I’d like to take this opportunity, on behalf of everyone at Shepton Mallet Town Council, to wish all our residents a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

The council has had another busy year, starting off celebrating more completion of the Strawberry Line next to Collett Park. Progress on the Strawberry Line remains a silent revolution in our town; many stretches of it and the Somerset Circle are being joined up and thanks to the incredible work of volunteers from all over Somerset, we’re hopeful of joining some significant stretches to other towns in 2024.

We celebrated the Kings Coronation in Collett Park with our big screen showing of the Windsor Castle concert. We had another amazing Collett Park day, once again blessed with great weather. And recently we’ve switched on our Christmas lights with a new street market, in perfect winter cold! In between events we continue to fund many organisations, both large and small, through our grants and donations schemes, support arts and cultural events and implement physical upgrades of the town, such as the new entrance to Collett Park from Cannards Grave road.

We’ve had to do a fair bit of campaigning too; understanding the long-term plans for the Leisure Centre building (work in progress!), hosting a meeting for residents concerned about a housing shelter imposed on their neighbourhood without public consultation, and working with groups to understand the decisions taken about Shepton prison. The Town Council has no ‘jurisdiction’ or ownership over such matters but we are here to listen to all members of the community, mediate where necessary and work with whoever it takes to get the best long-term results for our town. Progress is sometimes painfully slow but only with persistence can results be delivered.

Perhaps the most rewarding moment (at least for me personally) was the launch of our new play park in Collett Park. This was the result of years of fund raising and campaigning and it’s great to see it so appreciated by the community. Visitor numbers to the park have quadrupled over the summer verses 2022. Bumps in the road (such as the arson attack on it) only strengthen Councillors resolve to invest more in our community. It’s good to see the equipment fixed and back to how it was when we launched it in March.

In 2024 and beyond the Council will continue all of the above but we now have to face into significant new challenges; broadly these can be split into two areas. Firstly, now we have spent the past few years improving the public realm it’s right we really start to focus on economic regeneration. The alleged ‘covid bounce back’ that provincial market towns were supposed to experience has been lacklustre in Shepton. We will be launching a major new initiative in the Spring to galvanise the community to help improve the economic outlook for the town. Secondly, we will have to decide what assets and services we take on from the newly formed Somerset Council as it makes decisions to alleviate its financial crisis. This will mean tough decisions on our budget; whatever we decide, we will have the long-term interests of Shepton at heart. There is no ‘silver bullet’, over-arching strategy from our MP, from Somerset Council, or anyone else; it really is up to us, the locally elected Council to deliver for the town. Do reach out to any town Councillor with your ideas; we’re all ears! All our contact details are on our website.

Whatever challenges are thrown at the town over the next twelve months, I know that our close-knit community is strongest when it remains positive and works together to achieve positive outcomes. This is my final year of being Chair and I’d like to thank all residents, Councillors and officers for their support. Although 2024 may seem daunting for many, it also provides us the opportunity to better shape our town for the future!

Matt Harrison, Chair of Shepton Mallet Town Council