Mayor's blog

Engagements & Activities

This is a time-line of some events I have undertaken. The comments are my informal response and are not the official opinion of Dereham Town Council.

26 August 2014
Chaired: 'Plans' meeting
Dereham Town Council Only two plans this evening, neither of which caused any angst.

There followed the 'Open Spaces' committee where we received a presentation from our favourite architects, Jeremy Stacey and Rhona Flemming, who are designing our new cemetery. This is not going to be a clone of a typical municipal cemetery, but rather a beautiful and dramatic place which will serve Dereham for over 200 years. As is always the case, money is the main limiting factor. The Town Council has some reserved funds but will use a loan from the public works loan board to fund the initial phase of the project. We have to have a properly set-up method of repaying the loan from those who will use the cemetery ensuring there is enough remaining for its future upkeep.

The final committee of the evening was 'Markets and Buildings' which after some deliberation agreed some descriptive words for the Town Council commissioned sculpture 'Courage' in the foyer of Memorial Hall. This has taken some time because the piece is inspired by a particular event in WWII, however there has also been a strong desire that it not be used as a specific memorial and getting the balance right has been tricky. My view is less is better, just provide enough information to allow someone to find out about the inspirational event from the historic record.

23 August 2014
Troop lined up outside their old HQ
WWI Re-enactment and March
As part of Gressenhall's heritage weekend, today the Royal Norfolk's Living History Group re-enacted the 5th Battalion’s preparations to go to war. I was asked to play a part and 'inspect the troops' before they got on a train to take them to war, just as they would have done 100 years ago.

At this stage there was a strong desire to get involved, the horrors of war would not become clear until latter. It was seen as a big adventure, a jolly with friends and if you didn't join in now you were likely to miss out; a commonly held view was it would all be over by Christmas.

The picture opposite was taken outside the original HQ, now Case & Dewing Estate Agent on Quebec Street.

This is part of a series of events over the next four years which aims to tell the true story and keep the memory firmly alive for the current generation.

21 August 2014
RAF Marham Families Day
Me standing beside a small commercial aircraft I have regularly attended the RAF Marham families day and have even taken my children previously, but not this time as I was here more officially. This is an excellent air-show as can be witnessed by the number of sightseers lining the roads around the base.

On the ground there was a mock-up of the latest RAF aircraft, the Lockheed Martin F-35B, known in the UK as the "Lightening II", also a full size model of its vector thrust engine which allows for vertical landing. Marham should be operational with a Lightening by 2018, with the reforming of 617 squadron (of Dam Busters fame), sounds a long time but it isn't really. However, the real star of the show was the flypast of two Avro Lancasters and a Vulcan.
Avro Lancasters and Vulcan
Click thumbnail for more images Open's in new tab

The Vulcan was due elsewhere and quickly climbed away after the flypast leaving the two Lancasters to perform a number of formation passes, joined by a Hurricane and Spitfire - did I mention this was a good show?

I took the opportunity to chat with the station commander, Group Captain Smyth, who had his name on the display GR4 Tornado aircraft, which was celebrating its 40th anniversary. The Group Captain does still fly but doesn't like having his name on the cockpit as the first time this happen he had to eject and later there was another incident involving a engine problem and emergency landing ... easy solution, fly any Tornado except the one with your name on.

Dereham has good ties with RAF Marham, our next formal engagement will be at the Battle-of-Britain memorial Sunday in September, where an officer will join me to take the salute at Dereham war memorial.

20 August 2014
Icon The Town Council is in the process of restructuring its activities in anticipation of taking over a substantial tranche of work from Breckland District Council. This involves making some difficult decisions about staff. Nobody likes to be the bringer of bad news, but from time-to-time hard decisions have to be made and this is one of those occasions.

It is crucial to base decisions on facts, to have an unbiased process that properly addresses the Town Council's needs and then follow it through. Cllr Ann Bowyer and I sat on the panel with the Clerk and just like any other decision, we will make our recommendation to full Council for ratification.

19 August 2014
Final Public Footpath Walk
Fayden's map 1797 This was our final walk to complete most of the footpaths in the parish. We were joined by Chris Hill from our local newspaper who provided a very detailed write up Open's in new tab in this weeks Dereham Times. This route was a linear walk from along what I believe was an ancient and quite prestigious road to Norwich (from the size of the remaining very old properties). In order that we did not have to retrace our steps I drove us to the start of the route in my Land Rover. We would walk back but take a number of north-south detours along the way.

We viewed the other side of a field which we saw on 15 July, this should have had a byway across it but had been illegally ploughed and access obliterated, such a pity as this would have made an excellent link to the north of the Town. We will address this with the highways authority (Norfolk County Council).

There should have been access onto Badley Moor, which is common land, but our route was blocked with a locked field gate and barbed wire along the adjoining fence. Apparently, there was a stile here some years ago but it was removed, but when (or even if it was there) seems unprovable. The new land owner is concerned about dogs and needs to protect his cattle, but how this balances with public access is the key issue. The absurdity of having a common islanded by private land and therefore not legally reachable has not gone past me.

On completion of the walk I was left with my transport at the beginning, which could have meant a march back but it would have been dusk by the time I reached the Land Rover so Ken gave me a lift. Interesting to note how much further it is by road as we have to either go a long way north or south to reach the target.

Additional note:
I have now been contacted by a number of people who have accessed Badley Moor for generations and are unhappy about the current access difficulty. This could be good news because it makes the job of defining the correct status easier - I am clearly not a minority of one (which happens sometimes).

However, the issue is complicated and while we can informally ask the parties involved to be reasonable, if no offence has been committed, there is nothing that can formally be done. The law on this matter seems to be a mess.

16 August 2014
Dereham Footpath Walks
Public Footpath sign Following the curtailment of the walk last Sunday, today we set out again to explore the footpaths to the north of Dereham. We are fortunate to have a wide mix of different types footpath following streams or though woodland or adjacent to fields cropped with cereal, or pigs (and piglets) or a plum orchard. At every turn there is a different view.

We discovered a real mash of signing, with some routes very well signed, especially the newer Norfolk Trail walks, but in other cases an Ordinance Survey map was required to establish the correct way.

For the majority of the time the footpaths were clear and easily walked, however as we approached Gingerbread corner things became much more difficult. The path is between a hedge and stream; brambles in the hedge have progressively taken the space such that people are now walking along the bank of water course which has given way in a few places. This route was supposed to have been cut back earlier in the year but the evidence on the ground seems to suggest otherwise.

There is an argument that if a route is well used it will be kept clear automatically through usage; this is partly true, but nettles and brambles grow quickly and people have a different tolerance to them. It can be a vicious circle of decline as fewer people use a route, which is why they need basic management.

A quote from the County web-site:
Quote It is the responsibility of Norfolk County Council as Highway Authority to assert and protect public rights of way in Norfolk. Quote

It is actually a statutory obligation to ASSERT and PROTECT. I recognise budgets are tight, but it doesn't look as if the full obligation is being fulfilled.

15 August 2014
NORJAM 2014 - Site Tour
NORJAM 2014 I was back at NORJAM 2014 for lunch and a guided tour of the site. This is a big event with Scouts and Guides from 21 different countries and around 5400 on site, no wonder it takes four years to organise. The site allocation is deliberately mixed up so groups could mix with others from different parts of the UK and abroad.

It has not been the best week for weather and some groups did suffer consequences from the same storm which curtailed our walk on Saturday, however the site teams helped get sleeping bags dry and tents re-erected (and tied down) and it all appears to have been part of the experience.

On site there is a huge range of activities like off-road karts, climbing wall, shooting, tight-rope walking, archery, flying trapeze and a plethora of craft skills. There were team events and competitions like 'it's a knockout'. Norjam radio broadcast across the site and there was a daily newspaper. Hanging out in the milk-shake bar was very popular, apparently they nearly drank a 20-mile radius dry. There were day trips out to water/boating events and visits to various other sites around Norfolk. In the evening there were stage shows and music in the main arena, separate cinema and a '14-17 nite club'.

This is a huge event and my short account is just scratching the surface, but by all accounts a great deal of fun.

12 August 2014
Chaired: 'Plans' and 'Full Council' meetings
Dereham Town Council There is a long list of plans this evening, most of which look relatively straight forward, but we will see what Councillors think.

We have another issue to address, despite being "statutory consultee", Breckland District Council (the planning authority, who make the final decision) have not been sending all the plans to us. We now know of two recent instances, but maybe there are any more? Annoyingly, this has been covered up by the report sent to Breckland's planning committee by simply saying "no comments received".

Full Council is set to ratify, or otherwise the recommendations of the committees and consider any urgent matters.

Dereham water meadows
L-to-R: Me (wet, but happy), Cllr Phillip Duigan,
Martin Sneesby, Catherine Hawkins and
Ken Hawkins is behind the camera.
10 August 2014
Dereham Footpath Walks
As the remnants of hurricane Bertha were predicted to cross the region and bring very heavy showers with flood warnings from the Met Office I can't help but think about NORJAM. However, we at the Town Council also had an event planned today ... another of our regular summer walks to explore Dereham's footpaths.

The footpath warden had prepared a 6½ mile walk setting out across the water meadows to the north west of the town. With the predicted weather, today would sort the men from the boys! Justifiably, the turnout was 'limited' after all this is supposed to be for pleasure, nevertheless the hardy souls who turned up decided to try and walk a somewhat shortened route before the most severe weather set in.

I had brought along my newly purchased raincoat, but deliberately left it in the Land Rover in favour of the "don't panic" Hitch-hiker's guide to the Galaxy Open's in new tab solution ... simply a towel. Despite the storm, it was still warm and I prefer to accept the rain and dry off at the end. Temperature dependent, I recommend everyone try it sometime, it avoids the instinctive head down trying to avoid getting wet.

The full walk is being rescheduled for latter, possibly at the weekend 16 or 17 August.

9 August 2014
NORJAM 2014 - Opening Ceremony
NORJAM 2014 It must be the scout week because today also is the opening ceremony of the Norfolk International Jamboree (Norjam 2014) a week long event held at the Norfolk Showground. Thousands of Guides and Scouts from all over the world meet up every four years or so for a spectacular event.

NORJAM opening ceremony
There were a few technical difficulties with the stage projectors delayed the start, but then they kicked off with a parade of hundreds of flags as the troops entered the arena from all directions then joined up to march past the stage, then a big hello to start the event. From what I saw and heard the predicted bad weather will not dampen spirits. I have been invited back on Friday to see how it went.

9 August 2014
Scout Summer Camp
International Scout Symbol My son has been through cubs / scouts in Toftwood and now he is older has helped as a 'young leader'. This means that I have been involved at the periphery of the Second Dereham Scouts for sometime. Having a Land Rover and trailer means one way I can assist is in helping with transport. In the picture below my Land Rover Defender is lurking in the background, as it often does.

Hallowtree Scout Summer Camp

A week ago I helped take the kit down to the Hallowtree Scout camp, which is just beyond the Orwell bridge in Suffolk. I went to pick them up today and the leaders were keen for me to take the Mayor's chain along for some pictures. That also meant I felt obligied to be one grade up from my usual summer atire of scruffy shorts and boots (see elsewhere on the web-site)! There a few group pictures with me in the middle but I've chosen the awarding of badges around the flag pole for the blog. Incidentally, the sun had been out and the scouts had dried off a bit, following their traditional last night under the starts rather than in tents, but there had been some rain!

7 August 2014
Bowls Match
On becoming Mayor the very first decision I was asked to make was 'when is the bowls match?'. There is quite a long standing tradition of holding a bowls match with Councillors (plus guests) and staff. On the basis that none of us are bowls players this turns out to be a fun evening as everyone makes amusing mistakes interspersed with random brilliance. It is a great way to find out a little more about each other away from the formalities of the Council Chamber. This certainly has wider value, especially following an election as new Councillors take their place, an event which will happen next year.

St. Nicholas Bowls Club celebrated their 50th anniversary this year, and they be a tolerant bunch. In some ways it surprising that continue to invite us back with some of accidental shot-putt style bowling sometimes used!

Unfortunately, I injured my back a few days ago and decided not to play this year. The bending involved introduced a possibility of aggravating my back further and I am particularly keen to attend the forthcoming town walk on Sunday. Nevertheless, I was there to record all the action!

Following the match, we enjoyed a meal in the club house and it was my task to award the traditional cup to the winner and the most coveted 'wooden spoon'.
Bowls match
4 August 2014
Centenary commemoration WW1
Today is the centenary of the start of the First World War; it was my duty to lay a wreath on the war memorial in Dereham's market place. We rightly remember the soldiers who fought and gave their lives, but in my message I want to extend that memory especially as we see conflict around the world in places such as Gaza, Ukraine and Syria:

Quote On behalf of the people of Dereham we remember the sacrifice made a century ago: those who suffered, those who gave their lives and those who may have escaped the shells and bullets, but were still destroyed by the War.

We make a better tomorrow by learning from tragic moments in our history. On this anniversary, we give thanks to that whole generation for their bravery and commitment so that we might enjoy freedom today. We will never forget.

Between 11:00 and noon the Royal British Legion held an hour long vigil at the memorial. A solemn and thought provoking time as ordinary lives continued and traffic flowed around the market place.

We had arranged for the street lights to be turned out at 22:00 as part of the Europe wide 'lights out' commemoration. Businesses around the market place were requested to extinguish their lights as candles were lit at the base of the war memorial during an hour of silent reflection. The event was not widely publicised as initially we did not know if it would be possible to have the street lights extinguished, even so there was a sizeable turnout.

Dereham War Memorial

Dereham War Memorial lit by candles and a single spot light.