It is time to acknowledge the enormous debt of thanks we owe to all those in our town who have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic with dedication and hard work. These are ordinary people doing extraordinary things that have an immediate, positive, and tangible impact on the morale and wellbeing of others in the town.
Collectively, they set about improving the lives and situations of neighbours, friends, and total strangers. Tapping into the connectivity of a town-wide network of neighbours, organisations and local businesses, and taking advantage of the more or less immediate response ability of social media, they have identified need and addressed it.
Some act alone, others as teams, combining forces to harness the considerable power of our local community, channelling their efforts into supporting and assisting the most vulnerable, and precarious people, groups, and struggling small businesses in our town.
From Social media pages that offer regular and up to date bulletins on available help, give space to calls for help, and advertising opportunities; to others that offer a place to check in, have a chat and get a boost of positivity; to practical assistance, Witney has it covered.
Lockdown, for some means that a lack of contact with family and friends makes the most mundane tasks extraordinarily daunting or challenging, leaving them feeling isolated or lonely. Witney has it covered.
Local businesses have been given free space to advertise and they have stepped up too, offering free or low-cost goods and services, or special shopping hours for key workers and the vulnerable. Witney has it covered.
Cllr Joy Aitman, Mayor of Witney remarked,
“We are overwhelmed with the outpouring of kindness across the community. Everyone is doing what they can to make sure nobody is left wanting. We are seeing the very best in people at the very worst of times.“
This determined force for good has made a huge difference to the health and wellbeing of our immediate community, and made a contribution to the national effort to protect and care for residents in our town whether known to them or not.
Cllr, Liz Duncan added,
“We are all so thankful for the help which continues to come from people in our wonderful Witney community. Support is given without asking for thanks or reward, and makes such a difference to so many people”
Witney Town Council wants to recognise these champions. Those who have been inspiring action and positive change and all those that work hard behind the scenes, setting up and monitoring social media pages, fetching and carrying, packing food parcels or calling someone just to check in on them.
With your help we can celebrate these modest heroes and offer a heartfelt thank you.
There are no categories because sometimes the smallest act of thoughtfulness at the most difficult of times makes someone the biggest of heroes to you, in that moment.
Witney Town Council wants to hear from you, with your nominations of someone that made a difference for you.
Please let us know YOUR Witney Hero, including comments/stories as a way of saying thank you. Every person or organisation nominated will receive a badge and certificate from the Council which will include your comments.
We are also planning a visual display in Witney town centre as a celebration of the wonderful way that our Town has rallied round during these difficult times.
There is no closing date for this nomination while the Pandemic is ongoing, and the community is still supporting each other in exceptional ways.
To nominate someone, click on the COVID Heroes page on our website and fill in the online form.
Following a doorstep switch-on that invited residents of the town to help make Witney Sparkle, Town Councillors began a search for the best dressed houses in their wards.
They searched for the most dazzling decorations, the most lustrous lights and the boldest baubles, and shortlisted their favourites. They then voted and selected the winners, surprising them with a visit, to present each with a certificate, a box of chocs and some fizz.
Councillor Owen Collins, Chair of the Stronger Communities working party, which proposed the competition, said,
“After a very difficult year, it was wonderful to see so many local residents take the time to bring a bit of light to their streets and communities over the Christmas season. It did however leave Councillors with a very difficult decision to make, as we tried to narrow hundreds of houses down to just a handful – but I’m confident that we’ve collectively chosen five of the best dressed and most festive-looking homes for this year’s prizes. Congratulations to all the winners, and a huge thank you as well to everyone else who entered into the Christmas spirit and helped to dispel the December darkness. Here’s to a much brighter New Year, for everybody.”
Some residents in Witney intend leaving their decorations up to keep the town sparkling during lockdown.
A Flood Alert has been issued by the Environment Agency.
Flood Alert in force: River Windrush from Bourton to Newbridge.
Flooding is possible for: River Windrush from Bourton to Newbridge including Burford, Asthall, Minster Lovell, Crawley, Witney, Ducklington, Rack End and Standlake.
Property flooding is not currently expected.
River levels have risen on the River Windrush as a result of heavy rainfall. Therefore, flooding of low laying land and roads is imminent, especially around Bourton on the Water and Witney. Further heavy rainfall showers are forecast for the rest of today (23/12/21) and overnight. We expect river levels to continue rising through this afternoon and evening.
We are closely monitoring the situation. Our incident response staff have been in the area clearing weed/trash screens. Please avoid using low lying footpaths near local watercourses and remain safe and aware of your local surroundings.
This message will be updated this evening, 23/12/21, or as the situation changes.
* Or call Floodline on 0345 988 1188 using quickdial code: 171075.
* Follow @EnvAgency and #floodaware on Twitter.
* Tune into weather, news and travel bulletins on local television and radio.
What you should consider doing now
* Monitor local water levels and weather conditions.
* Get ready to act on your flood plan if you have one.
* Move your car or other vehicles to higher ground, if it is safe to do so.
* Prepare a flood kit of essential items including a torch with spare batteries, mobile phone and charger, warm clothes, home insurance documents, water, food, first aid kit and any prescription medicines or baby care items you may need.
* Check that you know how to turn off your gas, electricity and water mains supplies.
* In rural locations, farmers should consider moving livestock and equipment away from areas likely to flood.
* Avoid walking, cycling or driving through flood water. 30 cm of fast-flowing water can move a car and 6 inches can knock an adult off their feet.
* Flood water is dangerous and may be polluted. Wash your hands thoroughly if you’ve been in contact with it.
Since declaring a climate emergency in 2019, Witney Town Council has been considering climate change mitigation and environmental impacts in everything we do.
We continue to make changes to how we operate and conduct our business and have implemented measures designed to make our activities more sustainable.
Our paper is FSC certified and 100% recycled. We use less paper too since moving to a digitalised system for sending agendas, reports and minutes to councillors and for storing these and other documents in a digitised format.
All our public buildings run on green energy, and officers are busy exploring other renewable energy sources, and additional ways to reduce the town council’s carbon footprint further.
This weekend marks the 80th anniversary of a World War II Luftwaffe bombing raid on Witney where two bombs impacted in the Church Green and Eagle Brewery areas in the south of the town overnight on 21st-22nd November 1940. The bombs were designed to cause a large amount of property damage and in this they certainly succeeded.
The buildings close by to the first explosion on Church Green, numerous homes and the grammar school would certainly have suffered blast damage. Notable buildings such as the church and police station, along with the council offices, had windows blown out. The almshouses at 28-38 Church Green also suffered damage. There is shrapnel damage to the white railings close to the dip in Church Green itself that identify the impact site of the first bomb.
Thankfully, the only injuries were minor ones with no major casualties at all.
Earlier bombing raids had also taken place in surrounding villages such as Stanton Harcourt, Brize Norton and Aston so it is unsurprising that Witney also received this unwanted attention.
This year Witney Town Council has been unable to hold its Civic Reception at which the Mayor normally presents the Citizen of the Year awards.
The awards celebrate the shining lights in our community from the past year; those that go above and beyond and give just that little bit more to the benefit of the town. As soon as we are able to celebrate with them in the way they deserve, we will do so, but until then here is a little bit about each of our winners. You will soon see why they were selected as 2019’s stars.
OUTSTANDING COMMITMENT TO THE COMMUNITY 2019- West Oxfordshire Community Transport
This wonderful organisation uses the strapline ‘powered by people’, and there couldn’t be a more accurate description for this warm hearted, community minded group of paid employees and volunteers. WOCT is a Community Benefit Society and one that is truly a lifeline for many of our residents, many of whom may be elderly or vulnerable, who might not otherwise have access to important public services or employment.
Its existence covers a gap in local transport services and helps people retain their independence and take part in community and social activities.
The organisation is agile in responding and adapting to fluctuating levels of need, and proactive in keeping passengers informed of any timetable or route changes. This kind of reassurance has been more important than ever during this year’s COVID-19 crisis. WOCT does all this in the most personal of ways. For example, there are active social media channels issuing regular service announcements such as tracking links for buses so that, in inclement weather, passengers do not have to wait outside in cold or rain for too long for their bus!
While they were unable to run during lockdown they kept in touch with members and set up welfare calls. They followed up with a passenger survey to see if people were shielding and to ascertain how nervous they were about resuming travelling and what they wanted. They then implemented safety measures such as Perspex screens and sanitisers to help passengers feel safe on board.
The WOCT team are deeply appreciated by their passengers. The friendly and supportive relationship between the drivers, and the passengers they all know by name, means that inevitably, the care and concern isn’t all one way. It was touching to note during the first lockdown how passengers were calling to check on the health and wellbeing of their drivers. And in return the WOCT crew were offering an emergency contact for anyone in need.
This from their Facebook page, “A warm hello to all of our passengers from the team here at WOCT. We hope you are all keeping well in these strange times. A large number of you have been calling in to check that all of our drivers are keeping well, and we want to reassure that they are all fine, and they are sending their kind thoughts back to you all too. We are all looking forward to the day when this awful virus is behind us and we can start serving the community again. In the meantime, please everyone stay at home and stay safe. Andrew L and David M are still manning the phones, and if anyone is in need of anything urgently, please don’t hesitate to give us a call. If we can help we will.
All the very best in the meantime to you all from the team.”
A second post promising to retain services while possible through the second lockdown, elicited more gratitude. “I can not thank you enough for all your hard work your drivers and people behind scenes and keeping me getting to work through the hard time.”
Cllr Duncan Enright, who was Mayor when WOCT were selected for this award sums up how much a part of the community WOCT is, “Many residents see WOCT as a lifeline, and town businesses appreciate the trade they get from regular services. The community bus has featured in the national news, cooperative awards and even earned Witney a mention in a song by electronic band Underworld!”
YOUNG CITIZEN OF THE YEAR 2019 James Boxer
This year’s Young Citizen of the Year is somebody that many of us will recognise. In the words of Tania Kirby, of Guideposts Charity, someone he often volunteers alongside, “James is an active community citizen. He is a face people recognise, and a name that brings a smile to people’s faces.”
He has volunteered for many charitable organisations throughout Witney and West Oxfordshire, year-round, and whatever the weather for more than 10 years. He works in two charity shops and is a dedicated and successful poppy seller, fundraising for the Royal British Legion, raising between £1600 and £1700 each year.
Jess Jenkins, Community fundraiser for the Royal British Legion, says how valued he is, “It is not often that the Legion attracts people of James’ age to volunteer and this makes him even more special to us, opening up dialogue with a younger generation that is sometimes harder for us to reach”
Chris Stephens, Witney Poppy Appeal Organiser added, “James has done a marvellous job for RBL for a number of years in all weathers, going above and beyond what he has been asked to do, without the slightest grumble and I can’t think of a more deserving recipient of this award.”
James also volunteers at community events such as LibFest, The Witney Music Festival, Witney Carnival, Witney Pride and Countryfile Live, gladly giving his time for free to keep these events safe and happy for those attending. He regularly spends whole days out in the heat or the wind or the rain to support others having a good time while missing out on fully enjoying these events himself, as a guest.
Muzo Academy’s Snezhana Stoykova explains how James has always helped with their gigs and events and was on hand to help pack and move all the equipment from the Rock Barn to their new home at the Music Rooms. She adds, “He never hesitates to give up his time to help various local causes- definitely worthy of receiving the Young Citizen of the Year award!”
More from Tania, who speaks of him with the utmost admiration. She says, “I have been blown away by James’ work ethic, his passion for helping others, his constant offers of help and support. He is one of the most reliable people I have ever worked with and from talking to others in the community, many, many people agree. He is a very humble man and does not gloat about the amazing work he does for free for all types of organisations, but is magnanimous about his tireless work, seeing it as a way of being able to give back to a community that supported him through his teenage years.
She added, “He doesn’t just turn up and volunteer. He turns up, learns about what the message is and actively promotes whatever organisation he is there to promote.
He is a true ambassador, not just for Guideposts Charity, but for vulnerable people everywhere, as well as being an ambassador for Witney and the true face of inclusivity and diversity in our town.”
This incredible commitment to volunteering and helping others would be admirable from anyone, but when you learn that James himself, lives, with disabilities, then it becomes all the more remarkable.
His mum, Debi, proudly lists James’ achievements and says that he will look to help wherever there is space for him to do so. Then she reveals that at the age of 11 James had a cancerous brain tumour removed followed by both chemo and radiotherapy, which has left him with some considerable challenges, particularly deafness. James fills his days with helping others, but above all, he would love to have a paid job. When he was younger he wanted to be in the services, or a firefighter.
She continues, “We are so proud of James and all that he does. Many people would use this as an excuse to do nothing, but James is always looking for something to do to help. He is frustrated by the COVID-19 situation as of course many of the events he helps at have been cancelled. But currently, he is looking out for our neighbours and checking that they are alright, and nobody needs anything.”
James is indeed a shining example of citizenship, and as such, it is with great pleasure we award him as our Young Citizen of the Year.
CITIZEN OF THE YEAR 2019 Chris Ody
Chris Ody, Citizen of the Year 2019
For a number of years Chris has been performing as CODY providing acoustic singalong sessions mainly in the local care community.
His daughter Arwen tells how he is out on a more or less daily basis, travelling around Witney and West Oxfordshire, visiting elderly people, some of whom have become isolated, depressed and disinterested in the world around them. “Armed with just a guitar and a large song book , performing songs from their youth he brings them a small burst of happiness. Even those with more severe difficulties have been known to get up and dance or tap their toes along with his music”
The venues are mostly residential homes, day centres, lunch clubs, coffee mornings, 100th birthday parties etc.
Chris works with lots of local dementia groups and social clubs mainly for the elderly or for people needing care. His performances include lots of interaction, chat, stories, and songs that everyone can join in with. Sadly, this year, these have been restricted to online video sessions, or garden singalong shows.
Mandie Acock, Lifestyle Support Coordinator at Rosebank Care Home supports Chris’ nomination, “I have been booking Cody to perform for our residents for almost ten years now.He is one of our top entertainers. He has such a wonderful way with our residents, knows them all by name and makes the effort each and every visit, to sit and talk with them, and to sing WITH them, and not just to them. He is always bubbly and happy, and never rushes. He delivers every time. We sing with him, we dance, he dances too. It’s just a fun and uplifting experience for all. CODY deserves this recognition! He does so much for our local community and he is such a kind and genuine person. The world needs more CODYS!”
Chris certainly works hard. Last year along with 24 local care homes, he also provided sessions for Witney Hospital, MS Society in Abingdon, The Shake Shop in Witney and Carterton, Sue Ryder Centre in Nettlebed, Witney Rotary Club, Witney Dementia Action Alliance, and Abingdon Hospital.
Kim Longford and Debbie Hackett, owners of The Shake Shop, wrote to us about Chris,
“We have been very lucky to have had Chris perform at many of our community events. Chris has generously given his time for free at some of our charity occasions and is always a happy and joyous addition. He may be best known for his rapport with the elderly but is equally brilliant with children and their families. Chris is an absolute asset to Witney and brings joy with his music wherever he goes. He most definitely makes a positive difference to the lives of the people that he comes across in his work as a talented musician. We are happy that, through our business, we have acquired a lovely friend, who is kind, giving and generous in all ways.”
Arwen explains how in December last year he performed more than 40 gigs in care homes, to the point where he was losing his voice and feeling genuinely exhausted. He did all this while caring for his own family and helping out his parents where he could. Arwen’s granddad has Alzheimer’s disease and has frequent appointments, and Chris takes him to these.
Arwen says “This makes my dad’s service so much more worthy of recognition, as he has seen at first-hand how it feels to see your parent deteriorate with Alzheimer’s. I see him use this to inspire himself, to do what he does for the elderly in our community. His heart is completely in his work. He comes home and tells wonderful stories of the people he meets and makes genuine friends wherever he goes.” She continues, “He may not be able to change the community from a social policy point of view, but I do believe he makes a small change to a large number of people within the local community. What he does changes people’s lives.”
It seems Chris has always been community minded. In previous years he has taught people to play the guitar and regularly refereed local youth league matches. In Oxford he was referee for the Man vs Fat club, helping to promote healthy lifestyles for men in the area. He certainly keeps busy and loves his work putting smiles on faces. He described his days to us,
“It’s a simple format that seems to work well, it’s a wonderful job, I get lots of positive feedback and regular re bookings. If I were paid in smiles, I’d be a millionaire!”
Witney is extremely fortunate to have so many people quietly undertaking all this incredible work. The winners are people that are often so unassuming they seem unaware of the extent of their achievement, or the positive impact their actions have on others. It is really disappointing not to be able to make the awards in person this year, when we have people and organisations that add so much value to our community and contribute to the big heart for which Witney is renowned.
Witney’s Mayor, Cllr Joy Aitman sums up our winners,
“I read about all our recipients with a huge lump in my throat. We, the residents of Witney, are truly honoured to have these marvellous people within our community. I look forward to meeting with them in the future and celebrating their achievements.”
Temporary Road Closure and “No Waiting” Restriction at Duckington, Unnamed Road to Curbridge
In the interests of public safety it will be necessary for Oxfordshire County Council to close a section of / the length of Unnamed Road to Curbridge to facilitate carriageway repair works / repairs.
A Temporary Traffic Regulation Order (TTRO) is being made to implement the temporary closure and “No Waiting” restriction and will operate from 11 January 2021 up to and including 19 February 2021. This is a 24 hour road closure.
(The maximum duration of a TTRO on a road is 18 months and on a footpath is 6 months, or until completion of the works, whichever is the earlier.)
Notice of intention to make the Order will be published in the local press.
Access will be maintained for emergency service vehicles and for those frontages within the closure area, subject to the progress of the works and liaison with the works supervisor.
A copy of the drawing showing the extent of the closure and the alternative routes for traffic is attached.
Further information regarding the works may be obtained by contacting Oxfordshire County Council on 0345 310 11 11
As we head into a new period of lockdown between November 5th and December 2nd this is a reminder that Witney Town Council is still operating and here to help you if we possibly can.
Here is a list of the facilities that are still open and available to you.
All our parks and play areas. (Except for the MUGAS (Multi Use Game Areas) at Burwell and King George V)
Lake and Country Park
Leys public toilets
Tower Hill Cemetery
There are rules about the cemeteries-
18 (10) A person who is responsible for a crematorium or burial ground must ensure that the crematorium or burial ground is closed to members of the public, except—
(a) for funerals or burials,
(b) commemorative events celebrating the life of a person who has died, or
(c) to allow a person to pay respects to a member of their household, a family member or friend.
The following facilities are closed for now
Leys Skate Park
Muga pitch at Burwell recreation ground
Muga pitch at King George V recreation ground
With shorter days and fewer opportunities for social contact be sure to make use of our green spaces for taking some exercise, or enjoying some fresh air, or just for a change of scene.
Witney has a fantastic community support network, so please keep looking out for your immediate neighbours.
Our staff are working from home for the most part, but you can still contact us by telephone and email and we will be continuing to issue information on our website and social media platforms along with press releases, copies of which are placed in the public noticeboard by the Town Hall.
We look forward to resuming normal service again in a few weeks and in the meanwhile keep Hands, Face, Space -ing!
POSTED ON BEHALF OF OXFORDSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL HIGHWAYS DEPARTMENT
Temporary Traffic Regulation Order – S14 Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984
Temporary Road Closure at Finstock, Witney Road
A request has been received from Sunbelt Rentals Limited for a temporary road closure to apply to a section of Witney Road, whilst essential brick work repairs and water proofing works are carried out.
A Temporary Traffic Regulation Order (TTRO) is being made to implement the temporary closure and will operate from 08 February 2021 up to and including 22 March 2021. This is a 24 hour road closure.
(The maximum duration of a TTRO on a road is 18 months and on a footpath is 6 months, or until completion of the works, whichever is the earlier.)
Notice of intention to make the Order will be published in the local press.
A copy of the drawing showing the extent of the closure and also the alternative route for traffic is attached.
Further information regarding the works may be obtained by contacting Kelly Wilcox on 0370 0500792 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Map showing closure and southern part of diversion route
Witney War memorial was dedicated on 12th September 1920, making it 100 years old this year.
It was designed by Thomas Rayson, and built by Axtell and Son at a cost of £870 1s and 3d.
Although the unusual circumstances of 2020 have precluded many of the events and celebrations that we would normally be enjoying, the memorial will have a special wreath of knitted poppies placed on it this weekend to mark its special year.
Building on an existing, robust equality policy, Witney Town Council plans to research and apply additional diversity initiatives so that it better serves our community, and, as an employer, ensures that all are given the support and opportunities to succeed and reach their full potential as individuals, regardless of background.
Can you help the Town Council do this? We are looking to engage with people from minority demographics and communities in the town, to share their ideas and experience with us. If you take a strong interest in our town or have ideas about changes you would like to see, then you have just what we are looking for. To find out more about sharing your ideas and expertise please drop an email to email@example.com and we can put you in touch with members of the panel.
Liaising, with community groups and other relevant bodies will extend consultation and interaction with people from a wide range of ages and backgrounds at all levels. Understanding the scale and scope of diversity, will help the Town Council challenge definitions and champion change, where needed, within its own organisation and the wider community.
Cllr Owen Collins, Chair of the Stronger Communities Committee, said,
“As a Council we are absolutely committed to representing the whole town – including those demographics who have been historically under-represented, or who have previously found barriers to their engagement.
As our community evolves, so too must the Council, and I encourage anyone who has ideas on how Witney Town Council can better reflect the people it serves to get in touch and help us create that positive change.”
As part of its annual review process the council looks to evaluate and improve the way it is meeting equality legislation and statutory requirements and how these are put into practice.
Witney Town Council recognises that in a constantly evolving world, no matter how much it is already doing well and what has already been achieved, being fully paid up members of a global society will require further steps in this journey. By adapting and augmenting what it already does to reflect the changes in our community, it can be instrumental in expanding a thriving, inclusive environment and workplace culture that fosters and embraces respect and values diversity.
Every year we ask Witney’s children to get creative and design an official Christmas Card for the Mayor and this year is no different.
The Council is calling on all the children of primary school age living in Witney to help out. Your mission is to create a fabulous Christmas themed design. Below you can see some of the previous entries.
Entries can be submitted via email or post and we have provided a template for you to use. Please return your entries to:
firstname.lastname@example.org or Witney Town Council, Town Hall, Witney OX28 6AG
Once again Witney Town Council finds itself in the unenviable position of having to carry out the felling of a veteran tree that has become dangerous. The Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani) in St Mary’s Churchyard has dropped several large limbs over the last 2 years, damaging and further endangering Grade II listed tombs, memorials, and other structures.
The Town Council, which is responsible for maintaining the churchyard, has been monitoring the tree’s health, but despite remedial works undertaken by the council’s retained tree works contractor, the decline in the health of the tree is irreversible. The huge tree is likely to be around 200 years old.
Following the most recent failures, Witney Town Council commissioned a firm of local Arboricultural Consultants, experts in managing and preserving the landscape and environment, to provide an assessment of the risks and available management options.
Unfortunately, the 18m tall tree has lost much of its vitality, the crown is thinning (over a quarter has been lost), and it presents a high risk of further shedding of fractured boughs, predominantly from the canopy. Following bat and other surveys that showed the tree was not being used as a habitat, it has been recommended to remove the tree completely.
Given the age and visual impact of the tree it is likely to leave quite a gap in the churchyard and there will be a lot of wood to remove as a result of the felling. There are hopes to repurpose as much as possible with St Mary’s Church hoping to salvage some of the wood to use for internal and external furniture. Meanwhile, the Town Council’s Estates team is investigating having a memorial bench created somewhere close by along with the possibility of work by professional woodcarvers installed on The Leys.
Councillor Owen Collins Chair of the Stronger Communities Committee remarked,
“The Cedar of Lebanon has been a presence on the Witney skyline for decades, so it’s an enormous shame that it is now both irreversibly unhealthy and thus unsafe. However, we’re committed to replacing the cedar, and making good use of the wood, so that after 200 years in Witney it can live on for many more years yet!”
Although not a true native of the UK, having been introduced in the late 1700s, the Cedar of Lebanon has become commonplace on large estates, and especially in Churchyards where their familiar evergreen branches have strong biblical connections.
Once the tree is removed the Conservation Officer has requested that a replacement Cedar of Lebanon is planted as close as possible to the original site. It should be good for another 200 years!
In a year where we cannot do things in the way we would choose, we are having to adapt and find new ways to do things. There will be wreaths on our memorial as there is every year, but no parade or service. People are being asked to observe the 2 minutes silence on their doorsteps or front gardens as a demonstration of gratitude and respect in their communities.
Among the large events we are hearing have been cancelled, we now know that the Christmas Light Switch-on organised by the Rotary Club of Witney and grant funded by Witney Town Council is not going to take place. This is down to the ongoing pandemic and potential spread of the Covid-19 virus.
The Switch-on, due to take place on Friday 27th November attracts thousands of people to the Market Square making it impossible to maintain safe social distancing and comply with coronavirus control measures in crowds of that volume.
The popular Children’s Advent Fayre run by Witney Town Council will not take place on Sunday 29th November either, as the nature of the activities makes sanitisation between users and sessions impractical.
The Town Council shares a deep sense of disappointment along with everyone that normally attends these important community events. Public safety and uncertainty surrounding the pandemic precludes traditional events that draw large crowds being held, for the best of reasons, but it is still hard to come to terms with the postponement and cancellation of so many.
In a year that is lacking so much cheer, Christmas has very definitely not been cancelled though. The Christmas lights will still appear in the Market Square and these will be turned on by the contractors once installed. This year, there will be an extra Christmas tree outside the Corn Exchange too. Councillor Luci Ashbourne has suggested that families and businesses across the town hold their own mini switch-on of Christmas lights at 6pm on the town’s traditional Switch-on night, so that our town is still illuminated. Councillors have also agreed to reinstate the Best Decorated House competition, so will be looking for the homes with the biggest impact in their wards from which to select a winner.
Councillor Ashbourne said,
“Although we can’t all be together in person, we’re determined that this Christmas, Witney’s community spirit will still shine through – literally!
We’d love as many people and businesses as possible to have their own switch-on on November the 27th, lighting lanterns, trees or fairy lights in their doorways, gardens or windows, to prove that even though we must stay apart, we can all still play a part.”
Councillor Owen Collins, Chair of the Stronger Communities committee added,
“It’s with enormous regret we’ve had to scale back the traditional celebrations this year, but public safety is paramount and sadly we had little alternative.
Despite the lack of events, I’m certain the lights themselves will look as beautiful and festive as ever, and I hope that the people of Witney will join us in simultaneously turning on their own lights – large or small – on the 27th of November and helping to provide some much-needed light in these dark times!”
Traditionally, in early August, the Town Council works with the Witney Branch of the Royal British Legion to finalise plans for Remembrance Day. In this extraordinary year, taking a steer from the Witney Branch, and in line with ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, Remembrance Sunday is looking very different for our town.
Recently, our local Royal British Legion Branch have written to inform us that County and Branch officials have been asked to pass on to members that they are not to parade and will not lay wreaths as they normally do for Remembrance Day this year. This has been a very difficult decision for them to take and they are hugely disappointed.
Even the poppy appeal has been cut back drastically by the charity, which fears putting some of its most vulnerable volunteers and veterans at risk. Street collections will not be going ahead in Witney this autumn, with the organisation looking to rely on contactless donations instead this year. If you would like to support the Royal British Legion in their fundraising efforts during this difficult time, there are lots of ways you can do so on their website including some quite unusual things. You could, for example, undertake a sponsored poppy run!
The cancellation of the parade, in particular, will be felt especially hard. Our Remembrance Day event is always extremely well supported by residents, and everyone who has ever attended can attest to the enthusiastic contributions of the various youth organisations, along with the church and Witney’s Town Band. Unfortunately, public gatherings of large numbers of people are currently restricted by Covid-19 regulations, and the safety of all involved is paramount.
Despite this, it is both proper and important to recognise the great sacrifices made for us by previous generations. Between them Witney Town Council and the Royal British Legion will ensure that the memorial is dressed with the wreaths that are normally placed there by wreath laying organisations in time for Armistice Day. However, there will be no road closure, no parade, and no service at the memorial, so acts of remembrance will be of a more personal nature. One suggestion has been that people observe a 2 minute silence on their doorsteps at 11am, much in the way that people clapped for the NHS.
The Town Council is also planning to work with members of organisations that normally take part to bring together a meaningful and respectful online presentation that can be enjoyed safely by all.
Witney Town Mayor, Cllr Joy Aitman remarked,
“As a Town we will always remember and honour our veterans and those who lost their lives for us. This year, as with many events, we must do so in our own personal way. Parades and services are important but the safety of our residents remains a priority. “