I was elected Mayor in May 2019. I felt it was important not just give a report for the last year but put it into context of celebration of 4 years as this Council has been through a rollercoaster of difficult times of service cuts by IW Council and National Government, transformation, re-organisation, Covid19, 2021 elections, the sad death of a monarch, crowning of a new one, two by-elections, and cost-of-living crisis. It has not only survived it has grown, become more efficient, become a quality provider of services, created jobs and opportunities. It has become an enabling and facilitating Council working together with the stakeholders of the Town. It has an identity, a logo and vehicles, and importantly has presence.
Ryde Town Council is directly and indirectly now supporting residents from ages 0 to 100 plus whether through community grants to providing direct services. Ryde Town Council has supported Ryde Aspire for many years and together with Ryde Aspire funded the Ryde Community Connector programme when it was cut by IW Council and this purposeful act led to Ryde Aspire not only joining forces with other voluntary sector organisations across the Island to deliver support for residents through Covid19 but has directly led to Ryde Aspire successfully wining the Island-wide Living Well Contract in 2022 that provides care for the most vulnerable and elderly. Back in 2018, Ryde Town Council reacted when IW Council cut youth services across the Island and established a bespoke youth service, Network Ryde that has gone on to win awards, run a kick start employment programme creating jobs for young people in the Town and successfully in 2023 gaining funding from the Youth Investment Fund for a new innovation youth and community centre at St. Thomas’s Church.
“A resident thanked RTC as a working single parent for supporting her three children by accessing them to opportunities that enable them to develop their potential through Network Ryde, enabled her to work in the hospitality sector in the Town which was growing due to RTC investing in events and facilities that made the Town more attractive for visitors.”
It is not about buildings, it is about the people:
There is now a movement in the Town to bring back derelict, empty and underused buildings for the people by the people. This may be a former printer’s building in Monkton being turned into a lively cultural centre by local social entrepreneurs, bringing back Appley Tower back into community use so people can enter it and see views across the Solent from the turrets, creative and social businesses reopening an empty department store into a new arts centre or young people taking over the first church in Ryde and turning into a youth and community centre. There is a cultural revolution quietly going on in the Town and it is people reclaiming it. This community action has been facilitated, encouraged and supported by an inspired Ryde Town Council through the following actions:
Staff Team – Transformation and reorganisation of Ryde Town Council and appointment of a new Town Clerk/Chief Executive and Responsible Finance Officer. New appointments and staff restructure including the roles of Youth Service Manager, Business and Community Development officers. Staff having the relevant qualifications for Ryde to become what is termed by the NALC (National Association of Local Councils) as a super league Town and Parish Council. In 2021, RTC Town Clerk was presented with the Best New Clerk award by the National Association of Local Councils. Ryde Town Council is actively taking over services by IW Council more cost effectively and efficiently.
Councillors – Establishment of a movement to encourage new councillors and diversify the council and ensure as many council seats were elected in the Town and no seats co-opted by the 2021 election. Fourteen seats were contested by election with two unopposed. We have had two by-elections with no co-options. We have strong democracy alive in Ryde. Councillors and RTC staff Team now work collectively as a team so there is strategic and operational delivery of service with clear outcomes.
Plans – Establishment and implementation of a Ryde Place Plan with IW Council and a Corporate Plan 2020-25. We have delivered on that plan. Prior to 2019, RTC did not have a strategic plan.
Financial Management – Enable the Council to build a future financial model that is not reliant on the annual precept/tax of Ryde residents but one that also generates income, maximises grant income for projects, move council from renting property to ownership of assets, delivering services in-house to reduce costs, employ skilled staff to reduce outside procurement costs, efficiency savings and strategic borrowing for investment in new facilities and services.
Service Delivery from Toilets to Allotments, Deck-Chairs to Hosting Banks – Ryde Town Council has moved from a minor provider of services in Ryde to a significant provider. It is investing in Island assets that declined under IW Council management, improving and maintaining them, and bringing them back to improve residents and visitors experience of the Town. This in turn increases the economy of Ryde. The biggest symbolic act by Ryde Town Council was the purchase for £1 the harbour rebranded as the Marina and putting deckchairs on the beach. RTC is generating income and creating local jobs which will reinvested in the Town. Young people in the Town working on our beaches whether through being lifeguards or deck-chair attending provides life-skills to step onto future opportunities. One young former lifeguard is now finishing his accountancy qualifications with KMPG.
Partnerships and Collaboration – RTC’s Place Plan calls for the council to build collaboration and partnerships with key stakeholders in the Town through Memorandum of Understandings. One key aspect has been to strengthen relationships with Portsmouth and RTC now has a three way MOU with University of Portsmouth and Hovertravel. This provides opportunities for Ryde residents and enables RTC to tap into expertise. RTC is working now on a Ryde Water Charter with Southern Water, meeting regularly with Officers of IW Council, and developing partnerships with major organisations in the Town such as Ryde School.
Young People and Network Ryde – young people and the next generation of Ryde residents are at the centre of RTC’s mission and Ryde is the only local area on the Island that has a bespoke award winning youth service through Network Ryde. Over the last 4 years, Network Ryde has grown and now has won major investment through the Government’s Youth Investment Fund to renovate and develop St. Thomas’s Church into Town Centre innovation youth and community centre. Through Covid19, Network Ryde managed a youth kick-start employment programme that enabled young people to get jobs.
Ryde Marina, Historic High Streets, Esplanade, Beaches and Interchange – RTC is collaborating with IW Council and other stakeholders on major improvements to the Town that will improve the infrastructure of Ryde High and Union Streets and Esplanade. This is a major part of economic growth in the Town which will increase visitor numbers and encourage businesses to the Town and create Jobs. Ryde Marina has been transformed and in 2023/24, will see the fruits of labour by a skilled beach and marina business operations team.
Community Response Forum and Warm Spaces – In March 2020, a community response forum was launched to support residents through Covid19 lockdowns. It brought the voluntary and public sector in the Town together to share resources and help the most vulnerable in the Town. In the last year, the forum has expanded and now focuses on supporting residents through the Cost of Living crisis by providing warm places and support. Ryde Library has become the centre of support in the Town with outreach provided by a range of voluntary sector providers throughout the Town. Ryde Town Council funded a community connector role in partnership with Ryde Aspire when IW Council cut its Community Connector services and now funds directly a community development worker with RTC who is developing the forum. 100s of residents are getting improved support and help daily. As Mayor I have continued my campaign against poverty in the Town and have raised the issue every year as Mayor and raised about £2000 per year since 2016 for local food projects including Ryde Food Bank, Ryde Aspire, Oakvale Food Share and Oakfield Community Pantry.
Ryde Community Development (Charitable) Trust and a strong community and voluntary Sector – RTC has worked on a financial strategy for the Town that maximises investment in the Town and tackles poverty. Ryde includes the three poorest wards on the Isle of Wight which are in the top 10% poorest wards in England/UK. The new RCD Trust will work alongside RTC to raise funds to support social initiatives and projects that improve opportunities in the Town.
Reviving, Restoration, and Realignment of Heritage – The Department on Cross Street that will be an Arts and Leisure Centre with £2.5M of funding from the Arts Council. The restoration and revitalisation of Appley Tower through a grant from Heritage Lottery .This project has taken about 6 years in the making and I was overjoyed to launch the start of work at the beginning of April 2023. The project is being led by local charity, Natural Enterprise. St. Thomas’s Church and Network Ryde – Work has now started on renovating and restoring St. Thomas’s Church into a youth and community centre with funding of £600,000 from Youth Investment Fund. Work is feverously being undertaken quietly behind the scenes to bring the Town Hall and Theatre back into community ownership and for Vectis Hall to be brought back into community use. These people heritage projects take time but RTC has now the foundations, increasing skills and partnerships to ensure delivery. The tortoise won the race not the hare and Ryde is now a very motivated and steady moving tortoise.
Programme of Events – 2022 saw the full return of Ryde’s Full Programme of events and 2023 sees this programme of exciting events expanding including several new ones as well long-term existing ones such as Ryde Carnival, Mardi Gras, Classic Car Extravaganza, Beach Sports Festival, Ryde Rowing Regatta and IW Pride. New ones include South Island Sevens which is a multi-sports event on Ryde beaches and at Ryde School and Armed Forces Day. The recent Channel 5 film highlighted a range of events held in Ryde.
Community and Town Resilience and Greening for the Future – Over the last 4 years, Ryde Town Council has transformed its mission from a minor deliverer of additional services in Ryde to being a principal provider that provides a stronger platform for Ryde residents to influence and mould the Town to be a great place to live and work in. It now has a team of staff and councillors and collaborative partnerships that attracts investment, enables local organisations and businesses to grow, and has strong resilience for the future to survive and prosper to combat the realities of the world we live in now such as pandemics and cost-of-living crisis. The biosphere, environment, green and blue spaces in the Town and this needs to become a stronger focus for the Town Council.