Graham Ellis - Regular updates - my diary
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• Rubbish bins - do we need even more?
• Melksham Town Centre
• An Introduction to Graham Ellis
• Four in a Bed
• Restoring old buildings
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Campaigning in partnership, and with passion, for Melksham
I am ... a campaigner. But not usually a "protest" campaigner, more a "partner" campaigner. I work with and within the community that will gain from the campaigning, alongside the planners and providers who will help achieve our goals. I live in the South Ward of Melksham, and for the purpose of local activity, THAT is my community. Over the years, I've had successes and failures. But in reality it's sometimes hard to know which is which - or indeed which results I have had a piece in promoting, and which would have happened anyway without any of the campaigning activities of mine and those standing alongside me. It's made all the harder to analyse where we have made a difference when there are far too many people claiming credit for successes in which they had little input - even things which they opposed at the time, but have proven to work and be popular.
First picture today - my national award from the Sheila McKechnie Foundation. Sheila McKechnie was the dynamo behind Shelter, and the Consumer's Association (Which? magazine). Sheila passed away in 2004 (tragically young), but today the foundation in her name champions, supports and trains those campaigning for "a confident and powerful civil society in which people work together to drive change". The award was not expected - and is made all the more precious because it's an award to campaigners by other (professional) campaigners who looked at all the work that goes on behind the scenes to make a positive difference. Big event - presentation at the House of Lords (well, it was supposed to be, but got moved because of the Westminster terror attack a few days before).
In Melksham, I am known for my help (when all seemed lost) to get an "appropriate" train service back. The joke a decade ago was that we had two trains a day - and they were too early, and too late to be of any real use. Miss the 06:15 from Swindon and the next train was 18:44. We have gotten back to a train every couple of hours - still a poor service ("appropriate" would be hourly) but passenger numbers have risen from 3,000 journeys per annum to 75,000. I was one of the founders of the TransWilts Community Rail Partnership - a move from protest (where we had to start) to partnership and I remain active in encouraging further development to that appropriate service, which (various sources agree) will take passenger journeys up to in excess of 250,000 per annum, even CoVID setback allowing. I am no longer a director or Community Rail Officer; in the summer of 2018, TransWilts moved on with a board on which every member has local government experience, and a professionally trained Community Rail Officer to replace me, and (see above) I offer them full credit for the Melksham Hub Cafe, cycle hire, and car park changes. They are also doing a good job for Corsham, Wilton, Devizes and other rail aspirations. I do remain active in promoting rail use to, from and through Melksham with the pure-volunteer Melksham Rail User Group (and we get listened to where it matters ;-) ) and I am available to TransWilts as a volunteer.
But whilst I might be known for rail stuff, I have been involved with lots more in the background. Historically as President of the Chamber of Commerce, I was the one who walked into Cooper Tires and enquired about land in the town for the Campus - my thought was not Melksham House but it came out of the discussions, with two other options looked at and ruled out for good reason. Also with the Chamber of Commerce, there was a great deal of hard work, but with only limited success in joining and encouraging Town Centre businesses. We weren't the only ones to try - a separate trader's association sputtered along for a while but has now gone. Perhaps, better, the current Town Council activities which bring in dedicated staff to do the work where the traders themselves are mostly too busy - err trading!
On local buses, I will claim credit for the bus meeting at Canberra on Spa Road just more than a year ago, helping to voice local opinion as to the most appropriate Bath - Melksham - Devizes service for the future as First pulled out. Whether there was a real danger of us losing evening and Sunday buses, I know not, but the outcome of the work by Wilts Council and Faresaver was their retention ... which was what we wanted, and was not what happened when First pulled off the Chippenham - Melksham - Trowbridge route a few years earlier, leaving the last bus back from Chippenham at around 17:30 rather than 22:16. To this day, that route has no Sunday service, though it has had it in the past.
Also on the Buses, and current, the Government announced "Bus Back Better" on 15th March - a funded scheme with a lot of positives that mirror our Option 24/7 campaign and plans of 2016 - a half victory in that we and the public got Wilts Council to retain funding for most supported bus services, when they had asked the community in a consultation to choose between 50% cuts and 90% cuts. I notice - cheeky - that candidates with the Wilts Council majority party are now telling the electors how good they have been with buses. Maybe, but that's not what they had planned; they had to be pushed very hard. I believe I can help further with buses under Bus Back Better - things like buses to the station (where a lot of background work has already been done) from Queensway, from Longford Road, and from the top of Campion Drive. Buses to the station in 2012 would have been pointless as there were no trains to connect with. But with the trains running in 2021, it now makes sense. Why drive to the station when you can get the bus? For some families, will you even need that second car?
You'll see in my election leaflet that I attended both the climate protest in Bristol in February last year, and the Black Lives Matter event organised locally here in Melksham - indeed in the South Ward - in June. I believe, passionately, in looking after our planet to pass it on in good sustainable shape to our children and grandchildren, and also in levelling up the playing field of life for everyone irrespective of ability, gender, age, colour, politics, creed, views or other differences. These are national and indeed global issues as well as Melksham ones - but I will put my heart into promoting them, and indeed following them through not just in word but in deed. Some voters may be put off by these views; I understand that. I am not going to promote myself to the ageists and racists we have in our community by hiding those views. But I will talk with you and show you what a wonderful community we have here, strengthened by its diversity.
Published Tuesday, 6th April 2021
Rubbish bins - do we need even more?When setting up at IT system, there's so much time spent looking at the initial specification and capital cost - yet in only accounts for around 10% of the cost thorugh the lifetime of the system. A larger chunk gets spent on lifetime maintenance, and those two together are dwarfed by the costs involved in data entry and maintenance.
I saw an electioneering (?) suggestion that Wiltshire Council buy and install more rubbish bins in Melksham. I'm not so sure that we actually need more bins in general; I took a walk around yesterday afternoon and there seemed to be plenty. Some in need of tender loving care, others full to overflowing - but we would be far better spending our ratepayer's money on looking after the current stock and tuning collection cycles than installing more provision without full consideration of the costs for the next 20 years.
Expensive mistakes can be made by not thinking ongoing financing through. When I was involved with TransWilts, we had a four stage plan:
1. Make people aware that there was a case to look at for change
2. Work out what was really needed - appropriate
3. Implement that plan - gain what we need and here is the biggie
4. Work and work again to improve and retain.
And it really worked because we had the promise of how the service could be retained - and it was - via the GWR franchise. Safe now, but the team that took over the TransWilts CRP is still working - and so am I with the Melksham Rail User Group, TravelWatch SouthWest and others.
Let's sort out rubbish bins, yes please, but not with a legacy of provision than costs us dear for the next decade.
Published Monday, 5th April 2021
Melksham Town CentreI walked through Melksham yesterday. I counted 169 'shop front' businesses. 10 vacant, 4 more vacant but showing clear signs of work in progress to the opening of a new venture. And that is a remarkably good figure - it's around 6% (or 8.2% if you include those being prepared), when that national average is over 13% (source). We have four things to thank for that:
* The part of the country we're in
* The relative lack of big chains
* More residents - the growth of our town
* Excellent local work helping to promote the time.
Most of the premises I counted are in the South Ward - 119 of them, with 36 in The Forest and 14 in The North. From an election viewpoint, that defines who (of those who live on site) are potential voters. From a later viewpoint, a thriving town centre is for everyone in the town and the whole council should (and does) work together and with partners for the good of the town as a whole, and I will be a part of that.
So - what shops do we have? On my count we have 17 hair salons / barbers, 13 takeaways, 7 Cafes, 5 selling antiques and curios, 5 letting properties and estate agents, 5 charity shops and 5 restaurants. There are 4 pubs, 4 nail Salons, and 4 supermarkets. (Full raw data here)
We have seen a move over the years from a dominance of supplier to service outlets. We have two butchers, but the only bakers that remain are within other stores, and there are no dedicated candlestick makers. On the other hand, where once the only place to take a hot meal away was the chippy, there are now over a dozen.
People ask for / hanker for other shops - a greengrocer, a shoe shop, a fishmonger perhaps. Whilst I too would love to see these and others, I fear that people would like to see them in the town, but use them so little that they wouldn't survive, to the pain of the people who set them up. There will be exceptional cases such as those with wider business plans such as having a walk in shop front and a symbiotic delivery / mail order / production business. Counter sales while working in the back is a good model. In my former role as President of the Melksham Chamber of Commerce and Industry I supported such businesses, and continue to do so.
Takeaways, Cafes, Pubs and restaurants bring people into the town - and business and life in too (writing for th long term - we are in odd CoVID times as I write) and people vote with their feet to use them. Competition is healthy; we could do with just a bit more variety at times, and we need to be aware of the effects on neighbours of late night venues, places selling alcohol, and places that bring in a lot of short-stop (pickup) car traffic, and litter. People do complain about "too many" but it's my reading that the real issues there are the taking of premesies which could be used for other outlets they want (but there are 10 more available!) and the neighbour effects (which can be handled).
Please vote for me - Graham Ellis, Independent, Melksham Town (South Ward) for town council on 6th May. To support a safe, happy, vibrant town centre.
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Illustrations - two (random) Melksham shop fronts, 3 April 2021
Published Sunday, 4th April 2021
An Introduction to Graham EllisMy wife and I remember the warm welcome we got when we moved to the Melksham Area some 20 years ago and that community has been welcoming ever since. And I hope we give back and have given back something over those years. Until my retirement last year, we ran a business here bringing visitors to the town, and many know me from my help in the successful campaign to get an appropriate train service back for the town. But I have become involved in other issues too, such as supporting the town as President of the Chamber of Commerce for a number of years, and ongoing work on the buses with some losses but also some significant gains for the town and its residents.
I filled in the Census form last month and it asked me questions about employment status - but once I selected "retired" it just accepted that as if writing me off. No, no ... I am actively retired, have been doing backroom work for the new normal (see http://option247.uk and http://www.passenger.chat and http://www.mtug.org.uk for example) and now - with a little more time available - I am offering myself for election as one of the Town Councillors to represent you and to help us all forward into the New Normal - into the next ten years which will see changes like we have never seen before. The town needs a sprinkling of strong people, unencumbered by political parties or groupings, living in the ward they represent, to plan in the backroom, pilot through administration and promote in the town to ensure that Melksham is as welcoming - or even more welcoming - to everyone in 5, 10 and 20 years as it was to us 20 years ago.
Please get in touch - contact details at http://grahamellis.uk/contact.html .
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Please vote for me - Graham Ellis, Independent, Melksham Town (South Ward) on 6th May.
Illustration - Promoting Melksham at London (Waterloo) - Community Rail in the City - May 2017
Published Friday, 2nd April 2021
Four in a BedWhen running our Hotel on Spa Road, Lisa and Graham took part in the Channel 4 Reallity TV show "Four in a Bed", where four sets of B&B owners visit each other's places, stay overnight and critique - paying only what they think it is worth.
We visited "Knock Castle" in Crieff, Scotland. We visited "Barton House Hotel" in Blackpool. We hosted. And finally we visited "Applewood Gamping" near Worcester. In payment terms, we came second to Knock Castle. But in our view, almost everyone was a winner and we made many good friends.
We loved introducing Melksham to the world, showing off our history in The Church, Melksham House (which looked much better at that time - 1993) and the Town Hall, and had all the contestants town crying - with many thanks to Peter Dauncey.
Melksham is, very much, a town we are proud of. It was a delight over more than a decade to welcome people to our place on Spa Road (where we now live). All those early morning breakfasts (we were open 365 days a year) made a pleasure by the lovely people who stayed, and we had a fabulous team of people on staff. Don't let anyone tell you that the youngsters of today are [critical word]; they're not - they could (and did) do the job better than I, and handle any and every curved ball customer serice threw at them.
Published Thursday, 1st April 2021
Restoring old buildingsWe bought 404, The Spa, as a wreck in 1999. There were no working toilets, water came in from next door through a lead pipe, and if you stood on the top floor and looked down through the gaps in the floorboards, you could see all the way down to the ground floor - 55 steps lower according to my daughter, who lived there with us until she moved away to University.
The main reception floor at 404 was fitted out as our IT training centre, and from the summer of 2000 we ran specialist IT training course there - four to eight delegates at a time, coming from different companies far and wide across the UK and sometimes beyond. Such were our topics that delegates were always keen to learn, always bright, and interesting people too - we make some really good, and extraordinary, friends. We also got to know Melksham and the area really well - businesses in town, places to take people of an evening (not part of the course - done for pleasure).
By 2006, course were outgrowing our training room, and it was getting harder to find places for delegates to stay, so we bought out "The Old Manor" on Spa Road and christened it "Well House Manor". Another major investment - it had been up for sale for demolition (planning in for 22 retirement flats on the site), but we redid the place from top to bottom (and below when we found foundation issues!).
Two training rooms - one more than we really needed - and the smaller room became a "Museum for Melksham", also known as "The Well House Collection". A winding down over the last couple of years; the museum is now in the larger room (open on request and undergoing re-arrangement this year) and the smaller room now my Zoom Studio - happy to have people around as the rules allow (writing during Coronavirus) but, please, by appointment as retirement has turned out not to be the quiet time we expected!
Published Wednesday, 31st March 2021