‘I have never been so proud of being a town councillor as I am now.’

  Posted: 14.10.20 at 08:30 by The Editor
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Penny Rivers at last year's Remembrance service

Penny Rivers at last year’s Remembrance service

UP CLOSE: With town mayor Penny Rivers.

For all of us, this has been a year like no other. But what is it like to be a civic leader in such trying times?

Nub News spoke to Godalming Mayor Penny Rivers, who, as the town’s first citizen, has found herself facing unprecedented challenges as the town battles through the Coronavirus pandemic.

Penny is well into her fourth stint as mayor – no-one has held the office more times than her since the local government reorganisation of 1972 – but this year has been, on paper, her quietest. Yet in reality it has been her most trying.

“Last year as mayor I had 136 engagements,” she told Nub News.”This year I’ve had eight!”

The reason for that, of course, has been Covid, the cancellation of dozens of events and the lockdown that has seen us all behind closed doors, and subject to restrictions, since March.Penny was the guest of honour at the official opening of Nightingale Flowers in Farncombe during the summer.

For Penny, more accustomed to cutting ribbons, making well-received speeches and providing a glamorous civic presence at events as diverse as church services and football matches, it has been a challenge.

Pride.
Yet, she says, she looks back on the year so far (her term will end in May) with huge pride.

It isn’t just pride at a job well done – although she has undoubtedly played her part in keeping the spirits of the town bouyed as we navigated our way through hitherto uncharted waters. It is pride, she says, at the way the community has rallied round.

From the major projects such as the Community Store and the work of the St Mark’s Foodbank to the patient and stoic manner in which residents have adopted and adapted to the government’s rules, she says she has never been prouder to be part of our community.

A Liberal Democrat, Penny has been a town councillor for 16 years. She represents Farncombe and Catteshall ward on both Godalming town and Waverley borough councils, and serves as a Surrey county councillor for Godalming North.
She was previously town mayor from 2001-2, 2004-5, and 2019-20.

She only stepped back into the hot seat in May 2019 when the local elections saw the designated successor, Andrew Boulton, lose his seat.

“To be mayor even once is a great privilege – and as the Annual Public Meeting could not be held this year due to Covid-19 restrictions, it was even more unexpected that I would remain mayor for a fourth time,” she says.

“There have in Godalming been a few councillors who have been mayor a few times, but I don’t think anybody has been mayor four times.”

Engagements.
But this has been a year different from all others. A graphic illustration of just how different it has been lies in the figures: in a normal year the town mayor will carry out around 150 engagements: this year, as Penny says, there have been eight.

“Normally there is music and drama and sports – that, of course, is just not happening,” Penny says.

“Eight engagements look as if I have been twiddling my thumbs, but absolutely not. It’s been busy, but in a different way.”

Since the pandemic struck Penny has found a role encouraging and supporting those who have stepped forward to help others: the Community Store and the extra work being carried out at the St Mark’s Foodbank are just two of many examples that have sprung up around the town.

People have banded together to check on their neighbours, run errands, collect prescriptions and go shopping for those who were isolating during lockdown. People have formed groups to make face masks and hospital scrubs, and set up rotas to make phonecalls to people living alone.

“It’s about making a connection between people who need help,” says Penny.

“I have never been so proud of being a town councillor as I am now. Also of the way in which the town council has reacted – it has been exemplary. The town clerk has worked extremely hard to make the High Street a safe shopping environment. People have stepped up quite remarkably, and the volunteers associated with the coronavirus support group have been just magnificent.

“What this pandemic has made us reflect on is our interdependence, our need for each other.”

One of the few visits Mrs Rivers had made in person this year was to Broadwater School to congratulate pupils who received their GCSE results this summer.

She is already a familiar face at the school, having made visits as chairman of the Farncombe Community Team.

She said: “We think that we teach young people: believe me, there is nothing like sitting back and listening to them. They are inspirational. I was absolutely bowled over. It was a great pleasure to go and see them on results day.

“I very much feel that as a community we are able to recognise each other, and we depend on each other. We need to support each other and enjoy each other’s company.”

Zoom.
Other meetings have had to take place online, such as a recent meeting with a local WI group, the Godalming Theatre Group AGM and a delightful harvest festival organised by St Hilary’s School – all arranged over Zoom.

She will be busy in her mayoral capacity at Christmas too: “The message is that the pandemic has not cancelled Christmas!” she says. “There will still be lights!”

Penny will be switching those on as usual this year, although the event will have a different format from previous years.
The town council is busy finalising plans agreed by councillors at a recent meeting. Fear not though – Santa will still be making an appearance!

And she urges people to support local retailers, especially through these trying times and in the run-up to Christmas.

“We need to shop local and support Farncombe and Godalming,” she says.

On reflection, “It’s been a serious year,” she says. “In a normal year there is a lot of fun. Maybe it’s not had quite the fun, it’s been a bit more serious, but I think it has made me reflect on what’s of value.

“We know we need hope, light and encouragement in dark times. The support is still there. We do have to hold on to each other as best we can – even if it’s only by Zoom.”

Thanks, Toots, for your music and may you rest in peace and rise in glory.

So sad to hear of the death of Fredrick “Toots” Hibbert. He gave the world reggae and shared its soul. The first Toots and the Maytals album was released in 1962 – the year Jamaica became independent – and he has been part of the world’s music since then. Toots described his songs as “a message of consolation, a message of salvation”.

With millions of others my family has rocked along with Toots for many, many years. We were in Jamaica when Bam Bam was chosen as the Festival song and three generations of us saw Toots at Guilfest – my father’s one and only gig!

Dreams and nightmares

It was 57 years ago today, on August 28th, 1963, that Martin Luther King Jnr gave his “I have a dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial on the culmination of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

That is history, yet his inspirational words and his dream of equality, of racial justice, and message of hope endure. Martin Luther King was killed because he and those he spoke for lived a nightmare of injustice and inequality.

Black Lives mattered then and Matter now. If you question this, ask yourselves why the term “Afro-American” is prevalent when no-one uses the term “Euro-American” for those with European ancestry. And in the UK, why are Dianne Abbott, Lenny Henry, Clive Myrie, Benjamin Zephaniah and many, many others asked to go back to where they came from? They were all born in this land of hope and glory – “born of thee” – so are they not also free? Free from the fear of being stopped by police; free to walk the streets, as we who are white feel free?

Martin Luther King ended his speech with “Let freedom ring. And let us all join hands, and sing in the words of the old spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”

We must seek to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, where no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. Listen to Benjamin Zephaniah and his re-imagining of Martin Luther King’s speech … https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p08px03s

Pride in Godalming

Godalming gave Pride in Surrey a warm welcome today! During this time of C19 we have all used the rainbow as a sign of hope – to be whole, beautiful and effective the rainbow needs all its colours and variety 

Godalming’s contribution to Joigny’s @artviraljovinien

Joigny’s Tourist Office (Joigny is our twin town in France) has set up a Facebook page to capture contributions that reflect this time of COVID-19 and they have invited our Town along with our twin town Mayen, Germany, to send a photograph, a painting, a drawing, a piece of music, a song, which encapsulates this time and our hopes for the future. Here I’ve set out Godalming’s contribution to this.

HOPE!

This invisible Covid-19 has caused visible change in our lives. We are locked down and separated. It is a time of storm.

But the main thing is to keep living and keep caring about what is going to happen. Nothing stops time or the seasons and being locked down allows us time to watch the birds –  time to gaze at the sunset –  time to ponder the things that really matter. We realise how much we need each other.

We long to be free and to be with those we love. We hope that the “new normal” will include more peace, more health, more nature, more kindness, more justice. The rainbow will come after the storm.

Penny Rivers, Mayor of Godalming

My children bring me good cheer in these difficult days. Right Honourable Jeremy Hunt, MP

Both of these photos were taken during the height of the lockdown in April  (on my one hour of exercise each day). Paul Follows, Leader, Godalming Town Council).

To all our friends in Joigny. Let me introduce myself – I am Gerry Boyle, a Councillor on Godalming Town Council and I act as a liaison between the Town Council and the Godalming Joigny Friendship Association. The Mayor of Godalming, Mrs Penny Rivers, passed on to me your request for contributions to your Facebook page “Art Viral Jovinien”. I am afraid that my artistic talent is meagre, but I have attached a photograph I took recently of Sunrise over the River Wey. Due to Coronavirus restrictions in the UK for many weeks we were restricted to one hour’s exercise per day, to be taken close to one’s home.

We wish everyone in Joigny strength and good cheer to continue to deal with the crisis: a crisis which has dramatically shown our common humanity, weaknesses and strengths across all countries, and our interdependence. We hope that the twin towns can continue to share their experiences and their mutual understanding, strengthened by their joint experience of tragedy and adversity, and we thank you for the opportunity to participate in your inspiring work in ensuring that Joigny maintains its artistic and cultural experience and community.

The Meath Epilepsy Charity – A charity supported by the Godalming Mayor

Godalming Choral Society sings “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”

Un grand bon jour de notre chorale à la votre! Nous rappelons chaleureusement nos échanges et nos concerts il y a dix ans et le plaisir que nous avons trouvé de chanter ensemble.
Dans notre confinement ici notre maire, Penny Rivers, nous a demandé si nous pourrions nous réunir virtuellement pour chanter cette chanson pleine d’espoir. Quelques unes parmi nous, les contraltos de notre chorale, nous sommes senties capables d’utiliser la technologie qu’est devenue indispensable dans la vie de nos jours. Nous avons travaillé, essayé, chantant tout seules dans nos chambres, nos cuisines et nos séjours. Nous avons dû respecter tous les dispositifs sanitaires! Un génie a combiné toutes nos chansons individuelles et nous vous envoyons maintenant le résultat espérant que cela nous rapproche un peu de vous, nos amis français à Joigny.
Peut être après le déconfinement nous aurons la possibilité de chanter ensemble encore une fois! En attendant nous vous envoyons nos voeux très amicaux. “

Godalming Town Band plays “Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Hope & Togetherness. So much of our everyday lives have changed so dramatically since the beginning of 2020. “Over the Rainbow “ is a song of hope. Hope for the future and the fulfilment of dreams and ambitions.

For many of us, at this time, that is a hope for a return to some sort of ‘normality’, when we will be able to return to lives we have more personal control over. To have the freedom to choose to meet up with friends and family for a meal or evening out. To be able to go to see a film, a concert or a show. To greet friends and family with a handshake, a hug….to be together again……

The Mayor of Godalming invited GTG to contribute to a virtual exhibition in Godalming’s French twin town of Joigny. “In The Wings”, written by GTG member Nell Rayner, is an expression of our time during the pandemic.

The Flower Arrangers of the Parish Church of SS Peter and Paul have become a friendship group who meet in fellowship and with a shared love of flowers. It is remarkable to think that 2020 was probably the first time in a thousand years that our church was not decorated with flowers for Easter. We share the sadness of all communities unable to meet in their most precious spaces and extend to Joigny our love and hope for togetherness again very soon.

Art Viral Jovinien

Merci à nos amies de Godalming avec lesquelles nous continuerons de tisser des liens de partage et de convivialité. Merci à Madame la Maire et à ses adjointes. 🙂

History is not set in stone.

Fossils are!

Yesterday our Prime Minister said, “We cannot now try to edit or censor our past. We cannot pretend to have a different history. The statues in our cities and towns were put up by previous generations. They had different perspectives, different understandings of right and wrong. To tear them down would be to lie about our history and impoverish the education of generations to come”.

But history has always been edited and censored – then, now, always. We do not learn history from statues. Those on statues tend to be victorious soldiers or those who embody an ideal at the time – in other words, we put on pedestals those we look up to.

Times change – where now are the statues of the philanthropist, Sir James Wilson Vincent Savile, OBE, KCFG, who raised £40m in his lifetime? What Jimmy Savile did was so bad we erased all the “good works” he’d done once we found out about the bad ones. There are now no memorials to him, not even a gravestone.

Maybe we need a truth and reconciliation commission so that we can learn about those we have put on pedestals? When I was at school in England, the names of the schoolhouses were – Grenville, Hawkins, Drake and Rayleigh. We knew that Drake captained “The Revenge”, we knew that Drake singed the King of Spain’s beard and played bowls on Plymouth Hoe! We knew that Sir Walter Rayleigh laid his cloak over a puddle so that Queen Elizabeth did not get her feet wet, and he introduced potatoes and tobacco to this country. I can’t remember that we ever enquired about John Hawkins – I wonder why? Maybe because in his own words, as recorded by Hakluyt, he “profited by the sale of slaves” so much that there was a slave on the Hawkins’ family crest. But not just he – all the above “Sea Dogs” made fortunes for themselves and this country by trading, enslaving and dispossession.  We would not be editing or censoring history by teaching a fuller story of the beginnings of what became the slave trade.

We could teach how slave rebellions were brutally put down and we could teach that, in 1833 when slavery was abolished, compensation was paid not to those who were taken against their will from their own lands of origin and forced to work but that compensation was paid to 3000 owners for the loss of their property. That £20m loan was only repaid in 2015. Nothing was paid to or done for freed slaves – nor were they hired. Instead, plantation owners brought in “Indentured labour” from India and China.

To correct our PM’s words, “To tear them down would be to erase the lie about our history and would enrich the education of generations to come.”

PS Queen Elizabeth Community College, Crediton, Devon, changed the names of their schoolhouses in 1989 – top marks!

Chirag’s story

The Farncombe Post Office provides a service to thousands of residents of this village. During the infamous Christmas floods and power cuts in 2013, it was the only shop that stayed open for miles, it was a life-line and kept us all in batteries, candles and firelighters. The Sidhpura family did not desert us in that time of trial and we must not desert them now. We urge the Post Office to consider his appeal.” – Cllr Penny Rivers, Godalming North.

It appears to me to be grossly unfair and unjust.” – Jeremy Hunt, South West Surrey MP

https://www.postofficetrial.com/2019/09/chirags-story.html?m=1

Forget-me-not

Easter time is usually filled with friends, family and Easter egg hunts. This year many won’t have Easter eggs and many won’t have eggs at all. And, we won’t have each other as Covid19 keeps us apart. It is by keeping apart that we keep others safe.

For many, this is a time of tragedy and trauma, of separation and of suffering. We need to acknowledge this. But remember too that we are not alone. The world is united in these feelings.

Easter 2020 is not postponed or cancelled. As ever Spring and Easter is a time to think about new life, though it is hard to avoid the daily tally of those succumbing to Coronavirus, and worse, the numbers of those who are killed by it. This Easter time we are presented with death as well as life, but hold to love, for it is love that transcends the pain and grief of separation and death. If we speak of this to each other, of how much we appreciate each other, of how much we love each other, then we will be better able to face the future, and the joy of Easter will be with us once again. For it is love that casts out fear.

For those of you who have a Christian faith, these are words of comfort from Rev Maggie Stirling Troy (Acting Chair of Churches Together).

In Holy Week we walk with Jesus all the way to the Cross where he entered into the depths of human pain and suffering, unable to move, unable to breathe, his family unable to touch him. And yet the message of Easter is that darkness, fear and death do not have the final word. For Christians the Resurrection of Jesus turns the desolation of absence into the joy of his risen presence. Easter brings us hope of new life and the ultimate promise, in the words of Julian of Norwich (who lived when the Black Death was ravaging Europe) that ‘all shall be well’.

Words on Covid-19

The Waverley Borough Council page that is updated as things progress is:

https://www.waverley.gov.uk/info/100010/health_and_wellbeing/2221/coronavirus_covid-19

Covid-19 – Corinavirus – is here. What does this mean to me today, next week, next month?

When I was young, I was too busy being young to think about the impact of sickness, of flu, colds, sore throats. They happened, I got better. Some people I knew had bad things happen to them but not to me. I was OK. But I am not young anymore, and a very infectious virus is on the loose and there is no prevention for it, no anti-virus serum available to be delivered by a quick and painless injection – or at least not for many months. I am a carer for my mother who is in her eighties and is susceptible to chest infections. As Town Mayor, I meet many people every week in the course of my duties. If I catch this virus, I don’t want to pass it on to anyone. I know that I could have been infected and therefore infectious without knowing about it. All I can say is that right now I feel fine and I have had no reason to think I might have caught this virus – I haven’t come into contact with anyone who has subsequently tested positive, so I haven’t had a test. But how would I know?

That’s the problem – we don’t know if we are carriers of the virus until we feel poorly, and then have a positive test result – all of which is rather too late to stop me from having passed it on to one or more people.

So, what must we do? If, or when you test positive – well, the next days and weeks are planned out. For the rest of us during the next weeks and months, we must follow the expert advice from the World Health Organisation and the Government experts. We must practice vigorous and frequent washing of our hands with soap. We must practice not touching our eyes and faces and adapt to social distancing. That is isolation from each other. This is not just about protecting ourselves, it is about protecting our loved ones and neighbours and most especially those who are vulnerable.

Personally, and in my role as Mayor, I have cancelled the fund-raising film show which was to be held on Friday the 13th. Sad for me, sad for those who had bought tickets and were looking forward to it, but especially sad for the charities I support (The Meath, Skillway, Trinity Trust Team). But, for the time being I believe that this is prudent.  This is social distancing for me, and I am sorry to recommend this for you too.