A 65th anniversary in Hungerford (4 May 2022)

Every month produces an anniversary of some sort. June will see a significant one in the UK with the Queen celebrating a remarkable 70 years on the throne, an event which will be celebrated across the country.

In our smaller way, we have our own anniversary to celebrate this month. May 2022 sees the 65th edition of the monthly Penny Post Hungerford, the latest in an unbroken series stretching back to January 2017. During this time we’ve covered the affairs of the town in varied and regular detail. See below some of the matters we cover and some of the campaigns or other important one-off issues with which we’ve been involved.

We should also point out that, should you want to receive your news about the town in printed form, The Adviser publishes every fortnight and that copies are freely available throughout the town.

The level of local knowledge and engagement that both we and they have built up can’t be created overnight. Penny Post Hungerford has, over 65 consistent monthly issues, provided a lively, comprehensive and regular view of what this remarkable and resilient town has to offer. Other digital publications and websites may come and go; but we aren’t going anywhere and intend to create at least 65 more editions of Penny Post Hungerford in the years to come. We’ll continue to support the town and we hope you’ll continue to support us. If you don’t already, please subscribe to the monthly PP Hungerford newsletter, here (click “Hungerford” as one of the areas that you’re interested in) and encourage any others you know to do so. Please also tell us about what you’d like to see covered in future editions by contacting penny@pennypost.org.uk.

Note: there are several posts on the Penny Post website which provide more information on the topics listed below. At the top of every page on the website is a search box: simply type the appropriate phrase into that and click on the magnifying glass icon.

Regular features

Hungerford’s Town Council (HTC). We cover the work of councils at all levels across the district and beyond. We can assure you that, in terms of effectiveness, energy and communication, HTC is right at the top of the list. We like to feel we’ve played our part in this. For the last 65 months we’ve covered its monthly meetings and, the following day, produced a report of these which also provides background, context, links and coverage of matters which weren’t discussed at the event. The work HTC does is sometimes highly visible (the Christmas lights, the Croft Field Activity Centre and the playgrounds) and sometimes not (repairing walls, pruning trees and negotiating leases). Then there’s also the perennial and seemingly insoluble problem of the town’s pigeons, against which HTC is leading the fight. We’ve tried to point out what it does or can do and what it doesn’t or cannot do and to explain how decisions are taken and what engagement is needed from residents.

The Town & Manor. This is unique, the sole survivor in the country of organisations which used to exist in every town but which have withered away and replaced by the new municipal arrangements in the 19th century. It lives on in Hungerford as a landowner, a charity and a ceremonial body reminding us of centuries-old hard-won liberties. It owns the Town Hall, the Common and the Marsh. It is increasingly involved in a number of environmental initiatives. It runs the Wednesday market. It makes a number of grant donations to local community groups. It’s not an easy organisation to understand (often being confused with the Town Council) but, for 65 months, we’ve done our best to explain what it is (and what it isn’t).

Hungerford’s retailers. The town is famed for its antique shops but there’s a lot more to the town than that. Each month, we’ve highlighted what may of these have to offer – new lines, new opening times, special deals, recruitment and tips and advice based on their expertise. We remain committed to supporting the town’s retailers. We also have regular wine of the month and the book of the month features from two High Street retailers.

John O’Gaunt School. Richard Hawthorne took over the headship of out local secondary school on 1 June 2020. The Covid-dominated months and years that followed were not what he would have expected when he went for his interview. Since then, we’ve documented his work at the school in the form of a monthly diary which explains how he has coped, with positivity and good humour, to the ever-changing patterns of the virus and the at times even more fast-changing instructions from the government.

One-off issues and campaigns include…

The Post Office. In 2016, when Martins (on the site of the current WHS) closed there was a distinct possibility that Hungerford would lose its Post Office. This didn’t happen, largely due to HTC’s determination to keep an alternative outreach service going until the ownership of the former Martins store was decided. We helped promote the new arrangements and signpost where people could make their views know.
The Post Office has survived.

The Library. At about the same time, there was a real and present threat of Hungerford’s Library being closed. Again, HTC came up with a solution which involved a 99-year lease from WBC, a schedule of repairs prior to handover, the setting up of a trust to manage it and the opportunities for making the building into more than just a library. We helped explain these issues and what action people could take to help support the proposals.
The Library has survived.

Salisbury Road (the Lancaster Park development). In January 2017, plans were submitted for what eventually became a 100-home development on the south side of the town. There was considerable local  opposition to this. HTC held meetings, passed on local opinion to WBC and, when the application was first approved, launched a judicial review. When the approval was confirmed, other issues emerged with which HTC was obliged to become involved, including an attempt by the developers to set aside  the provision for social-rent homes and a PR muddle once the homes began to be occupied. We covered all these developments and continue to do so, also explaining the various complex issues involved in the planning system.
The development, which will follow the housing-tenure patterns as originally agreed, is underway but yet to be finished.

The Hungerford neighbourhood development plan (NDP). In May 2018, the town decided to embark on an NDP, a long and technical exercise would in effect enable the community to write, in conjunction with WBC, the part of the local plan which affects Hungerford. In order to succeed, and in particular to pass the stage of external examination, it’s necessary to demonstrate that there has been wide public engagement. This we have helped to accomplish through regular monthly updates and calls to action whenever public involvement was required.
The NDP is now approaching its final fences and it’s hoped that it will reach the external examination phase this year.

Chestnut Walk. This former nursing home is set for conversion into eight social-rent homes by WBC and Sovereign Housing, plans being submitted in October 2021. HTC and others felt these lacked ambition as regards sustainable features and failed to act as an exemplar development which WBC’s adoption of a climate emergency would seem to require. The matter was discussed several times at HTC and raised with the ward members. WBC’s environment portfolio-holder attended an HTC meeting to explain his position. Eventually, the matter was referred for further consideration. We covered the issue throughout, expressing the views of all the parties involved.
A decision is still awaited but the points made have been noted by WBC.

Train services. The stretch between Bedwyn and Newbury has for years been relegated to an almost branch-line service, due to a number of historical and technical factors including the recent electrification stopping at Newbury. In early March 2022, it was alarmingly announced by GWR that it was proposing to stop almost all direct services from Bedwyn, Hungerford and Kintbury to Paddington, an often long or unpredictable change at Newbury being required instead. We have highlighted the efforts of the excellent Bedwyn Train Passenger Group to see these cuts reversed.
Some concessions have been achieved but more remains to be done.

Hungerford Nursery School. This centre of excellence for early-years provisions is, despite never having had had anything apart from an “outstanding” Ofsted rating, under threat of closure due to government funding cuts. So too are the other 400-odd maintained nursery schools in the country. We have consistently supported the Nursery School’s efforts to make its case and encouraged those who share our concerns to do likewise.
Although yet another short-term funding bridge in in place, a long-term solution seems as far away as ever.

Covid. During the pandemic, HTC, along with every other local council, suddenly found itself tasked with an unexpected number of challenges and responsibilities which we helped to explain. A number of support organisations, principally the Hungerford Self-isolation Network, emerged, and we were delighted to help publicise the services it was able to offer local residents. Numerous other organisations, ranging from community transport groups and charities to pubs and catering firms, needed to re-invent their activities in response to the lockdown and we were on hand to help promote this.
This now seems to have receded but we remain primed to help local organisations should this or something similar re-emerge.

Car parking at the station. This has long been a complex issue due to the temporary nature of one of the parking sites, the increase in the local population resulting from Lancaster park, the uncertainties about travel patterns resulting from Covid and GWR’s timetable changes and the difficulty that attend any discussions that involve trying to get two local councils and two rail organisations (GWR and Network Rail, or its successor) to agree on anything. HTC also has its own aspirations to improve the area around the station. We have explained the various developments and pointed out what action people can take, as well as publishing the various plans that HTC has for the area.
Progress is currently paused due to funding issues and changes of corporate responsibility but we shall re-visit this as soon as there is something concrete to report.

Voluntary groups. There are many of these in the town, covering issues ranging from environmental change to community transport and from PTAs to campaigns like Smarten-up Hungerford. Many of these receive grants from HTC or the Town and Manor and regularly have messages which need publicising, which we are happy to do.
We shall continue to promote all such groups of which we’re aware in our monthly newsletters at no cost.

The Queen Anne building. After years of pressure by HTC Mayors’ past and present, WBC and local resident Geordie Taylor, work by the Co-op on renovating this elegant but crumbling building in the High Street started in April 2022. We helped spread the word about this and encouraged interest in the problem from those who were previously unaware of it.
Work is currently taking place and is set to be completed by the end of May 2022.

If you didn’t receive it, you can read the May 2022 Penny Post Hungerford by clicking here.

 

 

 

 

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