Rex Needle feature: Reflections on an eventful year

Bourne Town Hall. Photo by Rex Needle
Bourne Town Hall. Photo by Rex Needle

This has been an eventful year for Bourne with business and industry struggling against the effects of unfavourable economic conditions, continual price increases in the shops and supermarkets that have a marked effect on household budgets, the cost of gas and electricity soaring and young couples grappling with the problem of finding a home either buying or rented.

But despite the grey clouds of depressing monetary policies there have been one or two silver linings during the past year that have demonstrated the benefits of living in this small South Lincolnshire market town.

Bourne Corn Exchange. Photo by Rex Needle

Bourne Corn Exchange. Photo by Rex Needle

Perhaps the most significant event was the closure of the Town Hall after almost 200 years as the centre of civic life in Bourne because the decision highlights the parlous state of our local authority finances which is bringing about the end of many historic institutions and services in the cause of austerity. The Grade II building, which dates from 1821, has been used mainly by the magistrates but also by successive local authorities and as a venue for the glittering balls of the Victorian era but has become too costly to maintain and is now likely to be sold off for commercial development, perhaps to become a night club or even a carpet warehouse.

The town, district and county council departments have all been transferred to a new Community Access Point at the Corn Exchange, opened in March at a cost of £600,000, together with a new public library that has moved from the former premises in South Road that have given the town such useful service since 1969 into a much reduced space, together with the registry office from West Street which is now relocated nearby.

We also almost lost our ambulance station in South Road as a result of economies being made by the East Midlands Ambulance Service and the waiting area consigned to a lay-by but weeks of protest by the people, the trade unions and the staff themselves won the day and it will remain for the time being, although we are learning that nothing is permanent with our public services in these straightened times.

One of the most welcome developments that will benefit the many newcomers with families moving into Bourne was a start on building a new school for the Elsea Park estate, 14 years after it was first promised. The school was part of the planning gain detailed at a public exhibition in 1999, although there have been many delays and the first sod was not turned until October this year. The school will now open as the Elsea Park CE Primary Academy in September 2014 which is better late than never especially for those parents whose children have already been sent to outlying village schools because there were insufficient places at our two town primaries.

Wherry’s Lane is at last being refurbished by South Kesteven District Council after years of neglect, which turned this narrow lane between the town centre and the Burghley Street car park into an unsightly mess, although the scheme appears to be compensation for losing the much publicised and highly expensive town centre regeneration project costed at £27 million but shelved in May 2010 after nine years of planning without a single brick being laid. The bill for this lost work must be massive but has so far not been revealed.

The buildings that had been bought for £1 million for inclusion in that ambitious project have now been incorporated into the present scheme, which involves turning the old grain warehouse into a complex of fourteen apartments and an arcade of seven shops. But the apartments will go to private investors and the shops may take some letting at a time when there are so many retail outlets in the town centre standing empty. Work is also almost a year behind schedule and will cost the town fourteen spaces in the nearby car park, which are being allocated to the private buyers of the flats and so this scheme is a mixed blessing for Bourne where there are 440 people on the council housing waiting list. The fiasco over car parking spaces may have lost us the October Fair which did not arrive this autumn for the first time in 40 years because the usual space was not available and will not be in the future.

No-one can ignore the fact that new houses are being built in Bourne at rate unprecedented in our history, spearheaded by continuing work on the massive 2,000 home Elsea Park estate to the south of the town where some 800 houses have already been completed, bringing a major influx of newcomers who have had a dramatic effect on our infrastructure and public services such as roads, schools and medical clinics. Other notable developments now being populated include the Great Northern Gardens (106 new homes), Willoughby Road (42 homes) the Old Laundry in Manning Road (47 homes), The Croft in North Road (68 homes), the old Raymond Mays garage in Spalding Road and the adjoining Rainbow supermarket in Manning Road (108 homes). Other schemes are in the pipeline with the result that the appearance of our town is changing dramatically.

More houses means more people and therefore increasing traffic flows on main roads that are already busy and as a result a new Texaco garage opened in South Road with a Budgens food store nearby, thus breaking the petrol monopoly exercised by the Tesco/Esso outlet in North Road which has been the town’s only filling station since 2002. There has also been a move to cut the speed of vehicles through the town centre which has been a continuing problem over the years. Councillor Helen Powell, a member of the town, district and county councils, called a public meeting to discuss the issue in November which highlighted concerns about the dangers to the public from heavy vehicles using the A15, which runs close to the pavements in our main shopping area. A north-south bypass would be the most obvious solution but the cost makes that little more than a pipe dream and so we hope that the recommendation from the meeting of a 20 mph speed limited will be given serious consideration and perhaps even enforced by Lincolnshire County Council, the highways authority.

Our public houses continue to face a challenging future with several changes of management and the historic Burghley Arms in the town centre standing empty for a while until a new landlord was found. But this has not stopped the building of a new outlet, the Sugar Mill, a modern restaurant and bar facility that appears to be doing brisk trade after its first year in business.

Other projects have also been in the headlines during the past twelve months such as the cemetery chapel but procrastination and obfuscation by those who run our affairs. This time the Church of England, is holding up restoration of this Victorian building by Bourne Preservation Society, which was formed soon after the chapel was listed Grade II by the Department of Media Culture and Sport in 2008 to protect it from demolition by the town council.

The society has a perfectly feasible plan for restoration and future use which has unanimous support locally but there are problems with the Diocese of Lincoln whose officers have refused to lift a restrictive covenant on the building, a necessary requirement before the society can go ahead and as this stalemate continues the building deteriorates as another winter is upon us.

A similar problem faces the Bourne Arts and Community Trust which has leased Wake House in North Street from South Kesteven District Council since 1997 and is host to some 40 organisations which meet there. Unfortunately, the lease has run out and the trust has tried to secure its future, either by renewing the tenancy or buying the building but has been unable to agree acceptable terms with the council. While this deadlock continues they are unable to carry out necessary repairs on the frontage which is in need of urgent attention with the window sills and doorcase crumbling, a sad sight for another of our listed buildings.

This is a most unfortunate state of affairs that leaves one of our most active voluntary organisations in a state of limbo while the various clubs and groups that meet there are in a continual state of anxiety over their future, a situation that could be remedied with a firm decision from the council in favour of the trust that would enable it continue this valuable voluntary work for the benefit of the town yet week by week they wait in vain.

The Local has also made the news by turning itself into a people’s newspaper. The response has been excellent with contributions from many sources that are now filling the pages each week and giving a new insight into what is happening in and around the town.

Although, Bourne may not have been treated too well by those who run our affairs during 2013, voluntary effort continues to make a major contribution to our community and the work of those who are so dedicated has been evident in many areas. The perfect example of a willingness to help without thought of reward was demonstrated in November when Dr Michael McGregor and his wife Margaret held their annual coffee morning and sale at the Corn Exchange, attracting more than 400 people and raising £4,000 for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. This was the 30th such event organised by the couple to remember their son John who died of the illness in 1985 and as well as becoming an annual tradition it is also the biggest fund raiser for the charity’s Bourne branch.

We learned from the parish magazine in September that although the population of Bourne is now in excess of 15,000 the 12th century Abbey Church has only 300 worshippers who must bear the brunt of fundraising to help with the upkeep of the building. Last winter’s cold weather pushed up fuel bills so much that the annual accounts faced a possible deficit of £6,000 but the churchwardens came up with a cunning plan by asking the congregation to pay £20 each to meet the shortfall. Few worshippers could resist such a simple and logical appeal and it is a pity that the solution to all of life’s financial problems are not that simple and straightforward.

The church continues to be a central point in the religious life of the town where the annual Civic Sunday service was held in June with the mayor and town council in attendance, an event that has now become a tradition having been held in Bourne since 1967. It was also crowded for the Remembrance Day observances in November when the town paused for a few moments to honour our war dead.

Continued overleaf

Elsewhere in Bourne, volunteers have been busy keeping our other institutions alive; at the Butterfield Day Centre in North Road where old people find a weekly welcome and assistance with their needs; at the Heritage Centre in South Street, home of the BRM museum and the Worth Gallery as well as a most interesting collection of archives and artefacts relating to our past; at our many churches around the town which also hold regular social events as well as their religious services; and the dozens of other small groups that meet regularly to share specific interests, all of which demonstrates that voluntary work is the mainstay of any community and without it, society itself would be the poorer.

The Friends of Bourne Wood is among them with a busy annual programme that highlights the attractions of our most valuable environmental amenity, the 400 acres of forest known as Bourne Wood. These dedicated enthusiasts hold events throughout the year to stimulate interest and their latest project, the establishment of a community orchard with a varied mix of fruit trees is a particularly fine example and one which attracted a special award from the judges of the East Midlands in Bloom competition during the summer months.

This annual event is designed to keep the town clean and smart and has won Bourne recognition for eight successive years in the medium-sized town category with silver gilt awards since 2008. Every year, Nelly Jacobs, clerk to the town council, and a team of helpers rallies the town to greater effort with floral displays, hanging baskets and clean streets to impress the judges during their summer visit and although the coveted gold award has proved elusive, there is always the chance that we will win it next year. In the meantime, the competition carries with it an involvement of the people and the chance to make our town attractive throughout the summer months, not just for the judges but also for the many visitors who arrive here with Bourne either as a destination or merely passing through. The work carried out in successive years is the perfect example of how a small market town should look and it is worth remembering that if people like what they see then they will come again.

Signs of charitable work are also evident throughout Bourne and barely a week goes by without news of this or that fundraising activity with ingenious methods of attracting money for good causes by people of all ages with youngsters well to the fore.

The Foodbank for the needy established by volunteers from local churches has been up and running from the schoolroom at the United Reformed Church in Eastgate since last May, distributing groceries donated by local people with the assistance of our supermarkets and forty families received help within the first few weeks. A similar project for the distribution of second-hand furniture to needy people is also getting underway from the old public library premises in South Street that have been taken over by the Salvation Army, an organisation always ready with a helping hand whenever there are cases of hardship in our community.

Parcels for the troops serving in dangerous countries around the world is a recurring campaign, especially at Christmas, and the work this year by Pat Graham, aged 75, of Rowan Way, Bourne, while collecting items for our servicemen in Afghanistan has been particularly rewarding with parcels left on his doorstep and even in the boot of his car when he took it in for a service.

There was one small but significant project to remind us that Bourne benefits from two major charitable organisations and that was the erection of a red brick owl tower in the nearby fen to help preserve and protect one of our best-loved birds, the work of the Len Pick Trust which was founded in 2004 with money left by a local farmer and businessman and this small contribution to our environment is only one of the schemes with which this charity is involved.

Our other asset is Bourne United Charities which administers several bequests dating back to the 17th century and is responsible not only for the Abbey Lawn, home to most of our sporting activities, but also the Wellhead Gardens, an area of parkland where a programme of improvement has been underway throughout the year, work that is carried out to enhance and improve this beauty spot just a step away from the town centre that is enjoyed by so many.

Other events that commanded the headlines during the year included the announcement from the town council that land for burials is fast running out in the South Road cemetery; the Red Hall opened its doors to the public for the first time in forty years with such success that it may become an annual event; Prince Philip popped in to open a new teaching block at Bourne Grammar School and the early 19th century Queen’s Bridge in Eastgate was replaced to conform with European weight restrictions. There was also a renewed call for a Victorian-style bandstand to be built in the War Memorial Gardens and a move to re-establish a brass band for the town, both commendable objectives that would add immensely to the cultural life of the town. It was also announced by central government that our own local hero, Charles Sharpe, is to be honoured with a memorial paving slab in the town centre to mark the award of his Victoria Cross as part of the centenary celebrations to remember the outbreak of the First World War next year while the town’s War Memorial in South Street will be enhanced with stones bearing the regimental crests of those who died in action.

All of this official and personal effort goes to show that Bourne is a busy and expanding town where there is something happening most days, always that buzz of anticipation and even excitement, and although there are times when we become exasperated with authority for not doing things quite as we wish, there is always the reward of either participating or being a beneficiary of the extensive voluntary work which has become a byword in our community and long may it remain so.