melksham Town Councillor, please add your support.
Published Saturday, 1st April 2023
Appreciating VolunteersTHANK YOU to all the volunteers who do so much for us in Melksham Town.
We have a wonderful community here, and this evening some special people in that community will be thanked for what they have done for the town and its people at the mayor's reception and awards. I was honoured to be on the panel that recommended awards to the mayor, and would like to congratulate each and every person receiving an award. Names are not being widely published until tonight.
The panel was delighted to receive so many nominations and be able to make quite a number of awards this year. As a panel member, I would also like to add my appreciation to the wider group in the Melksham area who do so much for us. There are so many that it's just not possible to mention them all, and the guidelines of the awards means that a number of worthy volunteering people and anyone who is remunerated by the Town Council, cannot be included.
Have a good evening, everyone. And again THANK YOU for what you do for the town - whether or not you are receiving an award. You - wider group - get my personal THANK YOU.
Published Friday, 31st March 2023
Vision needed - MelkshamFuture use of Melksham House? Future use of Assembly Hall? Future use of Old Bank Building? Let's take a step wider and look at the whole picture. Melksham needs a vision. We don't have one. And It needs an expert resource available to help guide and set that vision for the town and its residents as a business. We don't have one.
We did have these things but:
* We declared our business development manager redundant in spring 2021, and lost an excellent person who worked tirelessly for the town. That was a sad council meeting, held in the Assembly Hall with most councillors only given papers on what we were about to do once we went into secret session.
* We failed as a council to pick up the excellent "Priority for People" work from the previous council, and the working out of what we need has faded. The reports are there, we do have the background data if we need it - and indeed I have personally made use of it to inform at suggest what we should be doing on transport, but I should not be alone in developing it and doing so wider than my transport niche.
* We held a visioning day in the summer of 2021, soon after we were elected, to help us put a long term strategy in place. That work, as far as I can see, has been parked in the sidings since then. And as time passes, other things happen and what we all said that day is getting harder to remember and it would be difficult for anyone to pick up the notes.
* From late 2021 and continuing, a great deal of councillor and staff resource has been put into Human Resource matters, with paid and volunteer representative members having a major pull on their time in working these matters through. I would expect an element of this sort of thing at any work place and I am not at liberty to share detail. I can tell you that a great deal of my personal time has been diverted from working for Melksham's future, and that in the financial year just ending we had spend our whole HR consultancy budget in a matter of months, and I estimate we will have spend 5 times what we allowed when the final 2022/23 accounts are produced. I know other have put in a massive amount of time too - and much of that is time lost to other council activities.
* In May of last year (2022), I was elected to be chair of the council's Economic Development and Planning Committee. The main businesses of this committee is to make recommendations on planning applications, to review and promote minor road and footpath projects, and to steer the Town Stewards and Sparkle Team in where to direct their resource limited town clean activities. "Econ Dev" should also be looking out for the longer term strategy, but I will admit to progress being frustratingly slow and uninformed without available officer expertise.
* I am delighted that we asked people in February and March for their inputs on the Town Centre Master Plan to inform the Neighbourhood Plan. My huge thanks to Teresa Strange and Linda Roberts for their work in setting this up and staffing. A couple of Town Councillors as well as myself staffed the stakeholder consultation days. Sad to say I was the only Town Councillor who was there through the following three days which the general public was encouraged to attend. I learned a very great deal - kept busy all the time, as were Teresa and Linda, and a "thank you" to the Melksham Without councillors who helped.
* The Neighbourhood Plan steering group meeting scheduled for Wednesday (29th March 2023) was postponed into April and has now been pushed back into May. One of the inputs will be from that consultation, where "Cluster 1" inputs give us direction as to what people want for the area of Melksham Market Place and the Melksham House site.
* The Environment and Climate is fundamental to our long term. But the ECWG (Working Group) lost several members including its chair in February (in frustration, I believe) and then - although the active members all liaised by email - no meeting was set up for March and our staff sent out a cancellation notice around 48 hours before the meeting was due. Again, a poor outcome when looking at what our vision should be.
* Looking forward in the park, bids were sought to run the cafe for forthcoming year and there was excellent interest, including some really good bids. The working group made a decision last month (February) as to who to appoint, but in spite of that being an excellent proposal that the bidders had clearly put a huge effort into, that bidder withdrew in early March. I only heard about the withdrawal in the last 10 days and councillors were asked for ideas in confidence - I have made a suggestion and been thanked for it, but at this stage I don't know where we stand. I would be amazed if planned opening - even as a pop-up initially - happen, but I hope to be amazed. It could be done in the way.
... so now we have very, very limited vision and it feels that - apart from the existing Neighbourhood Plan which looses some of its teeth in July - we are flying by the seat of our pants without looking ahead at the long term strategy
It's not all bad news in terms of taking note of the public - the year after next, your 15 Town Councillors offer themselves to you for re-election. So you'll start to see (you may already have done so) more popular proposals coming through, and your councillors wishing to engage with and actively support projects which are popular. And projects which can be completed (or at least started or promised) by May 2025.
We do, though, need a vision beyond in my opinion. The Town Centre Master Plan and Neighbourhood plan are good tools for some of that. The Town Council should step in line alongside that with its own vision. I live in hope that it will do so, but I'm far from certain that it will. We need to reduce the time and money we spend on HR; we should be able to do so with a line in the sand and a motivational lead to form us back into a team. We need to put together a proper council strategy looking forward for 5, 10 or 15 years like we are doing for the Neighbourhood Plan and Town Centre Masterplan.
Contention over "Cluster 1" - The Campus, Melksham House, The Blue Pool, The Assembly Hall, The Town Hall and the old Lloyds Bank building - has lead me to write the background above. Melksham Town Council has decided to enter serious negotiations with Wiltshire Council with a view to purchasing Melksham House (28.3.2023, extraordinary meeting). This indicates that your councillors present and it favour at that meeting have serious intent, but not that the issue will be concluded with a successful purchase.
So what does it need - it needs the Town Council to come up with a serious business plan for the future of resources it will continue to own, and for the disposal of buildings it no longer requires. And it then needs (if the Public Works Loan Board is asked to lend us money) clear public support for the scheme. Much information on what's wanted is there already - from last month's Town Centre Masterplan inputs and from the Town Council's need survey for the Assembly Hall which ran at the end of last year, and has yet to be properly considered.
On my return (I'm out of town until Easter), I'll be asking our Mayor, our Town Clerk, and the leaders of the two groupings on the council to work with me on "Econ Dev" to produce options for the business plan, and the plan itself. I may find myself out of step with them all and not re-appointed as the chair of that committee - or even a member of it - in May. We are headed for an interesting spring.
Published Thursday, 30th March 2023
Buy Melksham House?It is right that Melksham Town Council seriously considers whether it wants to purchase Melksham House from Wiltshire Council. It was depicably wrong that the motion to progress this was sprung on last night's (28.3.2023) full Town Council meeting just before it started, robbing councillors who were not "in the know" any opportunity to think it through and the electorate of the opportunity to engage at last night's extraordinary meeting.
There was a one-line clue in the meeting agenda, published last week, that something was going to come up - "5. Motion from the town Mayor, Councillor S Crundell Melksham House". Looking into the report pack, it says "Motion to follow" and so it stayed to Friday, to Monday, to Tuesday. Along with several other councillors, I chased it. The clerk told me she would publish the motion when she got it. But it never came. Until it was read out at the start of the meeting.
I'm away from Melksham this month - I write this message from the Bermuda Triangle, but I guessed this meeting was going to be an important one. So I came along on Zoom via satellite link and watched - I was admitted to the meeting as the item in question came up, after public participation. And you can watch it back on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/melksham.town/videos/640703421402751.
11 Councillors were present in person at the meeting, and (as far as I can tell) one member of the public - the reporter from the Melksham News. At the end of the debate, in which a lot of sensible things were said, as well as many things which seemed to misread data, make no sense or overlook major issues, the council voted in favour of taking discussions on a potential purchase forward with Wiltshire Council. A few members abstained, but none voted against and the motion was carried. The vote was not recorded councilor by councillor, so I can't tell you who voted which way. I can tell you that under local government law, only councillors physically present can vote and so I was unable to do so.
There is much more to write - and questions to address. Where would the money come from? How would this link / relate to the Assembly Hall and Town Hall? What would the building be used for? What do our voters want, and what is practical and sensible? I will come back to these. The way this decision to take a serious step forward was reached last night with a motion not fully and openly available for discusson ahead of time has significantly damaged my personal respect for the parties involved in putting it forward, but in the long run of events will be forgotten in the enormity of potential changes in Melksham.
Published Wednesday, 29th March 2023
Dominoes, anyone?Yesterday, we visited Little Havana in Miami ... lovely to see the older residents in the little park playing dominoes. A booth loans out the boxes of tiles, and the over-55s enjoy play while the hussle and bustle of the main drag goes on just a few yards from them. A series of pergolas protects the players from the extreme sun and rain, though it was dry while we were there. Nearby eating and drinking establishments make this a heart of the community and what looked like a daily ritual for many.
Lesson here for Melksham as the Pavillion in KGV, and the hub at the station, both move on to new phases?
Published Sunday, 26th March 2023
More tourists for Melksham?I'm away from home at present - and yet wherever I am, I am not really "off duty" - I am looking and learning and asking myself "can we learn anything for Melksham from what's done elsewhere?". And at dinner last night, seated with a gentleman from the West Coast of Scotland, conversation turned to favourite places in the world. He mentioned Sydney and Singapore; Lisa and I looked at each other and came up with Melksham - not necessarily for the great wonders we have, but for the community we love and are very much a part of.
We were in New Orleans yesterday and parts of it are very much a tourist city, yet away from the main sections there is a community to be seen, and the tourist trade brings significant economic benefits to the area and the residents. Could we do things to help bring more tourists to Melksham? They are in the area anyway at Stonehenge and Bath, and closer at Castle Combe, Bradford-on-Avon and Lacock? Pictured here - not the paddle steamers on the Mississippi, not the French Quarter, not the Trams and the 20 storey (yes, really!) hotels - but things that can give us ideas. I am not advocating encouraging tourists to excess, but rather looking proudly forward to us welcoming more tourists for - for example - the USA as they welcome us as tourists from Melksham.
* New Orleans T shirt (modeled by yours truley)
* River interpreattion board
* Splash Pad rules
* The Ghost Tour
* Bridge over the water in a park setting
* Specialist drink stand
... not exactly transportable to Melksham in any case, but ideas and food for thought.
Scroll down this blog or jump here and you'll find a previous article - written within the last week for a vision of Melksham 5, 10 and 15 years hence. And, yes, it includes tourism.
Published Thursday, 23rd March 2023
To whom shall I rant?Are you frustrated at something "The Council" does or does not do, and want to get some answers or action? Please read the rest of this post to help point you in the right direction. And if that doesn't help, please feel free to get in touch with me; I probably cannot offer you a solution/answer, but I can help you find someone who can.
This article is written for residents of Melksham, South Ward. The South Ward includes the High Street, the West side of Bank Street, Church Road and Church Walk, The Market Place, St Michaels Church and The Campus all parts of the Town Centre. Then residential areas off King's Road / Semington Road, and Spa Road out as far as the bypass. So that's areas such as Hazelwood Road, Longford Road, Kenilworth Gardens, Queensway (south of Clackers Brook) and Campion Drive.
First - choose from A. B. or C.
A. Are you looking at an issue which is concerned with day to day activities and operation of facilities? If so - you probably want to speak with Officers or staff at the organisation you are frustrated at, and if you've done that already, you'll want to speak to their managers.
B. Are you looking at a longer term issue to do with what the organisation actually does? If so - you probably want to speak initially with one of your elected representative; he or she may advise you that your concern may be addressed by a senior officer, or that the issue is something on which the council is legally constrained, or he or she may take the cause up for you. You probably won't be the first person to raise a concern.
C. Are you looking at an issue with what an organisation is allowed to do? If so, this might be a matter to raise with your Member of Parliament. And it could turn out to be the first step in a very long process.
Second - choose from one of these activity areas but noting these is massive overlap
1. Street Scene, Refuse collection, The Campus, Car Parking, Care in the Community, Planning and building, vulnerable people. Wiltshire Unitary Council may take the lead on these.
2. Parks, Play areas, Allotments, Assembly Hall, Street Furniture, Flowers, Special events in the town. The Town Council may take the lead on these.
3. Health. The National Heath Service is your first point of contact.
4. Public Transport. The train or bus operator is your first point of contact.
5. Crime and security. The police are your first point of contact.
So - have you decided whether you're an A1, a B2 or a C4?
Some quick links:
A1 - Web Application: myWiltshire. Web site wiltshire.gov.uk
A2 - Email: email@example.com
A3 - Your doctor's surgery, 111, or in an emergency 999
A4 - Try GWR for rail and Faresaver for bus issues.
A5 - Phone 101 or in an emergency 999
B1 - Your Wiltshire councillor is Jon Hubbard
B2 - Email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or another town councillor (Colin, Jon, Jacqui)
B3 - [I would have to make enquiries]
B4 - Ask me on this as I am an active public transport exponent
B5 - Police and Crime Commissioner
C[Any] - our MP is Michelle Donalan; emails to her reach her office team who will route your enquiry as appropriate and may well be able to help you
Published Tuesday, 21st March 2023