The people working for Ross-on-Wye

PUBLISHED: 16:22 18 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:12 20 February 2013

The people working for Ross-on-Wye

The people working for Ross-on-Wye

Chris Poole talks to the people working to make their town a success

In Ross we trust

Chris Poole talks to the people working to make their town a success

I remember a lovely, white Shire horse called Kate. She belonged to Bill Harris who cleaned the streets of Ross with Kate pulling a cart to help him. The words of Jo (Josephine) Lane who, on 10 May this year, became the 36th Mayor of Ross-on-Wye.

Mrs Lane is by no means the first lady Mayor of Ross. The walls of the Town Council offices in the Corn Exchange building bear the names of all of the Mayors from 1974 to the present day (prior to 1974 the Town Council had a Chairman rather than a Mayor). Among them are the names of eight other women who have held the post.

Jo is truly a woman of Ross. Her father was a distinguished journalist, editing the Ross Gazette for many years. Her childhood memories of Ross, including Bill Harris and Kate, are of a busier town with all of the bustle that small market towns once had. We need to bring people back to the town, says Jo, We have so many fine shops and services and its just lovely living here. She acknowledges that while the hills give Ross much of its character they can be a hindrance to every day life. Id like to see a Park & Ride scheme operating to get people into the town centre and help those who have difficulty coping with our hills. Kate the Shire horse used to graze a meadow at Wilton which is now a car park and ideal as a base from which to explore or visit Ross. A Park & Ride scheme could operate from here.

Shopping in Ross is also much in the mind of Richard Mayo, President of the Association of Ross Traders (ART). The variety and quality of our independent traders, says Richard, gives the town its unique character and provides shoppers with that something extra. Its not difficult to see what he means when you walk around Ross. Attractive shop-fronts are everywhere you look. Bookshops (catering for both new and antiquarian tastes), kitchenware, high quality menswear, a music shop, gifts, a dress agency, art galleries, lingerie, sportswear and the list goes on. The range on offer in this appealing market town is unusual for a place so compact.
Richard Mayo himself runs Truffles a quality delicatessen just across from the Corn Exchange. It prides itself in stocking many locally made products including cheeses, ciders, snacks, beers and wines.

Communication, he says, is what our Traders Association is all about. Both with each other, to better understand our common problems and needs as retailers, and with the public on whom we rely totally for our survival.

With this in mind ART has successfully launched initiatives designed to enhance the shopping choices in Ross. A Christmas fair, improved Christmas lights, a pancake racing day, brass band performances and hanging basket displays have all helped. Richard is emphatic in his support for what ART is doing, they may seem like modest achievements but they have all contributed to bringing people into the town and to making it better for them. Our aim is to refresh and invigorate Ross.

When she took over as Mayor, Jo Lane succeeded Councillor John Edwards. With a career in journalism behind him, John and his wife Sue moved to Ross 20 years ago. We so much enjoy living here he says and, although it sounds a bit corny, I really did want to put something back into the community. His background equipped him well for the role of Mayor. He explains: It isnt just a ceremonial position in a fancy costume. There was a real need to communicate with the people of the town. There are many things that are beyond the remit of a Town Council; some are the responsibility of the County Council or even central government. Often these distinctions are not understood. Weve found that newsletters and regular newspaper columns help to give people information on who we are and what were doing with their money.
Many credit John Edwards with the initiative that started the Traders Association. He talks, modestly, of his role in this: It all started with a shopkeeper in Broad Street commenting on the lack of floral displays in the town. Id seen the effort that Usk puts into brightening up its shopping areas and reckoned we could do it at least as well. And so ART was born and has thrived with, as John Edwards puts it, much more confidence among our shopkeepers even though we arent out of the economic woods yet. The shops and our strong tourism business go hand-in-hand.

One organisation that hopes, one day, to have an impact on shopping in Ross operates from a small industrial unit on the edge of town. It is, surprisingly for a land-locked county, the Marine Conservation Society dedicated to improving the quality of our coasts and waters. Our work, says Director Sam Fanshawe is all aspects of marine conservation both in this country and internationally. The charity was founded 25 years ago by Bob Earll in his garden shed at Kempley. Weve been in this area ever since. And one of the key issues in marine conservation is a massive reduction in the use of plastic bags, which eventually end up spoiling our coastal waters. Weve done some work on this in Ross but need to do more with the retailing community, adds Sam.

When Jo Lane took on the Mayoral duties in May, the red cloak and chains of office were handed over but, this time, with one exception. The hats are different for men and women Mayors, she explains with a smile, for a woman its a tricorn, for a man its a bicorn. But as a woman called Josephine Im relieved that I wont have to wear the rather Napoleonic bicorn.

Ross, then, need not fear Imperial rule and can look forward under Mayor Lane to another period of civic support and improvement.

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