Mayor's Blog

Councillor John Bicknell

Councillor John Bicknell moved to Stratford-upon-Avon in 1992 and became actively involved in local politics as a member of the Liberal Democrat party.

Monday, 13 May 2019.

As I come to the end of my mayoral year, I have to say what a privilege it has been to represent the town of Stratford-upon-Avon, and a great pleasure to meet the many individuals and organisations that contribute so much to the life of our community.  My final month in office has included meeting the Sea Cadets at TS Ghurkha, helping to welcome a large delegation of Chinese visitors, as the Peony Pavilion at the Firs Gardens was opened, being involved in all the events of the Shakespeare Birthday Weekend, getting up at 4.30am to meet the local Morris Dancing Society and bring in the dawn with them, and choosing a winner at the Festival of Motoring over the bank holiday weekend.

The Birthday Weekend begins with the Volunteers' Evening, a chance to celebrate the work of these vital people.  The Weekend itself is a fitting finale to every mayor's civic year, and this one was no exception, despite a fierce, cold wind, that blew on the morning of the parade, and made me glad of my thick gown.  It was not perhaps the easiest time to be a Living Statue, but I was pleased to see the many competitors who had come from all parts of the world to take part once again in this competition, and to award the prizes to the winners.

How quickly the year has flown by, but how rewarding it has been to witness at first hand the energy, creativity and enthusiasm that so many people contribute to the vitality of our town.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019.

It is a tradition that each Mayor uses their time in office to help promote, and raise funds for, their chosen charities.  It is an opportunity to raise awareness of the work that they do, and to ensure that their efforts can continue, by assisting them financially.  In my year I have chosen the Shakespeare Hospice, Springfield Mind, and Lifeways as my charities.  In different ways they contribute to helping people with health issues, both physical and mental.  There has been a number of fundraising events in the course of my year, culminating in the Spring Ball at the Town Hall on 6 April.  It was a successful occasion, in the splendid setting of the Town Hall's Ballroom, with food provided by local caterers, (33 The Scullery), and entertainment by a local band (Scratchy Beard).

I was pleased to support the Stratford High School, who presented a review evening, as part of their exchange programme with a French college, based near Lille.  These student exchange trips are not as widespread as they once were, so it was good to see our local High School maintaining the tradition.  It can only be beneficial if young people have the opportunity to visit their counterparts in another country, to exchange ideas and to promote friendship.  The School reciprocated their support by bringing a group, including some of the visiting French teachers, to my Spring Ball.  I hope that the experience also helped the sense of cultural exchange.

In other events, I was glad to have the opportunity to open the Avon Bowling Club's fundraising coffee morning, and to support 'Streets Apart' at the Playhouse; an event to raise awareness of the issue of homelessness.  Also, on a visit to Salisbury, I was able to learn how that community, like Stratford, largely dependent upon tourism, has rebuilt its appeal to visitors following the devastating novichok poisoning case.

Friday, 29 March 2019.

March seems to have been a busy month on the civic calendar, and with many of the Mayors and Civic Leaders in the surrounding area all coming towards the end of their terms, there has been a flurry of invitations to Civic Dinners to mark their time in office.  It is a unique opportunity to be able to enjoy this hospitality, though my Mayoress and I have been trying to be careful not to over indulge!

I was happy to support Diane in her 'Mayoress at Home' event at the Town Hall, an opportunity to invite the ladies of the town to meet together in the grand surroundings of the Town Hall Ballroom, and enjoy each other's company, over numerous cups of tea, and probably more fancy cakes than are strictly healthy!  As far as I can tell, this seems to be purely a Stratford tradition, but by the numbers attending, it appears to be one that is still proving to be extremely popular.

Another tradition, though one only recently established, has been to invite local schools to come to the Town Hall, as part of Shakespeare Schools Week.  We decided to stage a series of mock Town Council meetings, with each of the schools providing volunteers to take on the roles of Mayor, Town Clerk, Beadle, Macebearers, Councillors, and members of the public.  They certainly entered into the proceedings with great enthusiasm, and conducted lively debates on homelessness, the morality of Macbeth, and enhancing their playground facilities.  I have since heard that one of the young students has declared his wish to visit the Palace of Westminster, so from such small initiatives we may plant the acorn of an idea that might inspire the next generation of Councillors or beyond.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019.

Escape Arts have made the Old Slaughterhouse an entertaining venue for exhibitions of the life and history of Stratford upon Avon, as well as all the work they do in promoting community art in the town.  I was pleased to be invited to officially open their Call The Midwife exhibition in February.  Nothing to do with the long running television series, but a display focusing upon the practice of midwifery in the town, and of its original maternity hospital.  The items will be on display until May, and I would recommend a visit to anyone who might be interested in this aspect of the town's past.

The month of February also included the funeral of Professor Ronnie Mulryne.  He had made a great contribution to the cultural and academic life of Stratford, and the large numbers who gathered at Holy Trinity for the funeral service were a reflection on the affection with which he was held, amongst many different sectors of the local community.

The Annual Town Meeting is always held at the Town Hall in early March, and is an opportunity for anyone in the town to come to express an opinion, or to question members of the town council.  I was pleased that this year's meeting was better attended than some in the recent past.  The workings of the town council may appear remote at times, but this is a chance to engage and to understand decisions and processes. 

Monday, 18 February 2019.

The Pride of Stratford Awards are an annual event, and an opportunity to pay tribute both to those local businesses, who are providing jobs, and enhancing the town in which we live, and also to private individuals, who have gone above and beyond expectations, to provide care, or to raise awareness about a local issue.  I was pleased to be invited to attend this year's event, held at the Crowne Plaza, and that Stratford-upon-Avon Town Council gained recognition for their part in staging the Victorian Christmas Festival, which, even though it is only in its second year, has already established itself as a popular tourist attraction, and is surely destined to become a regular feature on the seasonal calendar.

I was also pleased to host a reception at the Town Hall for everyone involved in the formation and adoption of the Stratford-upon-Avon Neighbourhood Plan.  From its inception in May 2011, it has taken a great deal of dedicated work, from a great many people, but especially the management team, under the skilled chairmanship of Mark Hasleden.  Hopefully their efforts will bear fruit in the coming years, as the Plan continues to shape and influence the development of the town.

Tuesday, 5 February 2019.

After a busy Christmas period with civic engagements, it was a relatively quiet start to the new year.  January has included an interesting tour of the Pump Rooms and Art Gallery in Leamington Spa, a building where Mick Jagger once filmed a promotional video!

During this month I was pleased to give my support to Sally Bee's launch of Stratford-upon-Avon as Britain's first Donor Town, an attempt to encourage more people to sign up as potential organ donors.  We heard from a number of speakers who owed their lives to organ donation, and it is certainly a very worthwhile project.  Thank you to the Butterfly Farm, who hosted this event.

I was also pleased to attend a performance by the Phoenix Players at the Playhouse, of their pirate panto, an event arranged and hosted by the Shakespeare Lions, in aid of the mentally disabled.  Both cast and audience clearly had a marvelous time!

Thursday, 3 January 2019.

Christmas was a busy time for being the mayor, with many church services, and seasonal visits planned. In total I've been to four Lessons and Carols services, plus Christmas coffee mornings, raffle draws, and charity concerts.  I was pleased to be invited to share the Christmas lunch with the Municipal Charities, held at the Cricket Club this year. The festive season was also an opportunity for me to visit some of the numerous care homes in our town, and also to see the vital work of our emergency services, who have to be on duty and vigilant throughout. My Christmas season ended up on Christmas Day, when I attended the lunch at the Methodist Church, which is put on for the homeless and financially disadvantaged, and which is both a joyous occasion, and one that is vital and valuable. On a sad note, it was also a time to say goodbye to Mary Morgan, who had recently celebrated her 100th birthday, in a moving service at Oakley Wood.

Monday, 17 December 2018.

Last year Stratford hosted its first Victorian Christmas Market, which, despite the intensely cold and icy weather, was considered a great success.  We therefore hosted another one this year, with even more traders, and a great variety of food, gifts and entertainment (not to mention the reindeer!). Hopefully this will become an ongoing tradition, and Stratford will take its place amongst the many other towns and cities that host Christmas fairs and  markets, as a destination venue at this time of year.

Otherwise I have been kept busy with the many charitable fundraising events that go on in the lead up to Christmas, with services, concerts and fairs held at the Methodist Church, Guild Chapel, and the Town Hall.  It's a good opportunity for them to raise much needed funds, which I am more than happy to support.

I was particularly fortunate to be invited to St.Mary's Hall in Coventry, by the city's Lord Mayor.  A valuable fundraising event in a fabulous medieval setting.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018.

Seven and a half years ago we began the process of forming a Neighborhood Development Plan for Stratford-upon-Avon, and on 29 November it finally went to a referendum, and was passed with a 91% approval.  I feel a great privilege that this has been achieved during my term of office, and believe that it will be of huge benefit in giving the people of Stratford greater control over how their town manages the changes and challenges facing it in the coming years.  Great credit is due to all who have been involved in this process, but especially to Mark Haselden, who was chairman of the NDP's Steering Group.

It's always a sign that Christmas is on its way when the Lights are switched on in the town.  They are always a splendid display, and the result of a lot of hard work by the Christmas Lights Committee.  My mayoral engagements have reflected the season, with an increasing emphasis on Christmas fundraising events, something that is likely to gather pace as the weeks count down...

Tuesday, 20 November 2018.

The first half of November was dominated by the events surrounding Remembrance Sunday.  It is always a moving and emotional time, but especially so this year, as we commemorated the 100 year anniversary of the signing of the armistice, and the end of World War One.  The ceremony in the morning at the Remembrance Garden was particularly well attended, and I also took part in the afternoon ceremony at the Commonwealth War Graves, and at the Beacon Lighting in the evening, also at the Remembrance Garden.

There were also services at Whitnash and outside Elizabeth House, and a fundraising concert in Leamington Spa, not forgetting a touching commemoration performed by the pupils at Broad Street Primary School.

Other events were also going on during this period; at the beginning of the month I was privileged to be invited  to the official re-opening of the Ken Kennett Community Centre.  These centres have the potential to be the heart of local community life, and I wish them every success in their impressively redesigned new building.

I was also invited to light the bonfire at Stratford Rugby Club, and to witness their fireworks display, along with a very large and enthusiastic audience, of mainly young people.

Finally, I was very pleased to be at the Town Hall to wish Mary Morgan a happy 100th birthday.  Mary has been a loyal supporter of civic life in Stratford for many years, and it was a pleasure to be able to share in the celebration of her long and varied life.

Friday, 2 November 2018.

During the second half of October I hosted a quiz, held at the Town Hall, to raise money for my chosen charities, which proved a success.

I was also at the grand opening of the Playhouse, in Rother Street, (formerly the Artshouse, and before that the Civic Hall).  There was a hive of activity, with story-telling for the children, Stratford's own crazy poet, Don Barber, and the Sunnysiders' Ukelele Orchestra.  Don and myself can be seen lending our assistance to their performance, though it's probably a good job you can't hear our musical contribution!  It was a shock when the Artshouse announced it was closing down this spring, and I'm sure we all hope that the new owners are successful in reviving this venue.

I was pleased to help launch the Christmas Card shop at the United Reform Church, which raises money on behalf of many deserving charities, and, at the end of the month, enjoyed the Fright Festival on Waterside, and helped judge their pumpkin competition, after being suitably scared by the Hallowe'en themed outfits!

Wednesday, 18 October 2018.

The big event in the first half of October has been the Opening of the Mop Fair, on the 12th of the month.  Each year the town centre is transformed, to the delight of many, and the annoyance of a few, into a riot of colourful, whirling rides and fairground attractions.  It's a tradition that goes back to the granting of the town's charter, and is accorded due ceremony and official proclamation by the mayor.  Most Mop Fair Days that I can remember have been dry and bright, but this year we had to contend with wind and swirling rain.  The civic party refused to be downhearted however, and took part in a variety of games of chance and merriment on offer.

During this period in early October, the Town Hall has hosted the presentation of the Queen's Award to Escape Arts, a richly deserved honour to this innovative local organisation.

Another prestigious civic occasion was held at St.Mary's Church in Warwick, a service to mark the start of the High Sheriff's Legal Year.  A resplendent collection of civic heads in their glittering chains of office supported the event, in the impressive surroundings of this fine old church.

Tuesday, 1 October 2018.

There are some periods in the mayoral year when the pace seems to increase and there seems to be so many events happening, one after the other.  The second half of September has been like that.  I was pleased to be invited to open the NABMA Annual Conference at the Crowne Plaza and to attend their Gala Dinner, to show support for the work that they do in promoting market operators.

The following day I was hosting a Boat Trip and Guided Walk for civic heads and other guests to show off the best of our home town and to raise a little money for my chosen charities.  Thanks to Avon Boating and to John and Helen Hogg for helping to support this event.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018.

Early September was dominated by the shocking news of the untimely death of Cllr Keith Lloyd.  Keith was a popular figure in his local community, with his ready wit and easy charm, and had represented them, during his time, at town, district and county level.  I'm sure many people will wish to remember him at his funeral service at Holy Trinity on the 21st.

On a happier note, at the start of the month I was happy to help present the awards to the winners of the National Youth Markets.  It was a pleasure to see the enthusiasm and diversity of the young competitors, aged 16-30, many of whom were taking their first steps in a trading career.  They had come from all different parts of the country to take part, and it was an honour that Stratford was chosen as a venue for the event.

The Cosy Chic Pet Boutique is a colourful new addition to Bell Court, for the next few weeks at least.  I cut the appropriate ribbon, surrounded by several canine companions, who were clearly keen to sample the range of handmade beds, designer jackets, food treats, and other must have accessories available inside.

Friday, 31 August 2018.

Late August included a sad occasion as we bade farewell to one of our former mayors, Shelagh Sandle, who recently passed away in Scotland.  Shelagh was a forthright lady, never afraid to give her opinion, but always with a sense of humour, and an underlying kindness.  Her funeral was in Bidford on Avon, followed by an internment at the Rising Sun natural burial ground.

On the Saturday of the Bank Holiday I took part, along with the High Sheriff, in the launch of the annual Duck Race on the River Avon, organised by the Rotary Club, which raises funds for the Shakespeare Hospice Children's Services.  I did sponsor one of the ducks in the 'corporate race', but I'm not sure if it even finished the course!  If it hadn't been recovered from the river it would no doubt still be floating somewhere between the weir and the Seven Meadows Bridge.

At the end of the month I was pleased to be invited to the departure ceremony of 1289 Squadron of the ATC, who make an annual trip to Oosterbeek in the Netherlands, to commemorate the 1700 British and Polish troops who lost their lives in the Battle of Arnhem.  It is clearly a moving experience for the young cadets, and acts as a reminder to a new generation of the sacrifices made in order to preserve our current freedoms.

Thursday, 16 August 2018.

At the beginning of August I attended the Shakespeare Hospice, to celebrate the achievement of past mayor Rev Dr Roy Lodge MBE, who has raised £ 2276 by completing a sponsored bicycle ride between Bath and Stratford-upon-Avon.  Since the Hospice is one of my mayoral charities, I was particularly pleased to be there in person to congratulate Roy, and take part in the ceremonial handover of the cheque.

It was a privilege for me to be at the concert of the Violin Virtuoso at the Levi Fox Hall.  These students come from all over the world each year, for a period of intense tuition, to develop their musical talents, and to showcase them in a series of individual performances and for an orchestral performance at Holy Trinity.  Their skill is a testament to their personal dedication, and to the commitment of their teachers.

An unusual engagement for me was taking part in the Shakespeare Sleepover at the Recreation Ground, organised by St.Basil's, a Birmingham based charity that raises awareness about youth homelessness.  I should emphasise that I wasn't required to sleep out under the stars myself, but to hand out awards to those who had created the best makeshift shelters.  The event included a personal testimony from someone who had turned their life around after help from the charity, plus a personal appearance from Mr. and Mrs. Shakespeare.

Thursday, 2 August 2018.

The heatwave continued in the second half of July, which has been good for the summer fetes and garden parties that have been celebrated at this time, though a little uncomfortable to attend in formal clothes as the mayor!

During this time we had the opportunity to participate in the annual Mayor's bowling match at the Avon Bowling Club.  It is always an enjoyable occasion in a perfect setting, alongside the river and overlooked by the spire of Holy Trinity.  The contest, of course, always ends in an honourable draw.

I have had the privilege of officially opening the summer fetes of The Shakespeare Hospice, a cause I am supporting as one of my mayoral charities, and of the Ken Kennett Centre.  The centre itself is still not quite ready for re-opening following its lengthy campaign to fund and to refurbish, but the numbers attending the open air fete showed the amount of public interest there is in this centre, and the potential it has to become a focus and resource for the local community.

One of the most unusual events I have attended was the opening celebration of the 60th Game Fair held at Ragley Hall, which included a procession of a camel, Lord Hertford, the sponsoring Qatari delegation in their flowing white robes, and the begowned members of the Alcester Court Leet.  It was perhaps the first and last event in my mayoral year that involved a camel....but you never know!

Monday, 23 July 2018.

Well, the World Cup dream may be over, but it's been an interesting couple of weeks as Mayor.  On the last Friday in June I was part of the group involved in the 'topping out' ceremony at the Arden Quarter.  This Orbit development, on the old Cattle Market site, next to the railway station, will provide 189 new homes, in a mixture of rented, privately owned, and shared ownership.  Hopefully this will relieve some of the pressures on the need for social housing in the town.

At the end of June we had the annual River Festival, which I had the privilege to officially open.  The colour and spectacle of this event, with so many people relaxing and enjoying themselves in the sunshine always gives this weekend a special atmosphere, and the town has a true holiday feel to it.

I have also been at the launch of the Kaleidoscope Group's Stratford branch, a support group for those who have suffered the loss of a friend or family member through suicide.  Sadly, many people are affected by this, and it is positive to hear of the work that these people do in providing some relief.

Finally, I was at the 1st Shottery Scouts, who were hosting a visit of a school party from Barrow.  They had not had the opportunity to travel much beyond their home town, and it was great to see their excitement and enthusiasm in visiting Stratford, and to see the historic places associated with Shakespeare for the first time.

Thursday, 28 June 2018.

In the past fortnight I have attended the annual Regatta of Stratford Boat Club.  It was encouraging to see how many young people (aged 12-18) were there, displaying their impressive teamwork in the context of healthy competition.  I was also pleased to meet up with the representatives of St.Basil's, one of the charities which is supported by the event, who do a lot of good work combatting youth homelessness, including their mascot Basil the Bear!

Last Saturday I was impressed by the work of the A level Art Students at Shottery Girls' Grammar, and in the afternoon visited the Midsummer Party of Lifeways, one of the charities I am supporting in my mayoral year.  Their community garden in Albany Road is a sight to behold, and the afternoon included displays of African drumming by In2Cultures, folk singing by local residents, and the exhibit of an eco-pod home constructed in the garden.

Friday, 15 June 2018.

In the past two weeks I have had a very varied selection of civic duties to attend, from the Contemporary Arts Fair at the Town Hall, which raised money for Shakespeare Puppies, part of Guide Dogs for the Blind, then a series of visits on behalf of the Municipal Charities to their residents, along with trustees of the charity.  The Municipal Charities currently provide housing to 49 residents, mostly elderly and of limited means, some in the historic Guild Cottages, and others elsewhere in the town.  It was a great experience to meet them, and to hear all of their fascinating life stories.

I also had the privilege of hosting a visit from the Mayor of Warwick, who brought representatives from their twinned towns in France and Germany.  We were able to show them around the Town Hall, then, thanks to former mayor Joyce Taylor, gave them a guided tour of Stratford and Holy Trinity Church.  For many of them it was their first visit to England, and I think they all enjoyed the experience of being shown around our beautiful historic town, and gaining an insight into its past.

Finally, along with my mayoress Diane, we attended a Garden Party hosted by the Bishop of Coventry, at his impressive residence in the city.  It was a good opportunity to meet with many other civic heads from Coventry and Warwickshire, and to fly the flag for the town.

To view more photographs please visit the Mayoral Events Gallery.

Monday, 4 June 2018.

Councillor John Bicknell was pleased to be elected Mayor of Stratford-upon-Avon on 17 May, with Diane Walden as his Mayoress.  Since becoming mayor, John has given an interview to local radio station Welcombe Radio, taken part in the activities of the various branches of the Warwickshire Scouts at their annual jamboree at Bramcote Barracks, celebrated Civic Sunday at Holy Trinity Church, presented High School student Ellie Sloan with a certificate to mark her work as the Civic Photographer for the past year, and enjoyed the 10th Wool Fair at Shipston on Bank Holiday Monday.

John's charities as mayor will be Springfield MIND, the Shakespeare Hospice, and Lifeways.  As well as promoting these charities, John hopes to encourage the council to engage with local issues of public concern, and has attended a workshop held at the District Council on the subject of Begging, Rough Sleeping & Homelessness, an item he wishes to bring to the Town Council for discussion.