Expenses finally completed – my life can resume

This evening I completely finished the whole pile of washing up for what seems like the first time in months. That’s because the election only finished for me today with the delivery of our expenses return to Calderdale Electoral Services.

As agent for our general election candidate Hilary Myers this year, my main role was to support Hilary and ensure that she didn’t break any of the rules during the campaign. I also ended up writing and artworking a load of her literature, and liaising with local branches – but the biggest job was always going to be the declaration of expenses.

The situation was extremely complicated this year because local and general elections were held on the same day. Therefore any piece of literature which mentioned candidates for both elections had to be split between the appropriate expenses returns.

I had to declare every leaflet, advertisement, poster, etc. since 1 January. I have therefore spent the weeks since the election trying to gather together all relevant invoices, ensuring that they had been paid, and generally tearing my hair out communicating with the agents and candidates for the nine local election wards which make up Calder Valley constituency.

Both general election returns (for the ‘long’ and ‘short’ campaigns) added up to a shade over £8000, and twenty-nine invoices were submitted, the most complicated of which had to be split between six different election expense returns (five local wards, plus the general election). For those interested in the minutiae, the whole shebang will be available for inspection in Halifax from 18 June.

The expenses were covered by donations from various people, some of whom were extremely generous. My thanks to them. Oh yes, and I did it all for free. We start thinking about next year’s elections… at a meeting on Sunday. No rest for the wicked, as my grandfather used to say.

I did manage to have a bit of time off, spending two days in the Lake District over the bank holiday, spookily driving almost exactly the same route (except Whitehaven) as the bloke who shot all those people two days later. I remember driving through his village, although of course I didn’t know it at the time. It feels similar to being back home in Liverpool hearing about 9/11 as I’d been in New York the week before.

Also, I entertained a couple of young German visitors last weekend from Warstein, our twin town in Germany. We had a great time with organised activities such as a concert in Heptonstall, and unorganised activities such as an ad-hoc tour of Manchester which I took them on. That ranged from the Arndale Centre (including the Apple Store to play with an iPad) to Piccadilly Gardens, Affleck’s Palace (that was an eye opener for them!), China Town and the Town Hall. I enjoyed having them to stay and I think they enjoyed it too. Their English was excellent but it has inspired me to try and pick up my German again, last learned at school 1993-1995, now mostly forgotten. It would be nice to have a conversation of some sort in their native language next time we meet.

2010: A great year for Hebden Bridge

Chris at the bridge

As 2010 begins, I am looking forward to a great year for Hebden Bridge for many reasons, but two in particular, both of which involve Hebden Royd Town Council.

Firstly, it is the 500th anniversary of the bridge from which the town takes its name. Well, approximately. The bridge was built in c.1510, so we’re having our celebrations this year. It replaced an earlier wooden bridge and has been repaired several times since. If you’re visiting, look out for three carved stones which mark the repairs. The Victorians raised the parapet (an early example of health and safety?) but apart from that it has remained largely unchanged.

Hebden Royd Town Council convened a working party, which has subsequently morphed into a committee comprising Councillors, including myself, and many other key people from the town. We are working to improve the bridge’s environment, including reducing the size of some of the self-seeded trees in the river, improvements to Old Gate, and flags and banners – very sensitively designed – to be installed for a limited period later in the year.

Of course, many local people and organisations are organising events this year. Either special events to commemorate the anniversary, or regular annual events with a special 2010 theme. The committee has done its best to co-ordinate events so that, for example, a children’s choir doesn’t try to sing from the bridge at the same time as a civil war re-enactment takes place. The calendar is kept up-to-date at the Hebden Bridge 500 website. Hebden Royd Town Council is organising several events itself, notably those involving the visitors from our twin towns of St. Pol (France) and Warstein (Germany), as well as a special commemoration event on 20 June which will be… Well, let’s just say it will certainly involve a surprise or two.

The other exciting event which is happening this year is the transfer of the town hall in Hebden Bridge from Calderdale Council’s ownership to a local community-based organisation formed to take over its management. Prior to 1974, the town hall was owned by Hebden Royd Urban District council. It then passed into Calderdale’s hands, and has been allowed to slowly deteriorate ever since. Hebden Royd Town Council is the main tenant, with offices as well as regular use of the council chamber and meeting rooms. However, several surrounding parishes also meet there, Calderdale have some offices, there is a small business in an attic room, and Hebden Bridge Youth Theatre/Light Opera use the upstairs hall at the back.

There were two applications for the asset transfer process – Hebden Bridge Community Association applied to take over the whole site, and the Youth Theatre/Light Opera put in their own bid for the rear part only. Fortunately the community application won through, and is one of the first asset transfers of this type to be approved in the country. I know the trustees will work hard with all existing tenants in their exciting plans to refurbish the existing building, and ultimately expansion into the neighbouring car park. As part of this, an Audit of Internal Architectural Historical Characteristics [PDF] was carried out of all the nooks and crannies of the place. It’s a fascinating read for architecture fanatics like myself. Spot the reference to the wonderful first floor Victorian gents which has survived.

Hebden Royd Town Council recently became a member of the community association – a little on the late side, I felt, but better late than never. I have personally been a member since the association was launched.

So, to summarise, it’s a great year to visit, and for two of the town’s best known landmarks. Come and see what’s happening – although probably best wait until all the snow and ice has melted first!

Edit 8 January 2010: Removed an incorrect statement about HRTC paying rent to the Community Association for use of the building. Janet Battye has pointed out that as part of the asset transfer, Calderdale Council have agreed to pay the rent due for parish councils.