I am online on Sunday to talk with YOU - 18:30, 18.4.21 - [Zoom Link to add Saturday] or see (here)
Also 22.4.21, 26.4.21 and 30.4.21- links to follow
Graham Ellis - About me - Life and times
Life before Melksham* Born Merseyside, moved to outer London aged 4. Brought up there; 8 'O'Levels, 4 'A'Levels, BSc (Hons) Computer Science from The City University. Sandwich course and holiday / spare day work brought experience in Oil Exploration data processing, Computer Graphics, and manpower planning working for the Civil Service in Whitehall. Moved to the Luton area to take up full time job in technical support of specialist computer graphics products.
* Moved to Wiltshire (Chippenham suburb) in 1981 to take a sales role covering the whole South West on those specialist product. Set up company with former colleagues to write and sell Computer Aided Design software in 1983 - left sales role with excellent track record as our company grew. Set up office, took on staff, but much of the time worked from home (by now Easterton, near Devizes) even way back 35 years ago.
* Moved to a (specialist, server systems and workstations) IT training role based in Oxfordshire in 1990 and set up Well House Consultants to write and present such courses in 1996. Much travelled in British Isles and sometimes beyond to present such courses, learning much about places visited right up to 2019. Moved to Melksham in 1999.
Living and running a business here in Melksham South* Took on one of Melksham's Spa houses in an uninhabitable state and had craftsmen and experts restore it. Experience gained of planning systems, listed buildings, etc.; house became our home and training centre, with customers coming to Melksham from far and wide for their week-long courses.
* Bought "The Old Manor" on Spa Road in 2006 and majorly refurbished from B&B to "Well House Manor" business accommodation, with IT training suite to host our courses. Quickly became general accommodation too and a 24x7 hotel operation with an excellent team of staff. Appeared on "Four in a Bed" on Channel 4 in 2013 to promote both ourselves and the town. Rose to No. 1 on Trip Advisor for accommodation in Melksham.
* Running a hotel brought experience of both the hospitality and catering businesses, and whilst our team did the work day to day, I was fully conversant and involved taking shifts as required and with catering and emergency first aid training.
* Retired from the Hotel business in 2018, and subsequently from IT training. Sold our home on The Spa and moved into "Well House Manor" where we now live. The former main training room is now a "Museum for Melksham" which Lisa plans to re-open in future years, holding a number of pieces of local interest on loan as well as some of our own. A museum is niche interest though; for 2022 we hope to be open on request. We would really like to see a museum for the town in the Campus or Town Hall, but elements such as cost, security, storage conditions and staffing raise huge issues.
Working for a better Melksham - Chamber of Commerce and The Campus* Lisa and I joined the Chamber of Commerce and Industry when we moved to Melksham, and I was elected President - unusually for a number of years - during which we promoted a number of events such as business networking, member's information lectures and "Spot the Oddity" and commented on planning and development applications from a local business perspective. Amongst big meetings hosted at our "Well House Manor" were ones on the location of the proposed campus and what should (and should not) be included, on car parking charges, and on public transport.
* I was one of 10 sitting on the SCOB (Shadow Campus Operations Board) and learned a great deal about the various activities in the Melksham area and their facility requirements. The SCOB spoke with dozens of organisations and potential users, and helped compromise between their aspirations before coming up with initial plans. We also looked forward to planning an efficient facility with practical operation. Plans were thwarted when the SCOB was sidetracked in favour of a new body comprising councillors and council employees only, and significant off site extras were slipped into the ring fence around Campus funding, resulting in the watered down (good rather than Wow!) plans you see today.
Working for a better Melksham - Trains and Buses* In 2005, I read a letter in the Melksham Independent News telling me that we had missed the consultation on train services to and from Melksham for the next ten years, and that services were to reduce from 5 to 2 daily; a serious issue for our business with many customers arriving and leaving by rail, and an issue for others too. I instigated the "Save the Train" campaign, joined forces with the Melksham Railway Development group, and protested the need for something appropriate. Protest turned to partnership and we formed the TransWilts Community Rail Partnership and with a lot of hard work all together, working with local and central government and the rail industry, train services have risen to 8 each way per day, and passenger journey numbers from 3,000 to 75,000 per annum from the data I was originally given by the Office of Rail and Road to the year to March 2018. I left TransWilts in the autumn of 2018 - I still endorse their main objectives, but it has moved from being a local community group to a staffed company with interest right across Wiltshire, directed by Wiltshire Councillors / former councillors and former LEP (Government body) chair, with a paid staff and a government accreditation mandate that is diffuse from the reasons it was set up. The team are good people, but not one of them will be a Melksham voter (Town or Without) on 6th May, and I wish them well but it is no longer the organisation I and others helped set up.
* With our success in regaining an appropriate train service in 2013, the Melksham Railway Development Group has rebranded through the Melksham Rail USER group and come our AGM in May will become the Melksham TRANSPORT User Group. I am currently vice chair, with responsibility for website, publicity and promotion (of public transport rather than just the group). My wife and I have produced many of the information and timetable leaflets, newspaper ads, etc, over the years and I "project manage" the annual Santa trip.
* With the rail success (Melksham became the fastest growing station in England for several years), I was invited to join the board of TravelWatch SouthWest - a CIC that co-ordinates passenger groups across the South West, and have been re-elected for multiple further 3 year terms. Regular webinars help keep everyone up to date and we learn good practise (and what has not worked) from all across the area and beyond. The position also helps me work regionally and nationally to help ensure that buses and trains move forward in a best way for everyone, including those who live in Melksham.
* While First Bus served Melksham, I was on their Bath User Panel at which we worked with the operator to help smooth out issues and explain changes for passenger benefit. Should any other local operator set up a similar panel, I would welcome an opportunity to join it.
* In 2016, I was part of the team that put together "Option 24/7" bus proposals in response to Wiltshire Council's consultation on bus cuts, and the outcome of the consultation was that very few cuts were made rather that the deep ones planned which would have left us without any evening or weekend buses. Wiltshire Council's alignment with our views did not go so far as reforming town bus routes to suite the next decade, but the government's "Buses Back Better" directive to councils if they want bus funding (15.3.2021) aligns remarkably with our principles, and the Option 24/7 team has already informed MRUG, is researching in Melksham, and has been in touch with Wiltshire Council to continue our partnership.
* In 2007, I set up an online forum - the "Great Western Coffee Shop - by passengers, for passengers" as a voice for rail passengers - to ask questions, share experiences, and discuss what they would like to see. The forum is still running - on our server, with around 100 users logged in each day and 150 guests. Our database comprises around 22,000 topics and we are read by the local authority officers, rail managers, etc so that voices from Melksham and wider are heard. These days, I remain webmaster and the most active member, but am ably assisted by a team of 10 administrators and moderators on a daily basis. The experience of this brings in an understanding of everything from personal relationships to GDPR and copyright law.
Working for a better Melksham - Other Transport, planning, looking ahead to zero carbon* Much of the above will lead you to think I support public transport - I do, but at the same time I do drive a car (down from 30,000 miles a year a decade ago to a tenth of that - and virtually nothing in 2020). Current car is electric. I also cycle (electric assisted bicycle) and walk extensively - much around Melksham. I have also researched and lead walks for residents and visitors to the area.
* I take a strong interest in sustainability subjects such as climate change, peak oil, clean air zones and zero carbon, applying and encouraging good practise where I can. I attended the open air meeting that Greta Thunberg addressed in Bristol in February 2020 (ironically getting cold and wet in the process) but I do not support extreme illegal action to forward the agenda. I support the right / freedom to legally and safely demonstrate and protest; I worry that there are parties who are intent on changing the law to restrict those freedoms, but at the same time I cannot support those who take violent or otherwise unsafe action in protest. The whole climate issue needs to be dealt with, everyone working together, to ensure a sustainable and high quality life into the future for our children and grandchildren, irrespective of the lunatic fringe on both extremes.
* I drafted the Melksham Rail User Group inputs to the Melksham A350 bypass consultation and the Local Plan consultation in recent months (signed off by the committee) and have read and endorse the Neighbourhood plan.
Personal Life* I have been married to Lisa for 22 years. When we met, Lisa was not British (nor EU nor Commonwealth); we courted for several years before getting married and learning how the immigration and nationalisation system works. We have seen a little discrimination - but only a very little (we are relieved!), probably because Lisa is of Caucasian descent and has English as a first language.
* Between us, Lisa and I have three children - or rather they were children but are now independent, married, living away, and with children of their own. We've had a cat in the past, and dogs - currently we have a rescue greyhound "Billy".
* Lisa has done (and continues to do) a great deal of work on the social history and ancestry of Melksham, with projects including the commemoration of the end of the first world war, but much more looking back at the history of Melksham in the 100 years prior to that. I have learned a great deal about our town and its people too from assisting, and am helping put the database online for public view.