Winsham Parish Council was one of the first to be formed following Gladstone's Local Government Act in 1894. More than one hundred and twenty years later, the council still meets in the same venue, and continues to steer the parish in a direction considered most likely to be of benefit for the people of the parish.
The years since the start of the new millennium have been ones of great change. The root of these changes, it can be argued, lies with the advent of the digital revolution, and its ability for the speedy recording, manipulation and transfer of large volumes of information including statistical data. This, linked to growth of the Internet, with something like 75% all households in the UK having a broadband connection, has created a situation where access to great deal of detail relating to governance , both local and central, is available to most.
Successive governments have encouraged this ease of access. A consequence is that all levels of Government are required to be more transparent in the way that business is conducted. This is not to suggest that previously government business was not carried in a straight forward manner, it just means that the process is capable of being more carefully observed!
With this has come, perhaps, a more objective approach to the way that decisions are made. Certainly closer scrutiny by those who are interested is much easier. It has now become a statutory requirement for all parish councils to publish a great deal of detailed information about its operation. To meet this requirement Winsham Parish Council has produced its own website. Previously, minutes of meetings and information about the parish council activities were published on the Winsham Parish Web Site. Archived Minutes will continue to be kept on this web site.
In practical terms, it has become essential for Winsham Parish Council, to have a fully trained Parish Clerk, who carries a great deal of responsibility for the legal activities of the parish council.
It has also been necessary for a permanent parish office to be set up, located in the Jubilee Hall, to provide a base for the parish clerk, and secure storage of important documents. It is also a venue for small meetings, and a place where councillors can meet Winsham residents for consultation and discussions. It is also able to make good use of the Jubilee Hall's broadband connection, now essential for the conduct of parish council business.
The new style of parish council also places greater pressures on the time of councillors, who receive no remuneration for their services. It also places an extra burden in terms of responsibility and time on the chairman of the council.
In the summer of 2013, the Winsham Parish Council, under the chairmanship of John Chance, took the decision, for a variety of reasons, to proceed with the drafting of a Parish Plan. This would seek, after consultation with the residents of Winsham, to plot a course that would guide Parish Council thinking over the years ahead, and hopefully give the village some protection against speculative development, not considered to be in the best interests of the parish overall.
Although specialist organisations existed to undertake this type of project, it was felt that sufficient expertise existed within the Parish Council, and considerable amounts of money could be saved by undertaking the work itself.
The first step was to undertake a major survey of parish opinion. A small sub-committee, comprising of Councillors Nathan Mode, Trish Baxter and John Sullivan, was tasked at the July 2013 meeting with drawing up a draft questionnaire, devising a secure system for distribution to every household within the parish, their collection after completion, and progression to the point where the information gathered could be considered by the parish council.
At the next meeting, in September 2013, the sub-committee's proposals were accepted, and in the two months that followed, the proposals were fully implemented.
Distribution of the questionnaires by a group of volunteers commenced on the 7th October. Respondents were encouraged to complete the questionnaire on line, verifying their identity using their individual identification codes included in the pack that was delivered to their home. Residents who did not have Internet access could return competed copies of their questionnaire in a specially provided sealed envelope to the Winsham Shop.
The closing date for return of questionnaires was the end of October. At that point, another team of volunteers digitalised the information from the hard copies, for integration with the information entered on-line from the other respondents. All information posted was kept secure, and individual responses would not be identified.
The level of response was 60%, at the top end of the projected response, which was considered by experts to be high for a voluntary response survey. The whole event was heavily publicised on the Parish Web Site, and in the Joint Parish Magazine and the e-letter prior to and during the survey period.
The results of the survey were distributed to parish councillors in December,2013, and at the February meeting it was agreed that the sub-committee that had produced the survey, should progress with the drafting of the Parish Plan, under the leadership of Nathan Mode. As part of this interpretation of the data, it was proposed to hold focus groups to clarify certain issues relating to younger members of the community.
The resulting Parish Plan was unanimously approved at the parish council meeting held on the 30th July 2014.
On May 14th, Winsham held it's first Moot for a thousand years! Acknowledging Winsham's Saxon roots, it was used to invigorate the Annual Parish Meeting, which the Parish Council has an obligation to hold. Some seventy residents turned up to enjoy a glass of wine and see presentations from Winsham Parish Council, Winsham Shop and Post-Office, and Winsham School and Pre-School. In addition, they saw a video slide presentation featuring all the village resources, organisations and interest groups.
The event lasted longer than anticipated, stretching to two hours, but that didn't seem to bother anyone. Time was allocated to questions and answers.
It was also the first event run by the new Parish Council Chairman, Bryan Goodman.