Chief Executive's blog: September

In her first monthly blog, Chief Executive Rosemary Macdonald talks policing, education, the arts... and the joys of wild swimming

I’VE known new Chief Constable Kier Pritchard for a while and I have to say the county has got a pretty good guy in post.

I spent a few hours with him this month showing him round some of the charities we fund. I think he got a great little window into what goes on in Wiltshire during our visits to groups like Scrappers Gym in Swindon and Ludgershall Men’s Shed.

It’s very easy for us all to be in a bubble and see things from our own perspective but Kier believes very much that he needs to be part of the community and has to be connected to it.

Kier wanted to get a better understanding of the groups out there and I think he was blown away by the dedication of the volunteers and what they achieve.

It was interesting to hear his view of policing in the county, especially in the light of the £20 million in budgets cuts Wiltshire Police has had to make over the years. The force has been streamlined and I don’t think people understand how much policing has had to change.

There is no longer a bobby on the beat like there were in the 1950s because the world has changed. They have different challenges, particularly when you look at the spread of cyber-crime, people trafficking and drugs. Government cuts have meant the emergency services are also having to become another branch of social services.

The gentlemen at the Ludgershall Men’s Shed were highlighting anti-social behaviour in the village and Kier spoke about contacting the PCSO but also talked about the bigger picture. Wiltshire is such a safe place and it could be so much worse if we lived elsewhere.

If I was police and crime commissioner I’d make sure that people understood that, as I’m sure Angus Macpherson does.

Kier has faced challenges that most chiefs never have to deal with. His officers have been under tremendous pressure over the Salisbury incident and now that that pressure is coming off, he has to manage that transition and I’m sure he is doing a good job because he really cares about his people.

IT is ten years since I joined the Wiltshire Community Foundation and shortly after I arrived, we were  given £2.5 million by a Russian emigre couple from Trowbridge. Brian and Marie Shuker had no children but wanted to ensure young people in west Wiltshire had a good university education.

The Shuker Fund was the beginning of One Degree More. Ten years down the road, together with many other donors, we now have a fund that helps young people all over the county. To date our bursaries totalling £1.25 million have helped more than 250 young people go to university.

This year we funded 56 students which was brilliant, but we need more money, especially in Swindon.

Allied to that, I think it is fabulous that Wiltshire College has got its University Centre Status, which means young people will not necessarily have to go outside of the county to study. If our bursary goes to someone studying for a degree in Wiltshire, the money we give them will help them even more.

 

THE end of August saw Wiltshire Creative’s Lift Off launch event in Salisbury. I’m pleased to be a trustee of this new body that incorporates Salisbury Playhouse, Salisbury Arts Centre and the Salisbury International Festival.

While the new group’s immediate focus has been Salisbury, we are already spreading our wings across the county and are talking to Pound Arts in Corsham and Wiltshire Music Centre and planning outreach events from next year’s Salisbury Festival.

Some people might consider the arts as elitist or as some kind of luxury, but I think they are vitally important, especially to a county like Wiltshire.

The arts matter because they are a draw, pulling people into places and it has been proven over and over again across the country that the economy prospers when there is a strong artistic presence. A strong cultural life attracts people, it makes you a destination for tourism and it just makes your town a happier place to live.

Just as importantly, it is home grown. We are developing young playwrights and writers who are seeing their work on the stage. In a time when manufacturing, financial services and are being beaten down through the economy and Brexit, the arts one of our few growth industries left.

 

ONE of my purest joys this month has been wild swimming in the River Frome at Farleigh Hungerford. It reminds me of swimming in the lake in Canada when I was a girl.

I can’t describe the joy of plunging into the cold water and when you get out the weather seems so much warmer. I can recommend it, as long as you don’t dwell on what might have gone into the river further upstream.