Thursday, 13 December 2018

The Mayor of Milton Keynes' Carol Service (Trefoil #2)

It was a joy to be part of the Christmas Carol Service hosted by the Mayor of MK Cllr Martin Petchey and his consort Ms Debbie Thomson. We sang all the traditional carols (which seem to be in a higher pitch these days - or maybe my voice has dropped an octave?) and heard some excellent pieces by the Cornerstone Choir. There was also a beautiful song by the children of Jubilee Wood School. And to top it all we had some hand bell ringing by the Woburn branch of the Trefoil Guild.

I had not been to a service in the Church of Christ the Cornerstone before - it is a wonderful building with rich acoustics. It was good to see old friends including the High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire, Professor Ruth Farwell. Money was being raised for the the MK Bus Shelter (homelessness action project).




Christmas lunch for older residents

Buckingham School provided their regular Christmas get together for older members of our community. I popped in to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and I got a good seat to see the dancing and listen to the school choir. We all got to see an extract of Singing in the Rain too! Delightful and very well organised by the school students: well done!




What glorious feeling!

The Buckingham School put on a performance of Singing in the Rain this week. And it was marvellous! For those of us that know the film well (it is one of my all time favourites) you will know how tricky it is to replicate and stage. But it was done with great panache, verve and skill by all concerned. Not only was I impressed with the acting - the costumes were amazing and the direction / stage management were seamless! Well done to all concerned!!





Trefoil Guild #1: 75th anniversary

The Trefoil Guild was founded 75 years ago and on Tuesday I had the pleasure of attending their tea party to celebrate this. It was a most warm and welcoming afternoon of good company, good cheese, good cake and good tea. What more do we need!
Trefoil Guild is a branch of Girlguiding and its members agree to support the guiding ethos - including the pledge to help other people. Many members pass on their skills and knowledge to local guiding units, from helping Brownies work towards a badge to preparing older girls for a camping adventure. Many members are unit leaders or helpers in Girlguiding units.
Here are some pictures taken by Valerie Shaw (thank you!) and one by me of the cake! It was lovely to be invited.






Friday, 7 December 2018

Journey beginnings (and one ending)

The Buckingham School held their Celebration Evening last night. I had the greatest of honours to hand out all the awards to their high achieving students. It was such a wonderful occasion to see all these young people and their parents/carers beaming with pleasure and pride. Whilst the job of teacher can be most challenging, it must also be so rewarding to help launch these young people on their journeys through life. And as Mayor, I was privileged to have a small smidgen of that joy last night too. It was also the end of a journey for me too...

Last night I donated the tenth and final copy of the book about Jo Cox that I have been giving to the libraries of my life for the last year and half. It was a most fitting place and time to end my quest. My speech is below which explains why I have been doing this.

But meanwhile, here are couple of pictures from last night including Mr Andrew McGinnes, the Headteacher, Mr Matthew Watkins, the Chair of Governors and Cllr Robin Stuchbury (former pupil at the school). All the students who won awards had the picture taken but please check out the school website for those pics. The programme is also below.







Handing over the book about Jo Cox.


The speech I gave:

It is wonderful to be here this evening to celebrate the achievements of so many young people at this school. One of the great pleasures I get as Town Mayor is to witness, delight in and appreciate all the energy, ambition, hopes and realised dreams of so many people in the town, of all ages. We are all so lucky to live in a wonderful place with some very special institutions including this glorious school of course. It is very easy to take all this for granted.

But please let us be very clear, none of this happens by accident. The successes of the young people we are glorying in tonight have come from tough and detailed work by them, supported by great and hard working teachers and with the immeasurable patience and guidance of their parents and carers. And all of this is done within a community that wants our young people to do well. I believe that we all want all young people to do well.

But we live in divisive times where people, young and old, can so easily become the victims of hate or anger. This can happen online or in real life. Sometimes to extremes. Tonight this community, our community, is celebrating the success of our young people. But let us not forget that we must never take our community for granted. We must always be renewing our hope, our love and our understanding of each other. That is what community means.

In this regard, I have come with a small gift this evening to donate to the school.

The story of my gift begins with the tragic murder of Jo Cox MP by a right wing terrorist during the EU referendum campaign. It was a moment that shocked and saddened me deeply, as it did most other people of course. Here was an MP working hard to listen to and help her constituents in Batley and Spen. She was on her way to a regular surgery on 16 June 2016 when a man stabbed and killed her. As the world reacted to this event, much about Jo became to be more widely understood.

In particular a paragraph from her maiden speech in the House of Commons delivered by her on 3 June 2015, just a year previous, became well known:
“Batley and Spen is a gathering of typically independent, no-nonsense and proud Yorkshire towns and villages. Our communities have been deeply enhanced by immigration, be it of Irish Catholics across the constituency or of Muslims from Gujarat in India or from Pakistan, principally from Kashmir. While we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me time and time again as I travel around the constituency is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”
Just to repeat that last bit:
“we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”
And so wind forward another year and the general election of 2017 was called. I placed a bet of £20 on how many seats the Conservative Party would win (within a 25 seat margin) at the odds of seven to one. And I was right and I won my stake and £140 back. So then I thought, what should I do with the money? I could have blown it all on a night out or given it to a charity. But I decided instead to purchase 11 copies of the book about Jo’s amazing life and tragic death. And I decided at the same time to donate ten of these books to the libraries of my life.

So here I am today, on the last stage of my journey. I began in the secondary school that I went to - a school called Purbrook Park just north of Portsmouth. I have been back to my University in Reading and also the Oxford school where my own children were educated. I have been to the other libraries of Buckingham and there is even one now lodged in the public library of Mouvaux, our twin town.

So I bring this book today for The Buckingham School library, as the Mayor of Buckingham. It is my earnest hope that it will be widely read by all the students here in the school now and in the future. And I hope that all will be inspired to work for the kind of world, the kind of community, that Jo was working for.

A world in which everyone recognises that we have always far more in common than anything we have that divides us.

A world in which there is less hate and more love.

A world where people experience interest and compassion, not othering and bullying

A world in which there is more delight in difference, where all forms of diversity are celebrated and enjoyed.

I have the greatest of pleasure in donating this book to this school’s library. And in so doing, I bring my small journey of ten book donations to a very satisfactory close. I can’t think of a better place for this tenth book to be.

And so on with the show: let’s all admire, celebrate and simply love all the talented young people we are honouring this evening!


Thanks to Robin for the pics.

Happy kitchenmas!

I had a wonderful and very tasty Christmas meal at the Well Street Church on Tuesday. It was both a festive get together for the regular crowd of churchgoers and a celebration of their new kitchen. This was installed care of WREN which helped to pay for all the new units. It was good to look around the church too, never having been in there before. It is a most warm and welcoming place. With even more warm and welcoming people of course!

I met lots of lovely people including Lorna who is 98 and has lived all her life in the town. Indeed, she told me that her father had once been Mayor too!

I wish all the congregation well and of course, a very Merry Christmas!


Monday, 3 December 2018

Christmassy Aylesbury

Julie and I spent yesterday evening being wrapped in festive spirit at the Aylesbury Town Mayor's Carol Service, at St Mary's Church in the middle of the old town. The church was packed to the rafters. We were treated to some glorious singing from Aylesbury Choral Society, and children from Bedgrove Junior School ably supported by the Aylesbury Concert Band. We had traditional readings of the nativity and mince pies at the end. Perfect!

A thoroughly warm and most wholesome service that mulled all our hearts as well as the wine! Huge thanks to the Aylesbury Town Mayor, his colleagues and everyone who was a part of yesterday's event. Merry Christmas!





Lighting up Buckingham

The Christmas lights are on again in Buckingham - and they are a new style this year. We had the grand switch on, on Saturday supported by a cast of thousands, not least everyone who turned up to count down to the moment.

As always it was great to be a part of this and I enjoyed the privilege of flicking the magical switch! Thanks to everyone who took part and made it all happen including:

  • The Buckingham Society with Chairman Roger Edwards handing out the awards to best traders and eating places 
  • The Buckingham Children's Choir, led by Suzy Smith
  • The Winslow Concert Band
  • Stagecoach Buckingham led by Tilly James
  • Capt Coleman and Capt Coleman from the Salvation Army
  • Fr Roy Karrakkattu from St Bernardine's Catholic Church
  • Pucky the mascot from MK Lightning Ice Hockey team
  • Strawberry Fieldz events and marquee hire
  • Buckingham Table with a special guest appearance by Santa
  • Amanda Brubaker, Events Coordinator from the Town Council assisted by several colleagues and councillors
Thanks to Cllr Robin Stuchbury for the pics below.





Christmas cheer at the Community Centre

With an invitation and promise of a cake, I popped into the local Age Concern group that meets every first Saturday of the month. This week was a special festive meeting of nearly a hundred older people from Buckingham and surrounds with oodles of tea, cake, Christmas cheer and live music!

And... there was a special Christmas quiz (which flummoxed me) and a stunning raffle with more prizes than you could shake an elf at! Altogether a lovely occasion supported by some stoic volunteers who have been providing all this for years. Well done to Ros, Phillippa and the whole team.

Inflatable antlers!

Bourton Meadow School had their Christmas Fair on Saturday last. It was great to be there. I enjoyed all the stalls - especially the one that involved inflatable hoops and a girl wearing antlers that I had to land a hoop upon..! (She kept walking further and further way! I got no hoop son but I did win a raspberry flavoured pencil.) The face painting and glitter tattoos looked brilliant. All in all a wonderfully festive event which I hope raised lots of money for the school. And....(a small elfin fanfare sounds) I got to meet a very tubby and cheery Santa in his grotto!!

I did want to sit on his knee, but Santa explained that I might be the reindeer to break his already sore back (from stooping over to read all the letters to him). But still, I hope he grants me my wish... (whatever that might be!)


The majestic reindeer greeting everyone to the fair!



Friday, 30 November 2018

Skating on thick plastic

This year, for the first time, the Town Council arranged for a skating rink to be added to the Town for the week running up to Christmas lights switch on. I understand over 700 people have booked slots during this period, which is fantastic! (There is room for more too!)

The ambition is for this initiative to be cost neutral to the Council with the costs being offset by tickets and sponsorship. It was fabulous to officially open it on Monday evening with the aid of Pucky from MK Lightning, our local ice hockey team. Indeed some of the team came along too! Thanks to Town Clerk Paul and Events Coordinator Amanda Brubaker and colleagues for the pics below.

Keep... skating!!




With fellow councillors - the Mayoress is hidden!


I was on skates - as was Cllr Stuchbury


... but a little nervously!

Magical new building

Wednesday this week saw the official opening of the new Vinson Building. This will be the centre of activities of the economics and entrepreneurship departments. And frankly with a building as beautiful and well designed as this, I fully expect the University of Buckingham to be turning out some of the best business people over the coming years! (To add to the ones they have already produced of course!)

And what is delightful is that this building will be open to non-students too. You will be able to pop in for a cup of coffee, browse the University Bookshop and just soak up the scholarly ambience! Who knows, you might even get into a conversation with a student or lecturer who might inspire you to take up some study too.

All credit to the architects and builders. And of course, huge thanks to the people who have funded the building especially Lord Vinson. I had the pleasure of thanking him personally for his contribution to the heritage and culture of our town.

I wish I could capture all the speeches that were made, including those by the inspirational and warm Sir Anthony Seldon and the indefatigable & inimitable, The Right Hon Frank Field MP. Suffice to say that freedom, innovation and hope for the future featured large! (There are some notes here produced by the IEA)

Here is Lord Vinson and Frank Field opening the building.


And some of the people present


Magical

I had the greatest of delights to watch the Royal Latin School's production of "The Magic of Mary Poppins" yesterday. And it was made even more wonderful by watching it in the company of primary school children from around the town. We all enjoyed the performances hugely! It is majestic show with song, dance, moments of anguish and moments of joy. It features a cast of dozens and a backstage crew to match. It was stunning show to watch and see how all the pieces fell into place as the story was told. All credit to the performers, the backstage team, the directors and everyone else involved. You have done the school proud!

Go see it if you can!



Monday, 26 November 2018

Lace Hill winter warming

I enjoyed a brisk walk over to Lace Hill on Sunday for the Winter Fair and it was wonderful! The big and small rooms there were buzzing with crafting activity, mulled wine, great music and a general family atmosphere. Great to see all the stall holders with their beautiful wares, including many local businesses. I adored the mulled wine and mince pies. This community centre is such a brilliant addition to Buckingham!


Friday, 23 November 2018

Councillor Conduct

Along with Councillor Ruth Newell, we attended training on Tuesday organised by the Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Association of Local Councils. Although I had attended a conference on a similar subject not long ago at the same venue (Weston Turville) - both Ruth and I were keen to keep abreast of any changes in the law and practice on these matters. The Town Council has made a commitment that all councillors should keep appraised of the key topics that we deal with in our responsibilities as councillors.


The training half day was entitled "The Code of Conduct, Interests and Dispensations" and ably led by Julie Openshaw, the District Solicitor and Monitoring Officer for Wycombe District Council. It was a fascinating morning and enriched by conversations with the other participants including the Parish Clerk for the village where the Vicar of Dibley was filmed! (We did talk about wider matters too..)

Anyway, so what did I learn?

Councillor conduct remains high on the agenda for many local councils even if the numbers being reported/investigated are low. Julie Openshaw, when asked a question by me, reported that in the four years she has been at Wycombe District Council there have been only 25 cases of misconduct reported to her and not one of these has been judged (by her) to be in need of further investigation. This suggested to me that (for a variety of complex reasons, no doubt) that there is significant under reporting of cases where Councillors are over stepping the mark when it comes to handling their clerk, council staff or colleague councillors. I say this because when I talk to Parish Clerks, most have stories of councillors being rude or bullying.

I was reminded that regime of monitoring and tackling Councillor conduct has been made very light touch in recent years with the rational to make it less bureaucratic. I am left wondering, however, if it has gone too far in the direction of a laissez faire approach. The real sanctions that can be applied are very minimal and it seems the threshold for doing investigations is quite high.

The Nolan Principles remain centre stage but the breadth with which they can be interpreted is still very wide. 

I think Buckingham Town Council is very focused on councillors declaring any interests they might have and making sure that decisions are taken with due regard to these. I think we could be even tighter, which is a matter I plan to raise with the Town Clerk.

Dispensations are instances where a councillor or group of councillors have a declarable interest but for a variety of reasons may still be allowed to comment and vote. The law is pretty wide though including reason number five which states than an authority (the Town Clerk in our case) may grant a dispensation when he considers that it is otherwise appropriate to grant a dispensation. Yes you read that right... (But on the whole we have had very few dispensations granted in BTC apart from the standing one when it comes to setting the precept)

We spent some time looking at a particular case of where a councillor (who happened to be called Harvey - no relation I might add) and Ledbury Town Council had a disagreement. She was initially prevented by the Council from attending any committees and representing the council on any outside bodies. This was done on the basis of the Town Council applying their grievance procedure to her over her dealings with some members of staff. However, the law when applied found that the sanctions were not legal and the local Monitoring Officer judged that the Council were acting beyond their powers (ultra vires) as well as being non compliant with the Human Rights Act etc. I could write more about this case based on the notes given us by Ms Openshaw - but I will stop there. But I will sum up to say that due process must always be applied...

So, a fertile day and good tuning of my brain on all these matters.

Friday, 16 November 2018

Buckingham Society moving forward at speed!

AGMs are typically boring affairs electing the same old officers and so forth. But last night's one for the Buckingham Society was anything but! We had some brilliant debates on local town planning matters and the new local community transport service. Plus an extraordinarily impressive presentation from the MD of Silverstone. Stuart Pringle held us agog for an hour talking about the very exciting developments a few miles from us.

Think new family entertainment, new heritage exhibitions, new hotel, new investments by the likes of Aston Martin (a Buckinghamshire firm originally - returning to its roots!) combined with the success stories like the University Training College up there too. Breathtaking and it left me wondering what more we can do to build better links between us and this world famous centre on our doorstep... Ideas?

Anyway, back to the Buckingham Society, do make sure you have completed your form to nominate the Trader of the Year and Favourite eating place too. And if you have not yet browsed their new revamped website, please do. You can see it here and ask for a copy of the form for your nominations if you wish.

Here is Roger Edwards, the Chairman


The agenda

Stuart Pringle


Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Jo Cox: step 9

On Monday morning, I donated the biography of Jo Cox for the ninth time to the libraries of my life: this time to the University of Buckingham. I have one more book to donate and I know where it is going. This is speech I gave to the assembled staff of the University:

We have just this last weekend commemorated the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. Indeed we have all been paying tribute to everyone who has lost their lives or whose lives were damaged by armed conflict over the last century. We commit to never forgetting and always honouring the sacrifices of all. And when we do this, we often link this to the freedoms that we all enjoy. 

I am sure there are many historians here who know this better than me: but in my view the freedoms we have, come not just from the winning of wars. Our freedoms have also been hard won through political campaigning, legislation & our justice system, non-violent protest and, of course, constant vigilance. 

We live in tempestuous times where the pillars of our free democracy here and abroad are being shaken by terrorism, attacks on the free press and triumphant but myopic populism. The freedoms to think, to believe, to declare, to debate, to challenge, to satirise and to complain (etc!) are precious ones which we must protect with all our might.

One person who did this for all of her life was Jo Cox MP. As we all know, she was brutally murdered by a Right Wing Terrorist during the European Referendum campaign of 2016. And it is because of her that I am with you today. 

Jo stood up for freedom and against the ‘othering’ of people. She stood for community and common interests and against the suppression of ideas and the oppression of people.

When Jo was killed, it was a moment that shocked and saddened me deeply, as it did most other people of course. Here was an MP working hard to listen to and help her constituents in Batley and Spen. She was on her way to a regular surgery on 16 June 2016 when a man stabbed and killed her. As the world reacted to this event, much more about Jo became to be more widely understood. 


In particular a paragraph from her maiden speech in the House of Commons delivered by her on 3 June 2015, just a year previous, became well known:

“Batley and Spen is a gathering of typically independent, no-nonsense and proud Yorkshire towns and villages. Our communities have been deeply enhanced by immigration, be it of Irish Catholics across the constituency or of Muslims from Gujarat in India or from Pakistan, principally from Kashmir. While we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me time and time again as I travel around the constituency is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”

Just to repeat that last bit:

“we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”

And so wind forward another year and the general election of 2017 was called. I placed a bet of £20 on how many seats the Conservative Party would win (within a 25 seat margin) at odds of seven to one. 
I was right and I won my stake and £140 back. So then I thought, what should I do with the money? I could have blown it all on a night out or given it to a charity. But I decided instead to purchase 11 copies of the book about Jo’s amazing life and tragic death. And I decided at the same time to donate ten of these books to the libraries of my life.

The weekend before last, I donated one book to the Mouvaux Library, our twin town in Flanders. There are many Flanders fields around Mouvaux…

And here I am on stage nine of my journey. (I have one more stop to go: the Buckingham School). It gives me enormous pleasure to offer this book to your library here at the University. It is also pleasing, of course, that proceeds from the book have all been going to the Jo Cox Foundation, a charity that I know Sir Anthony is very supportive of. Indeed the profits from his last two books have gone there too. 


Inside the book will be this bookplate:



Thank you for allowing me to do this. 

Antony Archdeacon RIP

On behalf of the Town Council, I attended the funeral of our former Town Clerk, Mr Antony Archdeacon. I did not know him, but amongst the 100 or so people present, there were many who did. They spoke of a warm, kind and thoughtful man. His son gave a deeply moving eulogy about his father and described his life in some detail moving between the personal and professional. He was the Town Clerk for most of the 50s and 60s. Presided over by Father Roy Karakkattu, this was profound occasion, to grieve the passing of and of honouring a man who had given great service to his community. The Town Council stood in a minute's silence on Thursday last week to pay tribute to him.





The Mayor of Milton Keynes' Carol Service (Trefoil #2)

It was a joy to be part of the Christmas Carol Service hosted by the Mayor of MK Cllr Martin Petchey and his consort Ms Debbie Thomson. We s...