Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Is it fate or obsession?

I SPENT an enjoyable few hours in the company of Axminster councillor Mervyn Symes and his partner Jackie on Friday of last week when he was eager to learn about all the changes at Pulman’s View.

We were attending the Lyme Regis civic night where Mervyn is a regular attender, not as a civic guest but as a ticket-paying member of the public.

It’s always a pleasant evening and Mervyn, whom I’ve known for many years, usually brings me up to date with all the gossip from over the Devon border.

Merv expressed the view that my appointment as managing director of the  company which publishes the Pulman’s View  series in East Devon means I am back where fate intended.

Merv is acutely aware that I spent a part of my early career working the Axminster and Lyme patch for Pulman’s Weekly News and he offered the view that this was where my heart belonged.

It is true that I look back on my time as a district reporter for Pulman’s Weekly News with great affection and I have often been accused of being ‘obsessed” with the title.

It is also true that I once tried to buy Pulman’s when it was owned by Bristol United Press but I was beaten to it by Sir Ray Tindle, the owner of Tindle Newspapers Limited, the biggest publisher of independently owned newspaper in the UK and a passionate champion of the local press.

Sir Ray’s involvement undoubtedly saved one of Devon’s oldest newspapers  and his ultimate acquisition of the View From titles launched in East Devon has protected many jobs in one of the the most difficult financial climates for local newspapers.

Now all the View From titles in Devon and Dorset are back under one ownership and one publishing centre and I am, of course, delighted that I am back running a group of newspapers that includes Pulman’s in its stable.

With more than 200 local newspapers under his control, Sir Ray has never faltered in his  belief that truly local newspapers will always survive.

With that aim in mind we have brought together two talented and committed sets of staff in Axminster and Lyme Regis and have given the Pulman’s View series in East Devon a fresh look with increased local content and more features plus a new edition for Sidmouth.

The Weekenders in East Devon have had to make way for the enlarged stable  of View From papers, but they will continue to be published in South Somerset where they are very popular.

The combined group of Pulman’s View in East Devon and West Dorset, and The Weekenders in South Somerset, now has 15 titles with a weekly distribution of more than 46,000 copies, which makes it a significant player in the West Country newspaper scene.

Merv and I also discussed the lack of any real cross-border rapport between Axminster and Lyme, sharing the view that there should be more contact between the councils in both towns. 

Although separated by the county border, the two towns have much more in common than, say, Lyme and some of its West Dorset neighbours who were represented at the civic night, particularly Portland.

I also think it’s a shame that Axminster does not hold a similar civic function. 

I know Graham Godbeer considered doing so a few years ago when he was the Mayor of Axminster but for one reason or another it didnot reach fruition.

These are not junkets for councillors. The Lyme civic night is self financing through ticket sales so there is no burden on the council taxpayers.

Axminster has a great deal of which to be proud and such civic functions provide the ideal opportunity to beat the drum.

Spruce-up the Guildhall

BACK in August, having spent a few days in Normandy, I wrote about how splendid the town hall at Axminser’s twin town, Douvre de Deliverande, looked and then compared it with the tatty exterior of Axminster Guildhall.

I suggested that a few flower tubs or baskets would do the trick and that a coat of paint on the front door wouldn’t go amiss.

Similar views were strongly expressed at the recent annual town meeting so hopefully the penny will drop.

Axminster Guildhall is one of the best public halls in East Devon. It’s scruffy exterior does the town a disservice and it is hoped that town councillors, through the Guildhall Management Committee, will take the criticism from the public on board and do something about it. 

PLANS to build a community centre in Honiton have split the town assunder in recent years. The argument has raged over siting, design and the cost.

But planning permission has now been granted and the fundraising launched at a special ceremony on Saturday.

There is no doubt that Honiton deserves and needs better community facilities so now is the time to kick past disagreements into touch and for all groups to work together in making the proposed Beehive Centre a stinging success.

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