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, 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.