Councillor Mike Bonfield re-elected as Swanage Mayor for a new term

Having steered Swanage Town Council through one of the most difficult times in the town’s recent history due to the coronavirus pandemic, Councillor Mike Bonfield has been elected unopposed as mayor for a new term.

At the annual town council meeting on Monday 14th September 2020, which was postponed from May 2020 when we were all in lockdown, the election took place for both the mayor and deputy mayor.

Councillor Avril Harris was also re-elected unopposed as deputy mayor. They will both serve their term until the next annual meeting in May 2021.

The Mayor waves off the first train

Swanage Town Mayor, Councillor Mike Bonfield waving off the first train to depart Swanage Railway Station with passengers since lockdown

“What a time we have been through recently!”

Speaking after being re-elected, Councillor Mike Bonfield said:

“Thank you councillors for again giving me the honour of being your leader for the next seven months and also giving me your support for the last 16 months – what a time we have been through recently! It is extremely hard to know where to start.

“We are so lucky to have such a strong and committed workforce and this has been proven during the COVID crisis. I would like to mention the staff individually but this would take so long, so I’d like all the managers to pass on, not only my thanks but the thanks of all the councillors and the people of Swanage, to them all.”

He added:

“During the past few months, we have seen so many people and groups pulling together and helping the community. Far too many to name but they all know who they are and I thank them all – thank you very much everyone!”

Exterior of Swanage Town Hall

Swanage Town Hall in the High Street

The challenges faced by the council by the coronavirus crisis

The agenda for the meeting was dominated by the challenges faced by the council by the coronavirus crisis. It was reported at the meeting by councillor Gary Suttle, who is also a member of the Dorset Council Cabinet, that Dorset Council was facing at least a £5 million overspend with the possibility of a worse case scenario of £48 million, due to coronavirus.

He also said that it was estimated that unemployment would hit Dorset hard, with around 15,000 jobs lost due to the pandemic.

The town needs to change and adapt

In Swanage, the threat of the spread of coronavirus means that the town needs to change and adapt the way it has done things in the past. With the health of the population as a top priority, a number of proposals were agreed by councillors.

Firstly, events still won’t be allowed on land operated by Swanage Town Council, which includes Swanage Bandstand and Prince Albert Gardens until 1st December 2020 at the earliest, although in exceptional circumstances the council’s events working party will have discretion to possibly allow some activities to go ahead.

Sadly, in the interests of safety, this will affect the switching on of the Christmas lights in the town centre in the last week of November 2020. This year, it’s not intended to have a big event in Swanage to switch on the festive lights

Beach huts during Artisans on the Beach event

Artisans on the Beach in 2019

Christmas won’t be cancelled

However, Christmas won’t be cancelled in Swanage, as the festive icicle lights are promising to be bigger and better than last year, with two additional lamp post displays and an extra string of 50 icicles along the High Street up to the Town Hall. Generously, the Swanage Chamber of Trade has agreed to pick up the £633 bill.

Also, it’s intended that under the current government guidance, Artisans on the Beach will still go ahead from Monday 30th November 2020 to Sunday 3rd January 2021. This is when the beach huts in Shore Road turn into pop up Christmas gift shops, run by local artists and craftspeople.

However there will be new rules, including that masks will have to be worn and only one person in a hut at a time. The area outside the beach huts will be taped off and a one way system will be put in place for shoppers.

People queuing at Swanage Market

Swanage Market in June 2020

Popular Swanage Winter Market

At the meeting, it was agreed that the popular Swanage Winter Market will run from 7th November 2020 to 26th March 2021, following on from the popular summer market at the Main Beach car park. Charges for a stall will increase slightly from £230 last year to £250 for this period for each stall up to six metres and £500 for a larger stall. Charity and community groups can still have a stall for no charge.

New Swanage Town Council website

It’s the duty of the council to ensure that all of its information, especially during a crisis, is clear and easy to access. To this end, the councillors agreed to put in place a budget for a new Swanage Town Council website that would meet high accessibility standards for everyone, including those with disabilities or an impairment.

All councils, to comply with the law, need to have their plans in place for an accessible website by 23rd September 2020. It was agreed that the council’s communications strategy working party would play a role in assessing tenders and awarding the contract.

The Swanage Town Mayor, Mike Bonfield officially opens the town centre improvement works

Swanage Town Mayor, Councillor Mike Bonfield reopening Institute Road in June 2020

Swanage Town Mayor, Councillor Mike Bonfield’s acceptance speech in full

“Thank you councillors for again giving me the honour of being your leader for the next seven months and also giving me your support for the last 16 months – what a time we have been through recently! It is extremely hard to know where to start.

“We are so lucky to have such a strong and committed workforce and this has been proven during the COVID crisis. I would like to mention the staff individually but this would take so long, so I’d like all the managers to pass on, not only my thanks but the thanks of all the councillors and the people of Swanage, to them all.

“The visitor services manager, Culvin Milmer and his team at the information centre have had a very busy time, sorting beach huts, talking with all the event organisers about events that unfortunately had to be cancelled and leading a group working to reopen the town in a safe way – Culvin, thank you and your team – it’s greatly appreciated.

“Our operations team – I must start by welcoming and thanking our new operations manager, Gail Percival. Gail joined us towards the end of February and within about four weeks we entered the government lockdown.

“Gail, along with all the council officers had a trying time sorting out safe working practices. What an introduction to Swanage Town Council! Thank you Gail for the tremendous work you and the whole operations team did and always do. Again, please pass on our thanks to all the staff.

“The town hall staff under our town clerk, Martin Ayres. In my opinion, the team has all worked so hard through such a difficult time. We welcomed Emma to our team just before Christmas 2019, who has completed the team we have. Thank you all for your continued hard work for the town council.

“None of what I have said seems like enough names for the town council family and I hope we will in some time in the future get together to thank everyone in person and maybe have a sandwich or two and a glass of wine.

“I must thank my wife the mayoress, Audrey for her continued support in all that I do. I cannot close without a mention of the people of Swanage. During the past few months, we have seen so many people and groups pulling together and helping the community. Far too many to name but they all know who they are and I thank them all – thank you very much everyone!”

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