In the pod this month is Bridport Mayor Cllr Ian Bark, who reflects on his time so far in the role and his hopes for the year ahead…
The Bridge: You’re now in your third term as Mayor of Bridport. What events stand out as highlights of your tenure?
Ian Bark: Becoming Mayor of Bridport in May 2020 during the first Covid lockdown was a baptism of fire. It was simply not possible to carry out the role in the same way as my predecessors and I had to consider how I could support the people of the town and promote it more widely. The internet was to become a powerful ally and allowed me to reach and interact with even more people than previous mayors. I was even elected and sworn in via Zoom.
Writing the weekly Mayor’s Blog – in which I report on events I’ve attended, support local businesses and groups, and try to discuss local issues in an even-handed manner – is, I hope, something future mayors will continue. I have been amazed by how many people read it and send me feedback and information. I was even contacted by a lady in Australia following a piece about Agnes Suttill, Bridport’s first woman town councillor.
As Mayor, I represent the town and its council at civic and ceremonial events and functions and community activities. It’s a responsibility I take extremely seriously and it has allowed me to visit some amazing places and meet some fascinating people. For instance, I sat beside and chatted to Chris Patten in the Electric Palace during last year’s Bridport Literary Festival. He was very easy to talk to.
I also found myself, in full mayoral regalia, standing in Bucky Doo Square delivering the Form of Proclamation for Proclaiming the New Sovereign of the United Kingdom. This hadn’t been done for more than 70 years!
When I became Mayor I set Bridport the challenge of achieving Plastic Free Town status, and 18 months later I stood in Bucky Doo Square to declare that we had achieved it. The ‘Plastic Free’ team worked really hard, and continue to do so, encouraging businesses, schools and community groups to remove at least three items of single-use plastic from their operation. The reality is that everyone who took part did much more than the minimum and I’m so proud of what they achieved.
And I visited the Hollis Mead dairy farm to find out first-hand about how they manage their herd and the positive impact it’s having on the environment. Joining in with the milking at 6.30am, followed by a walk through the wild flower meadows buzzing with insect life, and listening to skylarks overhead, was a magical experience.
TB: What do you think the way Bridport dealt with the Covid pandemic says about the town?
IB: The pandemic had a major impact on all our lives and the first lockdown was particularly frightening. It was also a time that brought out the best in people; neighbours looked out for each other, and the high street businesses that were allowed to remain open went that extra mile and adapted their operations to serve us better. Technology and the internet again played a significant role, and some local businesses quickly established an online presence so customers could make orders remotely for collection or delivery – something that has continued.
When the vaccine became available, our health centre rose to the challenge. With the support of Bridport Town Council and an army of volunteers, they achieved some of the highest vaccination rates in the UK.
TB: As we enter a new year, what are the biggest issues facing people in Bridport?
IB: Bridport isn’t immune from the issues facing people across the country and indeed across the globe. The war in Ukraine, the cost of living and energy, climate change – these will all continue to impact on the people of Bridport during 2023, and as far as climate change is concerned, for decades to come.
The cost of living and energy will undoubtedly be at the forefront of many minds this year. Bridport is regularly portrayed as one of the best places to live in the country, and it is. But the town also has one the highest levels of social deprivation and poverty in Dorset and has one area that falls in the top 20% nationally for deprivation. As a trustee of the Cupboard Love food bank, I am very aware that numbers using it are increasing, and we are looking to open a new evening session for those in work but struggling to make ends meet.
As a town councillor, I find it extremely frustrating when the support we give to people wishing to improve their homes by installing double glazing and solar PV panels is rejected by a planning system that is no longer fit for purpose.
TB: What are your hopes for 2023 – both personally and for the town?
IB: My glass is always half full and I believe I have a positive outlook on life. Despite all the negativity we hear, see and read about every day, I am a firm believer that people are fundamentally good and that, in time, good will always come out on top.
With that in mind, I hope that on the global stage in 2023 we see an end to the war in Ukraine and also see politicians putting climate change and the environment first and foremost when making policy decisions.
Here in Dorset, and in Bridport in particular, the decisions we make when choosing what to buy will have a profound impact on the survival of our high street shops. Think ethical, think local and shop local are key to achieving a sustainable future.
TB: You’ve lived all over the country and moved here on retirement 10 years ago. What drew you to Bridport?
IB: I was born in 1953 and grew up on a farm in Nottinghamshire, was a student in Norwich, and spent my working life in Wadebridge, Bodmin, Milton Keynes and Newport Pagnell. For several years before we retired, my wife and I had been visiting our youngest daughter, who lived in Blandford Forum and now Dorchester, and came to appreciate what a lovely area West Dorset and Bridport in particular is.
When I retired in 2013, we decided to move to a new area and start afresh. And so we ended up in Bridport with a clean sheet of paper and an open mind, keen to explore. The rest is history, as they say.
TB: You’re a keen gardener and we know you enjoy tending your allotment. Apart from a crop of fruit and vegetables, what does gardening add to your life?
IB: Throughout my life I have enjoyed gardening and growing my own vegetables. The things you grow yourself always taste better, nothing beats fresh from the plot, and eating seasonally means you look forward to and really appreciate different crops as they become available.
I am most happy when I’m in my small garden, on my allotment or walking through the countryside. I can become totally absorbed by the simplest of tasks, transfixed by the sound of a bird or the wind rustling through the trees. You can take the boy out of the farm but you can’t take the farm out of the boy. I guess I am still a country boy at heart.