My personal take on the public meeting ...
Along with what felt like half of Shepton Mallet, I spent last Friday evening down at the council offices in an effort to 'Save Our Hospital Beds'. There was standing room only, and the atmosphere was fizzling with tension.
Firstly, the smarmy overpaid CEO of SomPar Nick Boughton laid out his well rehearsed 'I care about patient safety' and 'It's honestly not about the money' argument to a room of low level scoffs and murmurs.
The rest of the overly confident board continued to blame everything from recruitment issues to Brexit (!) ending with a ridiculous 'Game of Throne's style warning that 'Winter Is Coming'.
They had certainly come well prepared for, what I think they assumed would be a small group of ill informed, elderly people who worried they might not be able to visit great Aunt Maud if she was moved to Frome.
There is no way they were expecting what actually happened. All of Shepton Mallet's finest minds and mouths, who love nothing better than a Facebook showdown about dog poop and pot holes – pulled together and delivered round after round of knock-out verbal punches.
Residents and nurses from our community hospital all testified that there was no issues with staffing or safety at Shepton Mallet site, healthcare professionals disputed the board's alleged attempt at recruitment.
Town councillors from all parties staunchly defended our town. John Parham was visibly enraged, as he asserted that the board are “Only the current custodians of a community hospital which was paid for by and belongs to the residents”
Resident Jon Hardy really turned the debate around when he proposed the board were “Fielding a bogus argument about safety” and this was taken further in a letter by G Paul Turner which actually explains that the board have acted unlawfully by going ahead with the closure without public consultation.
Paramedic, Nick Tolson got raptures of applause when he delivered an ultimatum in a most delightfully jovial way. “... I'm sure you are all very nice people, but I'm afraid you have 7 days to reply to this letter or we will file an injunction!”
The barrage of well researched points from the floor resulted in what truly felt like a 'win' for Shepton – I'm not sure what will happen next but it's certainly 1-0 to us at half time!
League Of Friends Chairman ,Ray Pett concluded that “Decisions made in haste, are regretted at leisure”. SomPar surely regret the day they took on the community of Shepton Mallet.
In other news, it's Poppy Appeal time once again on the run up to remembrance Sunday. I represented the Royal British Legion at the Library fun day last week.
You'll be able to donate, and pick up poppy themed items at the pop-up shop in the market place ( where Minsky's used to be) also in the foyer at Tesco's and Dobbies over the next few weeks. Money collected goes to helping local servicemen and women, veteran's and their families.
I do enjoy writing a funny and uplifting column, but nice in a while it's nice to have a good old rant. This week, I am just fuming about the mini roundabout on Commercial Road , Shepton Mallet.
A fortnight ago my husband and young son were almost hit by an AUDI which sped right across the roundabout and smashed straight into the wall. We were all very shaken up, by the experience. I used to walk my younger child that way, down to the infant school of Waterloo road. Over the past 3 years I've witnessed dozens of near misses, and the safety barriers are being bent, broken and replaced almost every other week it seems!
Trying to cross, from any angle, as a pedestrian- is like playing Russian roulette.
The 'accident hotspot' is often a hot topic of debate on the community facebook group. Opinions are split between whether the design of the sightly off-centre mini round-abo0ut is the cause of all the crashes or drivers not paying attention, or not understanding how to use it.
“People driving North up Old Market Road often perceive that somehow they have a straight through right of way and those coming into town from Commercial Road have to give way. However on a mini your right of way applies only once you're on the roundabout not before. Everyone from every direction should approach a mini with caution and be prepared to give way. You can't just come charging up to a mini and expect to zoom straight across at the same speed.” says Robert Goodhand
Child minder , Deanne Hood commented “I walk past that roundabout twice a day for the school runs . There are near misses almost every time! ” Another local , Emma, says
“It's the Worst roundabout I've ever come across in my 32 years of driving.”
My husband says it more about the drivers, and Shepton has some of the worse he's seen. Local ex driving instructor, Pete Burrett agrees -
“It is amazing just how many drivers deliberately drive straight over mini roundabouts or worse, cut them out completely. It used to be a serious fault on a test and result in a failure. Shepton drivers seem particularly bad with the mini roundabouts! “
Local mum, Sally Langley wrote
“We had an accident there in September. A woman driver from Bristol ,said she didn't realise it was a roundabout!! My kids call it crash corner now!”
Luckily, the council are apparently well aware of the problem , and it seems like there is a plan to fix the potential death trap. Councillor John Parham made the following statement;
“There is a redesign of Commercial Road Roundabout on the way, the first draft of plans look pretty good, public consultation will be the next step.” Whether a re-design, CCTV cameras or clearer signs and markings are the solution – I just hope it's done as a matter of urgency.
At first I was excited to hear that my local post office would be moving from it's cramped position in 'Martin's, to its own larger premises in Town Street, Shepton Mallet. However, I soon started to panic about what this would mean for the busy little newsagents it would leave behind.
Whilst buying my daily paper, I tentatively asked a member of staff, would Martin's be safe after the big move?
Apparently , nobody has been told, but rumours suggest that head office may decide to close down the buzzing local convenience store ! A few locals overheard the conversation, and before long there was very passionate debate going on- about just how much this shop means to people in the local community. Yes, the Co-op at the top of the High Street has been taken over by McColls group- but it serves an entirely different function – and has different customers to the bustling newsagents in Town Street.
Martins is essentially a newsagents – where you can buy not only the widest range of daily local and national newspapers, but also a huge variety of specialist magazines covering interests from cake-decorating, arts and crafts, animal care, farming, antiques and wedding dresses – to science, collectibles, cookery and guns!
A cafe owner from the bottom of town chipped in to explain that they often need change, and haven't the time to go up to the bank, so Martins often help them out. An elderly lady, with a walking frame told me how she lives near Waterloo Road, and it takes her an age to hobble up as far as Martins. She says, she can get most things she needs there; milk, sugar, biscuits, papers, and stationary. “People think it would be easy to pop up to McColls, but If Martins was to close I honestly don't know what I would do. I couldn't get up that hill.”
Martins slogan says its the UK's no.1 'neighbourhood retailer', and it's strategy is to increase its neighbourhood presence. In Shepton , this community convenience store has been at the heart of this community since 1983 and we want it to stay! If Martins closes, the only other place you can buy specialist magazines, and such a large selection of cards, stationary, gifts and toys is Tesco.
Now, I've nothing against Tesco, but I've campaigned to save our High Street since moving here over 4 years ago. I've seen little gems like 'Twice as nice' and 'Fred's close down, but then also seen the emergence of quite a little artsy 'Vintage' quarter spring up in Town Street. The resurgence of the Friday market and now our Sunday market too. Initiatives like free parking, and #SupermarketSwop encouraging foot fall into the High Street.
If Martins were to go, it would be devastating- so get your pens out and write to; McColl's Retail Group Limited ,McColl's House ,Ashwells Road , Brentwood ,Essex ,CM15 9ST
I'm a 43 year old, mum of two little boys- currently living in Shepton Mallet in Somerset. I'm the Founder and Creative Director of Radio Shepton, a Stand up and comedian and spoken word performer, and write a regular column for The Wells and Shepton Mallet Journal. Which is the basis for my blog usually. I lived in Swedish Lapland for 7 years until 2014 where my boys were born. My partner and I ran a husky dog sledding business. Before that I was a poet, radio presenter, media lecturer, writer, TV producer, actress and burlesque performer ! I never want my life to be boring :)