Thursday, 21 December 2017

Warm greetings to all Buckingham folk

For me, part of the joy of the Christmas and New Year season, is that it makes us pause and reflect on the year past and the year to come. We carve another notch in life's walking stick and grow another wrinkle. And as part of this, at this time of year, I always think about how words are so very important to me. In essence they have been my trade as a management consultant and as a politician throughout my careers as both. So a few years ago, I happened upon a fundraising idea (for a charity called 'I Can') that involved 'adopting' a word for a year. The money raised helped children with communication difficulties. But this charity have now ceased this money raising campaign and I have switched my allegiance to a charity called "Clearly Speaking" which works with children local to Buckingham, who also have communication difficulties. (You can find out more about their work here) I will be making a donation to them.

So, towards the end of December, I decide which word to 'adopt' as a background theme for the coming year. I look for a word to guide me over the next twelve months and for a word that makes a statement about something that I think is important for the wider world. This time last year I chose the word 'rapprochement' for 2017 and the word for 2016 was 'dance'.

And for 2018, I have chosen the word 'patience'. Why patience?

It seems to me (and I include myself in this too, of course) that the world right now is in one big almighty hurry, as if time is running out and we all need to get somewhere next, fast! Many people it seems have lost the will to be a little bit patient. We even have the saying "good things come to those who wait" which we all too often ignore. So I have decided I am going to be a bit more patient next year. It is also my plan to prompt others to be a little bit more patient too. Good things will come!

So as we head into Christmas, may I wish you a very merry time with family and friends, where I hope all will be wrapped in love, kindness and peace. And may I hope that you will find 2018 to be a year in which more of your dreams, aspiration and ambitions come true, for you and those who are special to you. And may we all work for a world brimming with bliss, generosity, harmony and understanding.

With the warmest of seasonal greetings

Jon


Tuesday, 12 December 2017

The great Community Fair

Once the Christmas Parade is over, every year the Community Centre comes alive with the Town Council organised Community Fair. It is always well attended and stocked with great stalls... But I have this hunch that some of the hundreds of people attending the Parade, don't think about attending the Community Fair as well...?

It was another fab occasion which happened last Saturday and I had the pleasure of sampling a delicious cup of coffee and mince pie and visiting some of the stalls. I learnt about why the CAB is now simply Citizens Advice... And I learnt something about the support group for people bereaved by suicide of loved one. And the Town Twinning stall packed up early as all their tombola prizes had gone in flash (so good were the odds!)

I was also serenaded by the Buckingham Children's Choir. I have stolen this pic from their pages - hope they don't mind! Lovely singing - and their first public performance I believe!




Christmas drinks

Crunching through the snow, Julie and I joined a few hardy souls at the home of the University Vice Chancellor last Sunday lunchtime for Christmas drinks. Numbers were down of course, but it was a great pleasure to have some conversations with some of the lovely people associated with the University - from a lecturer in women's economics to a mum telling me about her son who has just joined Thames Valley Police as a new police officer.

As I have said before, we are very fortunate to have the University as part of our town. Of course it comes with its challenges, not least the pressure on available housing and some of the differences in lifestyle between students and 'ordinary' residents. But the University also brings a great deal of employment, money being spent in the town and a cultural diversity which all adds to our town.

The challenge is to manage the pluses and minuses so that all benefit.


Sunday, 10 December 2017

Buckingham Christmas Parade: another triumph!

One of the biggest events in the Buckingham calendar is the Christmas Parade. Yesterday we had perfect weather: crisp and sunny. And indeed the show went off perfectly as well. For something to work so smoothly must take an extraordinary amount of careful planning with which the Town Council assists. But the main organisers are the Christmas Parade Committee, chaired by Howard Mordue. You can read more about the history of the parade on their website.

So both Julie and I hugely enjoyed being driven through town as part of the parade, with the Town Clerk, the Mace Bearer and Cllrs Stuchbury and Hirons forging the way ahead of us. We were surrounded by lots of fantastic floats and walkers. I had the honour of awarding the prizes to the winning entries and there were many very, very worthy winners!

So well done to everyone who took part and those helped organise, design and build all the costumes and floats. And thanks of course to all the Parade Committee: another fantastic year!

Thanks to Robin for these two pics. And thank you to our driver and his 1911 Ford car! The seat leather smelt just like old car seat leather should smell!



There is a fabulous video made here too - which shows lots of the highlights from the Parade. Thanks Barry West.

Buckingham School: beginnings and endings

Thursday evening at the Buckingham School was a very special evening. It was their Celebration Evening where students past and present are awarded recognition and prizes for exceptional work. It was just such a delight to hear about all the students being praised from the teachers who knew them well. Such an impressive array of talent, effort and great results! After an evening like that, no one should be in any doubt that Buckingham School is one of the finest schools around. 

Well done to all the students who worked so hard. And well done to all the teachers, assistants and all staff who all work together to create such a fantastic learning climate. It was wonderful to imagine what these students will be doing in the future: such great beginnings for their young lives.

But the evening was also very important because it marked the moving on of Angela Wells, the headteacher, onto pastures new. As announced by the school back in September:
Miss Angela Wells, who has been Headteacher at The Buckingham School for the past nine years is set to take up a headship at a school in South Yorkshire from 1 January 2018.
And so it was a very special evening for Miss Wells too. Here are some pics and below, the valedictory speech I gave on behalf the town. Naturally the Chair of Governors, Matthew Watkins wished her well too and thanked her for all that she has done for the school and students. Cllr Robin Stuchbury, as a former parent (and indeed former student many moons ago) gave his thanks too.


My selfies are bit fuzzy - especially there seems to be someone flying across the back behind us on the second one...!!



Does anyone know who that is in the background...? Impressive timing!!

And so here is the speech I gave:
Many people have tried to bottle what good leadership is. The interweb is awash with quotes about leadership and what it means - and how people can become better leaders… Having spent nearly my whole career focused on leadership and organisational change, I have become very pragmatic. 
Put simply, the measure of a great leader is results. 
Now I don’t have all the figures and I am very much an outsider looking in. But it seems evident to me that since Angela arrived to head up this school, results in all different ways have improved. This school is not the same place it was those years ago. 
The school is now a far better place in which young people can learn and can grow. This is a place in which young people can set their course to become the citizens of tomorrow. In this respect I am reminded of a verse by Khalil Gibran who talks of children and parents (although I think he is talking about teachers too):

Your children are not your children.They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.They come through you but not from you,And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts.You may house their bodies but not their souls,For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your childrenas living arrows are sent forth.The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.
___
So I believe Angela, through your great leadership, you have been a very strong bow, sending forth arrows into life’s great infinity. And of course, I praise all the ‘bows’ in this school - who are all focused on helping young people have ambitions, hopes and dreams, and the wherewithal to achieve those.
Angela, you have taken the school from being in the doldrums to being one that is the envy of the county and beyond. You and your leadership of very fine team of excellent teachers have transformed the school and achievements of the children who attend in all ways - and not just educationally. 
Well done! You have helped make an important chapter in the town's history that for which many local people - students and parents - will remember you fondly. Yours will be a hard act to follow but I am confident that the next Headteacher will be able to build on your successes.
I wish you well in your new position in Barnsley. I am sure you will do a fantastic job for the young people of that town as you have for ours here in Buckingham. Thank you.

Random chocolate kindness!

I arrived home a couple of days ago to be greeted by this lovely letter from some children at Lace Hill. What a delightful idea! So I will be looking for some ways in wish to pass this random act of (chocolate) kindness on to others. Thank you Mylee, Cory, Valerie and Keeo!! And well done!

And if their parents are reading, I would love to hear how this project is developing.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Keep dancing!!

Last night was the 'Strictly Buckingham Christmas' event at the old Town Hall. Many months ago, I was invited to be one of the judges. And what a thoroughly charming, heart warming, inspirational and thrilling event it was. So much amazing dancing from people young and getting on a bit!

There was precision, smooth moves, elegance, focus, control and seemingly effortless balance and harmony between the couples as they danced around the floor. The dancers were vivacious, dramatic, funny, graceful, steamy and edgy... and so much more!

All this had been coordinated by the simply astounding Viv Rhymes (of Step by Step Dance School in Brackley) and her huge team of supporters. The evening was excellently compered by Aaron Williams. My fellow judges guided me through the process (having never done such a thing before). So thanks to Nick Kelly and Cheyenne Russell, Gemma Dearsley (Founder of the Lighthouse Centre which was the main beneficiary of last night's charity event) and especially to Glenda Harper who made sure I put the numbers in the right boxes!

And of course, huge congratulations to the winners and runners up. The competition overall was won by Julia Souter (Local Hero) and George Merry (Stepper). The runners up were Diana Bugeag (Local Hero) and Dominic Fuller-Lowe (Stepper). But well done to all the dancers: to the local heroes for daring to learn and showcase their dancing and to the steppers who were such excellent teachers and supporters of their new partners.

Julia and George, the winners


Diana and Dominic, the runners up


The celebration begins for Julia and George and everyone!


So if you want to be there next year (and I very recommend that you should) you might want to think about being one of the local heroes... could you learn to dance? (In case you ask, I am thinking about it, maybe not next year, but perhaps for 2019!)

More pics and information here from Viv's FB account.

Bourton Meadow Academy looks at health

A couple of weeks ago, I had the enormous pleasure of sitting in on a special assembly in BMA where each year group presented their projects that they had been focusing on as part of the Health Festival. It was a rich and dynamic display ranging from the A-Z of health, to new (and healthier) breakfast bars and models of healthy meals. There were T-shirts with health messages on them.

And a report of how one year was had the opportunity to dress up as people who help other people stay healthy... Julie, the Mayoress, went along to meet some of these children during the week itself. She was thoroughly charmed. And she was intrigued to notice one young man who was dressed in a smart blazer, white shirt and chinos. She asked him what profession he had come as and he proudly announced to her that he was a Doctor of Philosophy! All credit to the parents who must have helped him to understand that good ethics and good morals are as important as good care and good medicine!

So well done to Bourton Meadow Academy for a superlative contribution to the Health Festival Week and getting their students to think so much about their health now and in the future.

I only have this pic below to show you: the models of the healthy meals & the new breakfast bar (which was yummy!). The school has promised to send me other photos that they took (and cleared for social media publication) but I am guessing that end of term activities are snaffling all their spare time at the moment.


I should also mention that health festival activities also went on in Buckingham Primary and George Grenville schools too but I was not so directly involved in those. But well done to them too for getting involved in the Health Festival week!

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Love every drop

On Friday, I was invited to partake in an event hosted by Anglian Water called the 'South Midlands Growth Forum' over in Colworth Park just north of Bedford. And despite its title, it was an enormously intriguing and educational morning. I will try to summarise some the thoughts I was left with.

Stewart Patience and I spent an intense half an hour over a cup a coffee and a bun at the beginning of the day before the formal started. He introduced me to the concept of Long Term Water Resilience. In our region, we have the dual challenge of being mostly a fairly flat part of the country and a lot less rainfall than other parts (such as the North West). This means we have to be planning now for a future where their may not be enough water to go around.

So how do we do this? (I emphasise 'we' since that was the main theme of the event: how can Anglian Water work with other stakeholders to manage the water supply and management of the waste better?) The other stakeholders include the planning authorities, strategic planning authorities, the Environment Agency, housing developers, third sector landscape partnerships and others.

But back to my conversation (or tutorial in fact!) with Stewart who works to ensure good linkages between Anglian Water's systems and plans and the local plans being developed by the likes of Aylesbury Vale District Council and indeed Buckingham Town Council. Some of the key tasks ahead include how to trap and use more 'grey water' (rainwater to you and me). Anglian Water are now offering something of deal with housing developers whereby if they promise to install grey water management into their new houses and also domestic taps that use less water, then Anglian Water will reduce the connection fees for a new estate.

We also talked about sewage too and how Anglian Water negotiate and plan improvements in these systems. There is some bewildering complexities to be engineered in concerning storm water and foul water and how it is vital to keep some of these separate or risk flooding of the kinds that none of want to see!

The rest of the day was a very pleasing blur of information and ideas from lots of quarters concerning how water could be better managed and planned for coupled with the powerful idea that we all need to be even more focused on building communities rather than estates... And these communities include water environments that benefit wildlife, plants and trees too.

All of this will become increasingly important if the recommendations of the National Infrastructure Commission and the idea of the Oxford Cambridge Arc (or is that Ark?) move forward at a pace...


You can read the whole report here. And this one will become important for the Town Council once we embark on refreshing the Neighbourhood Plan.

Final thought: we forget how precious and miraculous water is at our peril...

RAF Halton & leadership development

Following up my visit to RAF Halton a couple of months ago, I paid them another visit last Thursday to find out more about how they go about training their non-commissioned officers in management and leadership. It was a fascinating couple of hours learning about how they put their newly promoted corporals, sergeants, flight sergeants and warrant officers through management development.

The building where it all happens is surrounded by extensive grounds which they use to create physical challenges that develop the leadership of those attending the training programmes. Ditches, tyres, ropes and cables all form part of a hinterland within which RAF personnel gain insight into their own and others' leadership. I was told that sometimes even skipping ropes and light sabres feature but I am not sure I can explain how! Ensconced in the centre of a building is hub from which they marshal simulations designed to shrewdly test the limits of the leaders' capabilities and understanding. I quipped it was not a million miles from the Hunger Games! Here are some pics of the RAF personnel engaged in some of these activities (kindly supplied by my contact there)



And just at the end, I was shown a part of the site where soldiers were trained in trench warfare before being shipped off to France in the WW1. You can read about the project here of where some of the trenches have been recently restored to provide a place for education and indeed filming. It was an eerie experience walking through the trenches. And made more so given John Lloyd's description of his time filming last scene of Blackadder, the previous evening... (see blog below)

I won't name the officers who showed me around as I am cautious about releasing such information into the public domain. But I am enormously grateful to the Flight Lieutenant and his colleagues for sparing me their time.




Not the best pic I am afraid, but a brief timeline of the site and how it has been used to train combatants in trench warfare methods.


The benefit of being a university town

Last Wednesday, I had the greatest of pleasures to listen to a conversation between Sir Anthony Seldon and John Lloyd, TV producer of great stature (Spitting Image, Hitchhiker's Guide, Blackadder, QI to name but four).

John gave us some very entertaining and insightful stories from his life at the BBC and elsewhere. I won't attempt to replicate them here. Except to say his description of the how they came to film one of the iconic moments of TV history: the closing scenes from Blackadder - was moving, inspiring and funny.


This was one in a series of presentations hosted by the University in the run up to next year's Literary Festival. There are two more in this Autumn series, I heartily recommend attendance if you obtain a spare ticket... We are indeed privileged to have such events in our town.

Celebrating the University Library

I was given a most illuminating and inspiring tour of the libraries at the University of Buckingham on Monday morning by Peta Yates, the Lib...