Many many thanks to all the volunteers who came to both of our public meetings in October but especially to all the lovely residents who came along to find out more information. The Essex Association of Local Councils came along to our last public meeting, to talk with residents and support us with our campaign. On Thursday night, myself and Graham Bradley also joined in with a BBC Radio Essex Show, dedicated to Wickford. There's so much community spirit in our Town and it was lovely to hear from so many people who are all doing amazing volunteer work to make Wickford a better place. Well done Wickford!
Myself, Clare and Graham met with members of Basildon District Council and Essex County Council on Saturday, to talk about the Town Council project and its progress. A Town Council is a third tier of local government and it’s important that Town, District and County Councils work collaboratively to address local topics. I’m really pleased with how the meeting went. We had a very long and open talk about the issues that we, as residents, perceive and what we can all do respectively to ensure Wickford has a great future. Right now, we’re in the initial phases of setting a Town Council up, and it’s a long process. After we submit the petition to Basildon Council, it initiates a Community Governance Review, which will likely take a year. The earliest a Town Council would come into effect is therefore May 2020 when the elections are due. That’s a long way off, but today our Basildon and Essex Councillors asked whether there were items on the Town Council’s agenda that would be useful to review in the meantime. From speaking with many hundreds of you in recent weeks, there are two key themes which have come up and which have a clear opportunity to have something done sooner rather than later. These are: 1. Cleaning up the Town Centre: This is about weeds, fixing the broken railings and giving them a lick of paint and steam cleaning / jetting the pavements. 2. More focus on the market. We know that ECC are going to trial Saturday High Street closures. To make these a success, the current market needs to be more dynamic and attract more people from out of Town. Obviously they’ll need to go away and look at what can be done, and those are both quite broad briefs which need some detail adding. We’ve offered to work alongside them to achieve these objectives and hope we can make something come of it. Will keep you up to speed with progress.
A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet
Personally, I don't really like the smell of roses, I think there are far better smelling flowers around! Anyway.. my point here is that dreaded word 'council' 😱😱 the unspeakable authorities that manage our towns across the nation requires a little more flexibility with definition and not to be tarnished with the same brush across different facets. Whilst our Council does try to improve the facilities and cosmetics of the town, inevitably there are a lot of competing priorities which makes things difficult. The idea of a Town Council has been thrown around a lot recently which is gaining significant interest, positive/negative/apprehensive.. all of which are completely valid views and generate interesting questions and debate amongst the community; however, a common theme I see is that "council" is not a word with much positivity associated to it (understandably). Wickford has been left behind the likes of Billericay which is under the remit of the same local authority but has a Town Council working to improve aspects of their respective areas that are not priorities, or even concerns, for the Borough Council. We have the recent example of Rayleigh in Bloom which was absolutely beautiful (although referring to my prior blog, we should be more innovative than this) I doubt that it would have been as successful without the backing of Rayleigh Town Council. There are so many things that we, as a community, can do to drastically improve the place we live that it seems silly not to try and implement this initiative. Shotgate and Runwell already have parish councils and do things for their respective areas but there could be an opportunity to collaborate for the benefit of all 3 parishes.. can you imagine what could be acheived with such collaboration..?! Wickford is gradually becoming solely a commuter town, with a basically derelict highstreet, it will become a ghost town unless something is done; we can make it wonderful again if we as a community pull together and make it so. There are public meetings being held for all residents to find out more information and ask LOADS of questions, the next of which will be Wednesday 17th October at the Wick Community Centre on Silva Island Way.
It's Tuesday evening, I have been home from work bearly half an hour and am sitting in a small hall, which is no less than 90 degrees(!) wondering why on earth I decided to come here. Giving myself a bit of a reality check, I remember that I am fed up of Wickford being at the bottom of the list for regeneration, improvements..pretty much anything, compared to our surrounding towns. Three very passionate residents also feel the same frustrations and have called a meeting to discuss the opportunity to set up a Town Council for Wickford. What becomes evident quite quickly is that Wickford is a big hole, literally. Looking at a map of town and parish councils across Essex, Wickford appears to be the only town without one; this to a reasonable extent, is partly why we seem to be left behind compared to surrounding towns like Rayleigh and Billericay. Wickford has no collective voice to represent our wondeful town, we have less funding for improvements - such as the (somewhat lacking) Christmas lights, flowers in the higstreet etc. However, the vision of the 3 people driving this meeting, and those in attendance, don't just want to put flowers in the higstreet, we want to think bigger and better than this. We want Wickford to be the fantastic, beautiful town that it once was, bringing back the community spirit! The process is a long and complicated one but everyone in the room is full of excitement at the prospect of a non-political body of Wickford residents elected to represent what is best for our town as opposed to someone trying to push a political agenda and further their own career. There are some amazing people willing to drive this initiative forward for the benefit of all residents, whether they will be under the new Town Council boundaries or not.
Clare is talking to me – a lot. We’re sitting in her kitchen, I’m nursing a cold tea and eyeing up the last of the chocolate Hobnobs. Outside the weather is a gorgeous sunny day and it’s too warm to be indoors. She said she’s had a great idea and wanted to share it with me. We’re an hour into the conversation and she’s in full evangelical preacher mode, waving a little yellow book at me. If I didn’t know better I’d think she was trying to perform a miracle. But in a way, she is. The little yellow book is called “Flatpack democracy” and it’s about a small community called Frome and how they got fed up and decided to take things into their own hands. She can quote extracts from this book with the fervency of religious fanatic. I’m thinking she has that as an alternative career path if she ever wants one. And then it hits me. She’s not ranting about the state of our town – her passion is directed at our future. For some years I’ve known I’m not the only person in Wickford who feels like the place is slowly decaying. I’ve felt like we’re a “forgotten” community for some time. I’ve tried various ways of knocking on the doors of Basildon Council, but once those doors open there’s a vast network of complexity, administration, committees, governance, bureaucracy and it leaves me cold. That’s not my idea of how community empowerment works. It's not fun. “I’ve got the answer…” She’s repeating herself more and more now and her tone says I’m being slow on the uptake, so I try to shift my focus away from the lone Hobnob and back to her. And then *boom.* There’s an abrupt epiphany and it feels like a spotlight has been switched on in my brain. Either that, or I’m having a sugar rush from too many Hobnobs. Obviously my expression changes, because I see on Clare’s face something between “finally” and “OMG she’s so slow.” But I’m there now. We’re both there. We’re suddenly on the same page and the world (or more precisely Wickford) is brimming with opportunity. “A Town Council you say?” I mull the words over as I say them. “Yes, a Town Council. Residents, taking control of what residents want.” These are powerful words indeed. It’s a seed change. Something which Wickford hasn’t got and which it desperately needs. “Residents making decisions? I like that.” I say. I like it a lot. And now the little yellow book is in my hands and I’m the one reading sections out loud to Clare. Her passion is infectious and she’s infected me. Just scanning the book I can see what a world of difference it would make to Wickford. “We need to tell people about this.” I say, sounding a lot like she did 5 minutes ago. “This is important!” Her expression is somewhere between “no shit Sherlock” and “you’re so late to the party.” But she’s pleased. She’s got another convert and together we’ll get more and more people aligned to the idea. Clare and I are different in many respects - I’m a planner, she’s bursting with ideas - but we’ve always had a common goal to make Wickford better. Now we’ve found a way to achieve that and it’s gonna be amazing.