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Atworth Village Fete - on the Melksham Community Area Partnership stand

"Would you like to buy some fairy cakes for tea?" - "How should Atworth village and the areas around develop up to the year 2026?"

"Toss the wellie, sir? How far can you throw it?" - "What are your major unitary controlled concerns about living in this area at the moment?"

"Can I have 30p please Dad for racing car" ...




View and facts expressed in this article are as presented to me, and do not necessarily reflect the views of other members of the community, nor of the community area partnership, nor do they imply any endoresement. See update at base of article for further details

Yesterday, I helped with the Melksham Community Area Partnership display at Atworth Village Fete, held in the grounds of Churchfields School, Atworth. On a hot summer's day, people's attention is very much on having fun and the last thing on their mind is the serious business of whether there should be more housing in Villages such as Atworth - either at a level for the village to gently regenerates, or to become the hub of a new local town ... or whether it should be stagnated and become a faded dormitory. But these matters will effect them, and their children, long after the fairy cakes have been eaten.

Why village fetes? Last weekend was Poulshot, and I'm doing Melksham in 2 weeks time. Because they're the one occasion on the year when many difficult-to-reach members of the community are out there and can be reached. So these village fetes are hard work, but never the less it was two hours spend talking and listening and learning. A couple of us on the MCAP now have a better understanding of Atworth - some of its concerns, etc. Still not a good picture - the majority of visitors to the fete didn't visit our stand - but we have a toe in the water and we're much better informed.

Talking with the communitySo - what are Atworth's issues / uniquenesses? (Illustration - the MCAP stand, with Miriam talking to fete visitors) Talk of housing and housing growth lead us to quickly learn that a single (Fuller) family owns virtually the whole village and surrounding area, and so the metrics are different here on that score. It's much more a question of what "The Estate" wants and allows rather than just what county and / or the people who live here would like. There are questions of traffic speed through the village - a fast hill down from the Bath direction comes into a street that was built in horse and cart days, and there's concern at the lack of even occasional police speed cameras. They ARE used in the next village on the same road in Shaw, it seems (I was once caught there - my only time - and it appears that Atworth visitors have too!). Want to see a doctor? The Melksham surgeries are all at the far end of that town, and the secondary school which was at George Ward on the Atworth side of Melksham is also moving to the Seend / Devizes side - a couple of miles further, and serious concern even from Atworth residents about traffic congestion in Melksham and delays in getting to the doctors and in future to school. They were also very concerned about the closure of Melksham Hospital - especially the minor injuries unit. Public transport? The bus runs once an hour, but is largely discounted. Frustration was expressed (and without my prompting) at the lack of an accessible train station with a decent service - it's a real fight thorough traffic into Chippenham, and if you're going to Swindon or London, Bath is a illogical dogleg - quite apart from it too being an awkward station to get to. The people I spoke with were saying how useful a connection of the bus at Melksham station to Swindon would be ...

The fast road in, and the many accessible places have, it seems, attracted a criminal element to Atworth, and neighborhood watch is being set up. The question of the canal in the Melksham area is watched with a sort of interest at a distance. It won't directly effect the people of Atworth, but the couple of people I spoke with about it were asking "could it really happen" and were of the feeling that - if it could - it would really do something for the town [of Melksham] which is seen at times (and even this close) as something that's much more of a "sink" that perhaps Devizes, Malmesbury or Marlborough.


Atworth Village PlanAtworth is set in the countryside. To the north is Corsham. To the northeast, Chippehnam. To the west, Bradford-on-Avon. To the south, Trowbridge. To the east, Melksham. A village the size of Atworth cannot have all the facilities people need or want - a village shop, maybe, but not a cinema, nor a leisure center, a doctor, a dentist. So where does it look to? A little bit of many, it seems. Bath got mentioned as a major point, and they feel somewhat linked with Melksham - far more that the other towns that I mentioned. That's a stark contrast to Poulshot, from the previous weekend, which is part of the Melksham area, yet looks towards Devizes more that Melksham. Ah - there will always be these awkward questions as areas are clumped together.

I was impressed - very impressed - by the thoughfulness and knowledge of the people who have put together the village plan (picture of display) , by the gentleman who I spoke with who was around and party to the installation of the Melksham Gate on the Avon (I won't say more of his more mainstream knowledge to protect his identity), and by the friendlyness of the village. True, Gypsy was asked to leave ("it's a school field - we can't have dogs even today"), yet there were at least a couple of other dogs there throughout the afternoon, so I do spot a bit of dual standards and lack of welcome for people from outside the village.


It's the nature of the CAP that the issued raised are problems / negative ones. The questions asked are "what concerns you" and "what would you like to change", and not "what is right with the community and what would you like left alone". So reports and feedback will tend to point a darker picture than the reality is. But then things that ain't bust don't need fixing, so time need to be spent understanding and keeping the good, but then much more time on learning about, evaluating and fixing the areas of real concern.

See [here] for more pictures that I took at Atworth Village Fete (including the ones above at larger scale). See also [here] for considerations areas for the Melksham Community Area.





Update - 28th July, 2010, 10 p.m.. I'm just back from this evening's area board meeting - attended by (I estimate) around 150 people, and four Unitary Authority councillors. To my surprise, this blog article was raised by a member of the audience as a follow up to the Community Area Partnership report (which I did not present) - with the audience member saying it contains factual inaccuracies, and that he wished it to be corrected.

Let me immediatley clarify something - this personal blog describes discussions on that day, and information told to me as I understand it. Views of people at an event may be logical or illogical, and they may get facts wrong - but what I've written is to the best of my knowledge a fair translation of what was said. It's not an unusual problem to have when canvassing views. For example, only last night, I was at a consultation meeting in Melksham and a lady stated "we have no public transport from Melksham to Trowbridge on a Sunday". That's an error of fact - there's a train (hard won by our campaign!) at 18:45, and a National Express coach at about 21:00. It's a pretty useless service for a day out, but she didn't say "we have no useful public transport ..." so she had the right story, but wrong facts to back it up. So please read the text above as reporting the spirit of the view, which came across loud and clear that day.

It was suggested that I should have got the blog checked and approved by the Atworth Parish Council, and corrected any errors of fact they reported to me before telling you how that day was. I'm afraid I don't agree; my role was to listen to what people were saying, and to feed that back - not to come up with a post describing what others feel they should have said. But I am - as always - more than happy to add comments, different views, corrections to facts I have got wrong, and so forth. I made myself know to the gentlemen at the meeting ... we spoke afterwards i what I think were very friendly ways (and I'm pretty sure we both want the best for our area, so it should be such!)

I offered to bring back with me a copy of the marked up blog that the gentleman had so that I could consider and update you forthwith. I offered to sit down there and then and look at the matters (you know me - I'm always online ;-) ). I offered to update as appropriate on receipt of an email. The first two offers were declined. I do hope he takes up the third offer and gives me the opportunity to add his views into the discussion, and the facts as he understands them. That will make up a much stronger group of communities, understanding each other that much more and working for the common good.

If you should happen to be reading this as a general part of my blog ... please feel free to get in touch about any of the articles. I'm always very willing indeed to add sections - and go back and make limited amendments too at times to clarify and correct. But please email me at the address that's on this page - that's likely to get it changed much quicker (and perhaps more favourably to your views if they differ from mine) than raising it on the floor of a big public meeting where I happen to be in the audience.

Update - 30th July 2010 ... An answer from the Clerk to Atworth Parish Council (unabridged) which I received late yesterday evening:

Dear Mr Ellis, thank you for your response to the comments I made last night. I should like to make it clear that I was not criticising you but rather that there was no check in the system to ensure that what was being reported and broadcast was factually correct. What is opinion one minute, once in print, can very quickly be taken as fact. It is that I wish to guard against. Whether you wish to modify your report is a matter for you and, perhaps, MCAP.

I would confirm that Atworth Parish Council supports MCAP, indeed it has 2 representatives ( our Chairman and a Councillor) who regularly attend its meeting.

As to the detail the facts are as follows:
• The Neston Estate sold off almost all of its housing within the village after the Second World War. It still owns most of the agricultural land in the Parish
• Few, if any currently, of the children of the Parish attend George Ward. Secondary education is provided by St Lawrence in B-o-A.
• Atworth Village already has a Neighbourhood Watch in being.
• The Parish Plan has highlighted that Melksham is only one of several towns in the area (B-o-A, Corsham) from which residents draw services and entertainment.

You could argue that this apparent discord indicates that the Parish Council is not getting its message across. We have a website, a village magazine both of which regularly report on Council/Parish activities and deliberations. We have an annual Parish Assembly and occasional public meeting, the next is in September. We will shortly, by October, have A Parish Plan; a copy of which will go to every residence and business in the Parish. But we can always do better!

I sorry your dog wasn't welcome especially if there was a double standard in operation. We aren't too bad really but we do value our separate identity. Atworth has no desire to become part of a greater melksham.


Comment ...

What was told to me at the start of this month remains what was told to me - some of the comments may have been inaccurate, or may have related just to a part of the community, but they were telling of how people feel (or rather felt on that day). I welcome the opportunity here to publish the alternative, and what I feel is "official", view.

I'm utterly aware that words published on a web page tend to take on more authority than if they're just spoken at a meeting. But words on a blog such as this, clearly written as an anecdotal (not sure if that's exactly the right word) report on what was said on the day, are well know these days to be just views. My correspondent wants to guard against opinion being taken as fact, and (I suspect) the concerns of small group being taken as the concerns of the village as a whole, and I'm delighted to have been able to provide him space on this blog to put on record things as he sees them.

Alas - if I were being pedantic (oops - I am), I would take issue with "Few, if any currently, of the children of the Parish attend George Ward." Technically that statement is correct, but it's misleading ... George Ward school has closed down. And I understand (unverified) that Wiltshire Council used taxis go get pupils to school from Atworth to the new Melksham Oak School for the last couple of weeks of term, having realised that Atworth is outside the limits for which children should be expected to walk to school. The fact that it's taxis rather implies the number involved wasn't / isn't huge.

Yes - I did (and do) find the people in all the communities around here a great bunch for the most part ... and I know that the MCAP is going out of its way to be inclusive. Indeed - it sometimes feels to me that the CAP and the Area Board are putting far more effort per head of population in for the areas surrounding Melksham than for Melksham Town itself. From what I hear, that's not common across all the area boards - yesterday evening I met with someone with whom I'm working on something in a Westbury area village, and his comment was that the Area Board will welcome this project as it will let them do something for the villages, which has been lacking so far.

Looking wider, I'm aware (and I think I can talk for other members of the MCAP steering group here) that the bunching of villages with a specific nearby market town is imperfect; how and why it was done the way it wasn't (to my knowledge) planned by looking at villages and asking them "who would you like to work with?" but rather was done by clumping councillor's seats. It has resulted in some strange things - Holt and Lacock, both about 3 miles from the centre of Melksham, are not in its community area, but Steeple Ashton and Poulshot, both of which are about twice that distance away, are included. But certainly the MCAP welcomes anyone with an interest in the Melksham area (even if they don't live in the area), and encourages people living within the area to make contact with the Devizes, Trowbridge, Bradford-on-Avon, Chippenham, Corsham areas too.

But Area Board funding is likely to be available geographically for the area in which a project's taking place - so it does us all good to be working together to make the best of this pot for our area as a whole, even if we feel thrown together.

P.S. I note that Atworth has a new "Zig Zag" bus service starting on Monday. As well as the sevices to Bath and Melksham / Devizes, there are now services through the day to and from Corsham, Bradford-on-Avon and Trowbridge, and journeys to and from Chippenham too. The devil may be in the detail, but it looks rather good to me!

(written 2010-07-04, updated 2010-07-30)

 
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