Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Speech to Uncle Dennis's Funeral 23.01.17

Earlier this month, about a week or so after Dennis had passed away, New Years Honours were awarded; MBEs for sports stars, knighthoods for celebrities, there were also many ordinary people up and down the Country that received recognition for what they had done for others. Uncle Dennis never received an award as such, but we all know he was the sort of guy who surely deserved one for he was very much a person who would help out absolutely anyone and over many, many years has no doubt done something for probably the vast majority of people in Church today.

One very practical way that Dennis helped others was making available space in his house for people to live when there was a need. My sister Michelle, her friend Nayna, Cousin Lee and my brother Mark have all at times lived at Dennis’s house. When I was 21, I found myself in a difficult situation with nowhere particular to live, it was Uncle Dennis that offered me a place to stay. I didn’t know Dennis particularly well at that point but it was over that 2 and a half years that I lived there that I really came to understand what he was all about. Uncle Dennis was a very quiet, very humble man who went about his life. He worked nights at TNT so as I would often be coming home from work or a night out with friends, Dennis would be getting up for work. I’d be just about getting ready to go to sleep on a cold night and would say to Dennis how I didn’t envy him going out to work throughout the night in the cold. Other than the usual Dennis grumbles which we all knew and loved, he didn’t particularly moan – he just got on with it – that was very much his way. With his simple cheese sandwhich in a plastic food bag and perhaps a tomato to take to. He never really ate very much. In fact, he had a fairly rigourous routine – you could guarantee that at any time of the year, on any particular day you could open his fridge or a cupboard and find the same items – Bread, Cheese, Tomatoes of course a bottle of Whiskey somewhere in a cupboard and of course a Fray Bentos pie.

Living at Uncle Dennis’s for the time I did allowed me to save up for my first house. And once I had got enough money together I was able to move out. Dennis wasn’t done then of course with helping, he was a regular fixture coming round helping with maintenance work and other errands. Particularly so when Dad had his stroke and became Chief Foreman with Dennis ably filling the role of Apprentice.

Dennis was also full of surprises, I remember when he was taken into Addenbrokes for an operation and had to be kept in for a few days. I remember thinking that this wouldn’t be easy for him – out of his routine and no doubt in a ward full of people he didn’t know which may be uncomfortable for him. I made a point of visiting to check that he was OK and rather than finding him sat in a corner alone, he was leading a deep discussion with the other guys on the ward about cars. Dennis had found his audience and I think he was actually a bit sad when it was time to come home.

Even when I was ready to move out of my first house at Elm Road after a few years to my next house, it was Uncle Dennis who was there lending a hand. The week I had to move was frantic for me and I was working in Cambridge full time for a month leading up to the move. So every night I’d box up items to be moved and at some point the following day Dennis would turn up to pick up the items and take to his house for storage so that when the day of the move came things would be less stressful. Even once I had moved, Dennis would turn up to cut my grass when it needed doing – I had my own lawn mower, but he didn’t like it of course so brought his own along to get the job done. One particular day Mum and Dad were visiting and we spotted Dennis was in the garden cutting the grass so I quickly made him a cup of tea and went to take it down to him – by the time I’d got there he’d cut the grass and gone – no hanging around to wait for thank-yous. Off he went to get on with something else – that was is way.

I always wondered if Dennis was happy, he seemed content and he never particularly complained about anything so I guess he was – I certainly hope he was.

Since my Dad had his stroke he’s become a much more sociable person – sometimes frankly we can’t get him to stop talking or using the telephone – as I am sure many of you can now appreciate. And whilst of course we would all have wished it never had happened it has been so nice to see over recent years to see the time that Dennis and Dad have been able to spend with each other. Uncle Richard too has become a prominent member of the gang, particularly since Aunty Yvonne sadly passed away. Trevor, Dennis and Richard – a trio of likely suspects if ever there was one. But the fun that they had together was plain to see and always made me smile. I was genuinely concerned on occasions that they were laughing so hard they may cause themselves an injury. One such occasion was no doubt last Halloween when we decorated Mum and Dads house ready for trick or treaters but it was Dad and Uncle Richard who dressed up in costume and laid in the front garden in wait having already telephoned Uncle Dennis asking him to pop up. Once Dennis has been suitably scared, he got his own mask and took up a spot in the front garden.

Dennis didn’t have many hobbies as such but something he did enjoy doing was visiting Car Boot Sales – not content with visiting a morning bootsale he would often visit an afternoon one at a different location on the same day. Despite no doubt dozens and dozens of bootsale trips Dennis would rarely buy anything at all – I can’t actually remember anything he did buy but he no doubt got enjoyment from just visiting them.

When Dennis passed, I was asked if I wanted to visit at the Funeral Parlour – I decided not to. Every time I think of Uncle Dennis now I remember him on the night we all went out to celebrate his birthday at a local restaurant. Dennis was smiling and he was happy – nothing too extravagant but a night out with family and something to eat was good enough for him. The photo on the front of the service sheet today is Dennis on that night.

So, no award as such for Uncle Dennis, but neveretheless, a man that gave so much time to helping others for little or no reward. But someone that will be sadly missed and someone that will live on through others, others that will remember a man that was quiet and humble, someone that got on with their life and helped others when he could, a role model of sorts in world when those qualities are not always plain to see.

Thank-you Uncle Dennis on behalf of everyone you have ever done something for.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Thetford Christmas Lights Switch On 2016

A huge honour to support the Christmas lights switch on in Thetford as Mayor - this year I asked our Youth Ambassadors to perform the honours and we had the Mayor's cadets present as well as the Town Crier and Junior Town Crier. Photos below courtesy of Maria Cooke.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

International Day for Tolerance - 19.11.16

Speech at International Day for Tolerance

Good afternoon Ladies and Gentleman and may I warmly welcome you to our community event to mark the International Day for Tolerance.

May I thank those staff and stall holders for giving up their time to make this event possible.

Don’t worry if you’ve not heard of the International Day for Tolerance before – neither had I until recently. But basically the United Nations every year holds a day to promote tolerance around the world. The official day is the 16th November but we wanted to hold our event on a Saturday to ensure that as many people as possible could attend.

As the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon said; “The United Nations promotes tolerance as a matter of its fundamental identity. When tolerance is upheld, we encourage the world to emulate those fine examples. When tolerance is threatened, we must speak out”.

Thetford has long been a diverse a community; comings and goings defined the town in its early days whether that be Vikings, Romans or religious visitors making pilgrimages.

More modern day changes include new residents from London as part of the overspill in 50s and 60s to newer arrivals from Portugal and Eastern Europe. 

As a community we need to recognise the challenges that change can bring and the concerns of those affected but never lose hold of that tolerant and understanding part that makes us all human. 

This week the news has been filled with the trial of Jo Cox, the MP that was tragically murdered earlier this year. It reminded me of what Jo said in her first speech in the House of Commons;

“there is more that unites us, than divides us”

I think that is true for every community and is a really important point to remember.

So please do visit the stalls that we have here today and let’s continue to work together to improve our community for the benefit of everyone.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Thursday 27th October - Breckland Full Council

Today at Breckland Council was a good example of why voting for UKIP really isn't a good idea. For a start, they're supposed to be the official opposition on Breckland Council to the Conservatives but as usual, they voted to support everything that the Conservatives wanted to do. They get paid to provide the opposition (£2,600 annually) but rarely ask any serious questions or scrutinise the work of the ruling administration.
For example: Changes to the Housing Allocations Policy (i.e. who's entitled to 'social housing' locally) UKIP voted to support. Labour members, myself and Harry Clarke voted against and made the point that there is insufficient support for social housing and that the housing support team is too stretched and needs more staff. Later in the meeting under a separate vote, UKIP members again voted with Conservatives for a staff review that will see the number of staff in the housing department reduced. Similar reductions in the already stretched environmental services team. Labour members highlighted that the Council is not dealing with fly-tipping etc as it is and there needs to be a greater focus on enforcement and highlighted that there are significant issues with Serco and that there are financial penalties built into the Serco contract and if they aren't doing their job properly they should be fined (e.g. Serco are supposed to litter pick before cutting the grass to avoid litter being shredded - hmmmm yeah!!). Tory members also highlighted that locally we have good levels of employment - great yes, but as our reports have shown us there is currently a 7 to 1 ratio for average salaries in Breckland to average house prices. I..e purchasing a house in unaffordable, rents are too high, people are trapped renting and cannot afford to raise a deposit etc. There's statistically more people in work claiming benefits then out of work. We're a low wage economy - fact.
Under Councillors questions - Labour members highlighted the unacceptable time that Flagship Housing properties are sat empty - 'void figures' - which are now on average a month - crazy when people are desperate for homes - and I asked what Breckland would be doing to get Flagship to fix this. I also asked when bins would be installed at Riverside complex, would the three-legged bridge be upgraded and made DDA compliant and complained that Councillors had not been engaged in reviewing parking and transport issues in Thetford. Harry spoke up again for Dereham residents regarding the Dereham Transport Study.
Such a shame more members of the public don't get to see their Councillors in action.

Speech at graveside of Maharajah Duleep Singh

Commemoration event to mark anniversary of the death of Maharajah Duleep Singh:

Maharajah Duleep Singh spent many years of his life here at Elveden, having purchased the Hall around 1863, he initiated a major expansion of the Hall and created one of the premier sporting estates in England. His children were brought up here, and through his efforts the population of the village and surrounding hamlets almost doubled. In 1877 the Maharajah hosted a visit by the Prince of Wales and he was joined on regular occasions by other dignitaries including the then Duke of Cambridge. During his time at Elveden,the Maharajah restored, the church, the estate cottages and the village school. Upon his death, Prince Frederick brought his father's body back to Elveden. His coffin, on the occasion of his burial was borne by the Estate Gamekeepers, whose descendants still live in and around Thetford.
His family maintained links with the Thetford area, and his second son Prince Frederick was a major benefactor of Thetford, firstly founding the Ancient House Museum and generously donating some of his personal collections, and latterly a large selection of his portrait collection comprising a wide range of East Anglian families.

The graves here today are a key part of  the Anglo-Sikh Heritage trail and mark the final resting place of  Duleep Singh ,his  first wife Maharani Bamba and young Prince Albert. This wreath commemorates the death of Maharajah Duleep Singh on this very day in 1893 and is freely given on behalf of the people of Thetford.