Why Shipley needs a Town Council. A personal view by Molly Kenyon

The following statement was presented by local resident Molly Kenyon to the public meeting on 16th June 2018

I’ve lived in Saltaire since 2002, catching the train for work in Leeds for a few years and then taking early retirement.  These days I give time to the patient group at our medical practice, to the Salt Foundation which keeps Victoria Hall open, and to BCB radio, mainly interviewing musicians at the Live Room.   At least once a day I walk to Shipley and back, by various routes!

As a child in Connecticut (long ago) I benefited from a town council without knowing much about it.   Some things I remember were quite different from what would happen in England.  Dog licenses were issued by the town clerk, and householders had to ring up for permission to burn piles of leaves in their gardens.  I was quite unaware of the Town Council’s wider powers or formal structure.

Ignorance about local government is all too common, and I remained quite ignorant for at least my first decade in this county.  Finally in 1988 I became more aware of the work of District Council – by then I was a dual national and could vote.  My home in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire was very near the office of West Lindsey District Council and the chair of the Economic Development Committee was a friend.               I attended some council meetings and realised that District councillors were ordinary people doing what they could in difficult times.

Since coming to Bradford 27 years ago I’ve been active in neighbourhoods from Heaton to West Bowling to Lidget Green.   Having renounced US citizenship, I’ve to sink or swim in the UK, and expect to leave my bones in Saltaire.   Through the village society I’ve seen what a difference it makes when a local project gets a bit of statutory support.

One example was the rather bare space on Caroline Street which is now Wash House Garden.  That was created by village society volunteers consulting local residents and then waiting a couple of years until our District Councillors were able to allocate a bit of money for the essential works.

It’s a pleasure to see people sitting on the flowerbed walls to eat their lunch or wait for a bus. I remember when the walls were too high to sit on and there were no flowers.  Looking back at the time and effort required, I can say that if there had been a Shipley Town Council we might have got Wash House Garden much more quickly.

A town council would never replace the work of community activists like the Friends of Northcliffe and the Hirst Wood Regen Group.  Through bidding for grants and gathering volunteers these groups complete outstanding projects and run much appreciated activities.  There is always more to do in fundraising and making partnerships with other organisations.  It’s very appropriate that Pauline Bradley-Sharp has been named in the Queen’s birthday honours “for services to the community in Hirst Wood,   Shipley, West Yorkshire”

In recent years I’ve become aware of what a valuable partner a town council can be for local groups.  My awareness grew because in 2015 and 2016 I submitted grant applications for Baildon Town Council to assist World Heritage Weekend in Saltaire.

Attending Town Council sessions at the Baildon Link was an eye-opener.  The room is small compared to a District Council chamber, but the proceedings are highly organised.  Applicants for a grant are invited to speak and are questioned by the councillors.   I was impressed by their awareness of sensitive issues which can unite people in local neighbourhoods, or push them apart.

The grant from Baildon was a big help, but even more encouraging was to see our project alongside others which were being supported:  work with children, footpath improvements, promoting fair trade and so forth.  There was an atmosphere of alertness to new possibilities alongside very responsible management of the Town Council’s finances.

Around five years ago Saltaire Village Society explored the idea of setting up a community council under the Localism Act.  We heard some good presentations from neighbourhood organisers, but there was little appetite for the work of getting up a formal petition.  Many people felt that Saltaire was too small to set up on its own, and there was no sense of urgency.

As you know, these last five years have made quite a difference, nationally and locally.  I remember Dave Green, previous leader of Bradford Council telling a group at Kirkgate Centre that we had to prepare for drastic loss of government funding for the Council budget by 2020.

That loss begins to be visible now with toilets and Information Centres closed, park maintenance limited, all non-essential services being examined again and again for possible cuts.  It’s a very hard time to be a District Councillor.

Through all these challenges 19 town councils in various parts of Bradford have been working in practical ways alongside the District Council.  Baildon may be the best known to us, but it’s fascinating to learn about Wilsden, Denholme, Clayton and others – especially Bingley, as the most recently established.

I’ve begun to notice the work of town councils outside Bradford also.  Last week I was in Gloucestershire and picked the monthly newsletter of Minchinhampton Parish Council.   It describes a good set of current projects and future plans.  This is the ongoing work of 15 councillors and their parish clerk in partnership with local people.

Shipley needs to build up a stronger sense of local identity, energy and pride.  Many people value the town’s history – there are thousands of old photographs on Facebook, and I’ve seen local history classes absolutely packed.   What can we do to make the Shipley of today more worthy of respect?  It seems the Branch pub has to go, but its demolition could be a spur for us to make Shipley a destination, not a place to bypass in a car or pass through on a bus.

I think that now is the time for a real push to create a Shipley Town Council.  We know that the District Council is very hard pressed to provide services.  Local business and voluntary groups around Shipley need encouragement to work together more effectively.   Residents in different neighbourhoods need to know more about each other’s needs and aspirations.

How can we get more people to appreciate what has happened at Kirkgate Centre?  The fact that it remains open and is likely to pass into community ownership is the result of consistent, long-term effort.  Kirkgate has set an example for what a town council could do – exploring neighbourhood identity and promoting projects which bring people together.  Shipley Alternative markets, clothes swaps and repair sessions are bright spots on the calendar, along with social gatherings like the Front Room disco, on tonight!  Kirkgate was the natural place for the Multi-Storey Water project to hold events.  The Hive workshops on the lower floor are equally impressive.  If you don’t already use the Kirkgate Centre or the Hive, have a look at their lists of activities!

Shipley lost its town centre manager some time ago and the Traders group has a very hard time at present.  Both the indoor and the outdoor markets are struggling.           A Town Council could stir things up a bit to encourage new and existing businesses.    As a local resident I’d expect town councillors to spark discussion about Shipley’s economy and come up with viable projects to make the town centre more attractive.

Even in these difficult times people are setting up new businesses like Hullabaloo on Westgate – what a relief that the long-closed site of the Connection restaurant has finally been given such excellent use.

The Dandelion café and Heather yoga studio in John Street is another example of younger people working out a good business model.  Most of us wouldn’t have known there’s a John Street off Saltaire Road, but it’s on the map now!

Shipley has a track record for innovation in community service, recognised across the District.  Look at the work of HALE and of Cellar Project, surviving against the odds.  Cellar Project planters are in our garden, and their café is my favourite meeting place for a business conversation over coffee, or lunch with a friend, or a quiet hour by myself – a good place to think about what you value in Shipley, and what you’d like to improve.

I’m looking for four key things from a town council.  The first is a dozen or more town councillors giving close attention to what residents say.  The second is a very efficient town clerk to pull together information and make it available in a newsletter, on a website or a market stall.  The third is to set out a neighbourhood plan as quickly as possible – capture what local people want, what they can offer and outline a set of practical goals for the short, medium and long term.

Fourthly, I want a town council to help us celebrate what’s good – keep the Shipley Festival going, enter Britain in Bloom, fun things to bring people together.  It’s too easy to sink into a morass of problems.   So I’m glad that this Town Council campaign has the Summer Solstice Celebration coming up on 23rd June at Kirkgate Centre!  Plumhall are a delight to hear, especially as Nick and Michelle bicker so amusingly!  And we are so proud to have bluesman Gerry Cooper as a Shipley resident.  I hope to see you there – or if you can’t make it, please encourage friends to come.

I’ll end on a very personal note.  Becoming a town councillor isn’t in my life plan but I very much appreciate the commitment involved.  Forty years ago my older brother was part of the simplest form of local government in rural Maine.  He was First Selectman for his village – and there were only two Selectmen!  It was a demanding task alongside his job and a young family.  At the end of his first term he hesitated about standing again.  But the night before he died in a car accident, he had the selection papers out on the kitchen table to complete.   There is still a fund in his memory to promote art and music in the village schools.

I hope that here in Shipley there will be more than enough people willing to consider taking on the role of a town councillor.  It is worth it.   Thank you.

1 Comment

  • Ann West says:

    Well said Mollie – a very comprehensive analysis , of the breadth of community action in the Shipley Area,and many reasons why these activities will be enhanced rather than take over,by a town council. Thank you! On with the campaign!

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