Lighting up the gardens will be a big attraction for Lyme

The Mayor of Lyme Regis, Councillor Brian Larcombe MBE, with deputy mayor Jeff Scowen (centre) and John Newton of Lymelight (photo by Richard Austin)

THE public gardens in Lyme Regis have been the most admired of the town’s attractions, a peaceful haven to escape the hustle of bustle of a busy seaside resort.

Successive councils down the years have sought to protect the Langmoor and Lister Gardens from over-commercialisation. The attractiveness of the area was enhanced significantly when the gardens were remodelled as part of the coast protection works, providing a woodland walk, making them even more popular.

The erection of the gazebo, providing a shaded area to sit with marvellous views over the bay, and the addition of table tennis to supplement the crazy golf course and now-defunct putting green, was as far councillors have been willing to go in adding to recreational facilities in the gardens.

Ideas for a cafe with toilets and outdoor gym equipment in recent times were given short shrift.

It is true that the current town council took their eye off the ball when they allowed the condition of the gardens to decline, but it would seem that has been corrected and great efforts are being made by the outside staff to return the gardens to the former glory as far as the flowers and fauna are concerned.

Numerous trees have been planted in memory of those who loved Lyme but are no longer with us, and the creation of a sculpture trail has provided an added interest for those going to and from the beach.

But the latest innovation introduced by Lyme Regis Town Council could well turn out to be a major tourist attraction. T his month the Mayor, Councillor Brian Larcombe MBE, officially turned on the new night-time illuminations of the Langmoor Gardens, a lighting scheme similar to the popular attraction at Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens.

I think it’s possibly the best decision the new town council has made so far and is sure to be a big crowd puller if the council get their publicity right. The lights – 60 in all – will be turned on from dusk to 11pm at key times of the year, including the Christmas holidays.

The mini golf in Lister Gardens continues to be hugely popular, although it could do with a bit of a spruce-up, and hopefully the council can reinstate the putting green as well at some time in the future.

A few years ago I suggested to the council that the piece of vacant land behind the mini-golf attendant’s hut in Lister Gardens would be ideal for boules.

My suggestion was that the Cancer Research UK Lyme Regis branch, of which I am chairman, would get sponsorship to cover the cost of installing the necessary facilities at no cost to the council, and that revenue from the attraction could be divided equally between the council and the charity. Basically I was looking for regular income for the branch.

Unfortunately, the idea got lost in the fog of administration that hovers over the council offices and the idea was never progressed.

I have spoken to our new mayor about it, and he has advised me to submit the proposal again for further consideration.

Charmouth – the friendly council

I RARELY cover public meetings any more because of my increasing deafness, but I do like to get to meetings of Charmouth Parish Council as regularly as I can.

I have reported on hundreds of public meetings throughout my long career in newspapers, from the smallest Devon parish meeting to Tower Hamlets Council when the BNP got their first members elected. Charmouth Parish Council is, by far, the most friendly council I have ever covered – and also one of the most efficient.

No other newspaper bothers with Charmouth council, and haven’t done so for years. The village deserves better.

I often get offered a cup of coffee when I arrive and they always thank me for my attendance when the meeting is over.

A far cry from when it was announced in Lyme Regis that I was being awarded the MBE. As I was leaving a meeting of Lyme Regis Town Council, Councillor Brian Larcombe, who also has an MBE and is now mayor, said he thought they should congratulate me. The silence was deafening, which made me think I was doing my job properly.

Unfortunately, the current parish council in Charmouth operates with just seven members, four less than they should have, but they get on with their work in a no nonsense way with very little, if any, squabbling. How refreshing in these days of political meltdown.

Like all councils, there has been some contentious issues in Charmouth over the years, but under the current chairmanship of Peter Noel, who has a very relaxed manner in controlling meetings, and assistance for their excellent clerk Lisa Tuck, their deliberations are carried out in a workmanlike and friendly fashion.

The full council meets every other month with all matters having previously been discussed fully at committee. When decisions come before the full gathering of councillors, they usually go through on the nod with very little debate with meetings often over well within an hour.

Former chairman Jane Bremner, who also served on the former West Dorset District Council, has rejoined the council and it is to be hoped that others will offer their services to bring the parish council up to strength.

There will always be criticism of councils; even the efficient ones don’t always get it right. But I think Charmouth is well served by its elected representatives, even though they may be few in number.

Which begs the question – does it really need 14 councillors to run Lyme and isn’t it time some consideration was given to reducing the number of meetings, more than 60 a year, and therefore the amount of administration costs?

There was talk of having less working groups where decisions are often made behind closed doors. I attended one this week to discuss a celebration of VE day next year – but not one councillor turned up!

Marine Theatre – in my book worth every penny of grant aid

LAST week I sat in on a presentation on how the team at the Marine Theatre is turning around its fortunes by reducing costs and increasing revenue through a bigger footfall.

It was a brilliant presentation by theatre director Gabby Rabbitts – informative, factual, honest, demonstrating that real progress is being made in establishing the Marine as one of the most innovative theatres in the West Country.

Earlier that evening I attended the launch of the new winter programme of events from October to December, where we admired the variety of the forthcoming shows and drank a toast to the Marine’s future, which now looks far more rosey than it did in the recent past.

I have always been a big supporter of the Marine. In fact, back in the 1980s I ran the place for a while as chairman of the Marine Theatre Management Committee.

As the youngest councillor I persuaded by colleagues on the town council to allow me to revive the Marine discos. It did not go well.

Soon we were invaded by hordes of bikers from Chard and others intent on causing trouble, the police were constantly being called and in the end the council got fed up with the bad publicity and pulled the plug. I was glad to get rid of the responsibility.

Eventually, after a local referendum, the running of the theatre was handed to a trust which allowed the council to withdraw from managing it. It’s fortunes ebbed and flowed for a few years under the guidance of a number of managers and directors, supported by a keen group of volunteers, the Marine Friends, still very much involved today as theatre members.

The council was hopeful that eventually the Marine would become self-supporting, but it’s a fact that no regional theatre can exist without some form of grant funding.

The council has stuck with the Marine through thick and thin, much to the annoyance of some who did not see it as an asset for the town.

Now, under the control of Gabby, the theatre is enjoying its most successful period, but it still lost about £11,000 in the past year.

There are still those in town who think the Marine should return to being a public hall. I am not one of those. Today it promotes a programme which appeals to a wide variety of theatre buffs, including live screenings from the West End, regular films, comedy shows and music gigs.

Gabby was honest to admit that without continued financial support from the town council, the Marine, which does not get Arts Council backing, would struggle to continue.

My hope is that when it comes to handing out grants next year, the council will put the Marine top of their list.

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