We need to work together. That was the message from all quarters at a well-attended annual general meeting of Marlborough Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, June 16.
Following a tough year for the traders, the Chamber elected its first president from the retail community in over half a decade.
Paul Shimell, a Specsavers franchise holder, set up his High Street business last year and quickly cemented his reputation in the local business world, being nominated as a finalist in the Marlborough New Business of the Year competition the same year.
Mr Shimell (pictured above left) said all businesses, especially retailers, needed to work together to attract people back to the town.
“The roadworks – especially the closure of the Pewsey Road bridge – have led business to drop. The streets have been quiet. It has been rough, and we’re going to have a tough time this year too.
“I want to bring Marlborough together; to create more of an atmosphere and get people into the town. To do this we need to bring more people, especially retailers, into the chamber. We need to put Marlborough back on the map.
“I want to encourage people to use local businesses, and encourage local businesses to use each other.”
Mr Shimell conveyed his thanks to Chris Birkett, the owner of Ducklings toyshop, who had championed the case of the retail community through successive roadworks projects before falling ill with cancer and putting his business up for sale.
His call for co-operation were echoed by guest speaker Robert Hiscox, chairman of Hiscox Insurance and newly-invested High Sheriff of Wiltshire.
Mr Hiscox (right) admitted that despite 46 years in business he was attending his first Chamber of Commerce meeting.
“Marlborough is an incredibly attractive town; we must work together to get things done. We want to attract people here,” he said.
And he had some rare words of support for the beleaguered chief executive of Wiltshire Council, Andrew Kerr, who was forced to decline a £6,000 pay rise – which would have brought his salary to £189,000 – after a public outcry.
“I’ve led the typical businessman’s life – rushing to London. Being high sheriff has given me the opportunity to see the county in which I live,” said Mr Hiscox.
“I’ve seen especially how local government works. Business is easy; I’ve had good fun building a business. Councils and politicians have to do all that we don’t want to do. The chief executive of Wiltshire Council has a much more difficult job than most people running a £300 million business.”
There was also a call for co-operation from town councillors Richard Pitts and Guy Loosmore, who represent Marlborough Town Council on the chamber committee.
Cllr Pitts (left) said: “Marlborough Town Council is a £400,000 business with a property portfolio turning over £100,000 a year. This year, we have managed a neutral council tax precept thanks to careful management.
“We too want to bring the town forward. That’s why we are putting so much investment into the town hall.
“It will help to support businesses and create a community environment. We will be hosting more community and business events. I hope the council will support everything the chamber wants to do.”
Councillor Loosmore was keen to show off the fruits of that £1 million investment, which included a new sound system and rear projection cinema screen, smart new steps at the front of the building, and better access for people with mobility issues.
“We are trying to make modern technology work in an old building; to make this building come alive again,” he said.
“With the new equipment, the town hall can be used for business conferences and training.
“We will be showing films and live feeds via satellite from events like Wimbledon and the Olympics and we are talking about a film festival, and we are working with hotels and restaurants to offer meal deals.”
The AGM returned its current committee with the exception of Debbie Cooper, from Lloyd’s Bank, and Peter Berridge, of Wessex Print Centre, both of whom stepped down after many years service.
Rachel Atkins of David Owen accountants was elected treasurer and retiring president Victoria Lara, who could not be at the meeting due to ill health, was thanked by Rob Collins of Withy King solicitors, who chaired the meeting in her stead.
A discussion about the future of Marlborough’s Christmas lights display can be read here.