Will Lyme ever be the same again?

Lyme has lost facilities and missed out on events this year – will it ever be the same again?

WE report this week on how difficult COVID-19 has been for our two local authorities – Lyme Regis Town Council and Dorset Council. Both are feeling the financial impact that the pandemic has wreaked on the world.

As we have reported on the LymeOnline website, Lyme Regis Town Council has lost £300,000 in reduced revenues due to COVID. But it could have been worse.

At one time they thought their reserves would be almost completely wiped out, but a hugely successful end to the summer has saved the day. Now they are estimating that they will be left with reserves of about £375,000 at the end of the financial year – “a prudent estimate”.

For most small local councils that would be seen as a result – but Lyme has more responsibilities and income streams than most town councils. The council’s concern is that there could be another total-countrywide lockdown next spring which would then write off their reserves, so they are looking at ways to reduce costs by selling off assets, seeking a loan and reducing overheads.

For Dorset Council – an amalgamation of the former district authorities in Dorset which came into being last April – the position is a good deal more serious. The estimated financial impact of COVID on the running of Dorset Council is a mind-boggling £60million-plus and after government grants, £35million of this will have to be taken from reserves.

This is bound to have an effect on services in the county and we have already seen this happening by the closure of the Lyme Regis Tourist Information Centre, much to the chagrin of the tourist industry in our town.

Other cuts that are expected will hit Lyme Regis and the town council may have to take on more responsibilities formerly handled by Dorset Council, which will put them under even more financial pressure. The town council has already rejected a claim of £15,000 towards the recent harbour dredging and beach replenishment.

Both councils are still meeting by video conferencing which does not encourage effective debate and all administrative staff at the council offices are back working at home to adhere to government advice.

When COVID raised its deadly head the council gave the mayor, Cllr Brian Larcombe MBE, and town clerk John Wright authority for decision making but some members have complained that they are not being kept in the picture. It is impossible to run a council effectively in this manner and there has to be an understanding that something has to give.

All this means that Lyme Regis Town Council is not going to be able to give such generous support to local organisations. Their budget for such grants had already been reduced from £130,000 a year to £80,000 before COVID reared its head.

It does mean that some of the council’s future plans for more radical solutions to major issues in the town, such as the lack of parking and traffic congestion, will have to be suspended for the time being whilst full concentration is given to keeping the town afloat financially.

Lyme is not the town it was a few years back. No banks, no TIC, no cinema, no Marine Theatre for the time being, no summer festivals and possibly no post office, which is currently up for sale. Not all of these have been caused by COVID but it certainly does not help when the council is expected to bail out every cause in town.

When it became public that the post office was up for sale, local businesswomen and former town councillor Rikey Austin, ever mindful of the increasing number of public services declining in our town, launched a crowdfunding scheme in an effort to raise enough so the PO could be operated as a community project. They missed their target but it did ensure that her concerns were given an airing on social media.

This was followed by a number of appeals to the town council to step in and save the post office. However, the post office, as well as being an important public amenity, is also a business which prevents the council from committing public money to such a venture.

The council has agreed to discuss the matter and will hope to be able to assist where possible but it will not be with a chunk of ratepayers’ money.

I can’t imagine a town the size of Lyme with such an elderly population not having a post office, but this is not the first time the council has been asked to step in.

Post offices all over the country have been closing at an alarming rate – some in much bigger towns than Lyme – or operated within an existing business, similar to the situation at Uplyme where the shop at the petrol station doubles as a PO. The post office at Charmouth has disappeared and whilst there is still a PO in Axminster, it is not open all the time.

The situation at the PO in Lyme is just one of a number of issues that the council are having to deal with during these difficult times. We must have faith, however, that coronavirus will one day be beaten and our town council can get to grips with some of the major issues which are concerning the resident population and to stop the oft-spoken comment: “Lyme is not the town it used to be.”

Uplyme players celebrate after beating Plymouth CS in the mini-league final

Covid has failed to dampen the spirit of sport

SPORT, both as a participant and a supporter, has been a dominant factor throughout my life. In fact, my only real interest outside of the working environment. Sad, I know.

From the time as a kid when I organised our own football league at the Anning Road playing field (I once paid a transfer fee of two shillings and sixpence for Billy White, a bargain I might add!) to managing a sports publishing company in London during which time I met many of my sporting heroes (none of which I had a great regard for), sport has provided me with enormous pleasure and lifelong friends.

The first thing I do every morning when my daily paper pops through my letterbox is turn immediately to the back sports pages. One of my heroes was the late Ian Wooldrige, a superb sports columnist whose articles and books I devoured.

I’m at an age, of course, where I can’t participate any more, although not so long ago we did try to get a walking football team going at the Davey Fort but sadly it petered out.

As a youngster I lived for sport – football, cricket, tennis, cross country and table-tennis. I played football for West Dorset schools, cricket for Dorset Under 15s and once ran in the Southern Counties cross country championships.

At school I was quite small in height but that did not deter me from getting into the 1st X1 football at Lyme Grammar as a second former (quite rare in those days). Being so small I was an obvious target for the bullies at school but they seemed to leave me alone which I put down to my sporting skills.

Unfortunately, my early promise as a footballer and cricketer did not keep pace with my rate of growth and as an adult I never reached the heights that I was hoping for.

I played my first game for Lyme Regis FC at the age of 14 when we changed in the chicken run at the back of the village pub in Donyatt.

In my early training as a reporter, I had to cover sport on a Saturday afternoons so I missed a few years of playing for the Seasiders. I had a couple of seasons playing for Axminster Town alongside such greats as Tony Rockett, but I was 28 before I started playing for Lyme again. Wasted years.

Cricket was my other great passion, both as a player and former chairman of Uplyme and a supporter of Somerset CCC during the glory years of Botham and Garner. With my great pal John Stamp and a few other mates, we often got tickets for test matches at Lord’s and the Oval, especially when I was working in London.

One of my great days was joining my fellow Uplyme team mates for the club’s 100th anniversary game at Lord’s where we saw Mike Denham hit a century. We had a team photo taken under Great Father Time which sits proudly on my office wall.

Actually, I didn’t make the team (I was 13th man) but I didn’t miss the chance of getting changed just in case I was needed. It was a day none of us will forget.

These days I’m proud to serve as president of Lyme Regis Football Club where we are nearing the end of a £140,000 development programme, generously supported by Lyme Regis Town Council. It’s been a challenging four years to say the least, given all the instability issues at the Davey Fort, but under chairman Howard Larcombe’s leadership the end game is in sight – and within budget!

Earlier in the year, with the coronavirus raging all around us, we feared that there would be no local sport. The thought depressed me greatly. But the sporting community is resilient if nothing else and local sport has returned, not as we know it, but entertaining as ever.

The football season has just got going with COVID-19 regulations being observed and we have enjoyed a wonderful cricket season at the King George V playing field in Uplyme where the village team thrilled us all, culminating in topping their division – a season which will be remembered not for the changes forced on us by a pandemic, but for Tyler Wellman scoring three consecutive centuries, a feat unknown in local cricketing circles.

The point I am trying to make here is that although COVID has almost brought this country to its knees, the sporting community refused to sit back and allow a way of life for so many to be destroyed. We are made of sterner stuff.

To paraphrase Sir Alex Ferguson “sport, blooming hell”. Well, he didn’t use the word “blooming” but you get the idea. No?

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