Council regrouped under new chairman

The annual citizens gathering for the parish meeting opened with a spat between sitting chairman Paul Beard and his chief critic in the stalls, Alan Berry, who said he was rushing the procedure of getting approval for last year’s minutes. The meeting was paused for a printed copy to be found and the public to be invited to question it or vote for it to be signed into the record, alongside councillors, voting as unappointed citizens.

Cllr Beard made clear his irritation with being picked up on procedural points.  In his summary of the year, he said the council would have achieved more if it was not for time spent on “conference calls and lengthy emails”. When challenged by Mr Berry, he said he could say no more because a formal complaint had been made about his management of council affairs.

But Cllr Beard has been accused of holding up business himself sometimes, by missing meetings or deadlines for reports, and when it came to choosing a chairman for the new council year, it was proposed and seconded that Eric Hemsil, who has experience in the role, should return to the job. Some councillors were apparently taken by surprise by this move and the vote was evenly split except Cllr Beard had a casting vote, as sitting chairman, which he could have used to his advantage. But he said he would step down for Mr Hemsil and they exchanged places, to a smatter of applause for negotiating through a slightly awkward situation.

Cllr Hemsil invited Cllr Beard to stay on as chairman of open spaces, the main area of council activity, and this was agreed unanimously.

Steve Roche was re-elected as vice-chairman of the council and lead councillor on planning issues, with Christine Edmondson becoming deputy to him on planning.

Cllr Hemsil welcomed new councillor Fiona Peart and she became his deputy chair on  the other major committee, dealing with finance. Mike Huda took on liaison with the youth club

Steve Roche, in his report on planning issues over the year, said the council had only objected to two in 20 applications to Dartmoor NPA but one was a big one –  the last submission by Barton Park Estates concerning Magpie Bridge. Horrabridge Council was okay with it at first but thought the final pitch, for a certificate of legality for a small village of fixed prefabs, was pushing it too far. The DNPA has now published its reasons for saying the same but Cllr Roche said he was sure the developers were not giving up yet. The site has been largely cleared and work seems to be in progress on an improved junction with the A386 – a requirement of a previous planning permission.

The other big planning story last year was consultation on the new Dartmoor plan, which as written so far would encourage more building along the Walkhampton road. HPC has said the village would prefer to see some use of the fields alongside the A386 and, on the other side of the river, at Dostabrook. But there was no sign that anyone at DNPA had explored the possibility.

Diana Moyse, one of our two borough councillors, and local rep on Dartmoor NPA, told Mr Roche that she got the impression it was dismissed out of hand because of highway problems. But she would ask for it to be looked at again.

Jinks Fitzsimmons said a lot of the actual riverside was unsuitable for building because the top layer was eight feet of old municipal tip material, for some way upstream from Magpie. But Cllr Roche said with proper highways investment, possibly including a roundabout, there were potential sites to be considered.

  • West Devon Council also relaunched this week. New leader is Neil Jory. Tributes were paid to their deposed leader, Philip Sanders of Buckland ward.

Cllr Jory said: “It is because of his steadfastness, his commitment, that despite reductions in direct government funding, we are in the position that we are now.“

The new council, newly topped up with Lib Dems, Greens and younger Independents, voted to set up a working group to come up with ways to address climate change.

Travels of a Man of God

As his title on the church noticeboard suggests, the Reverend Captain Gary Shirley had a career before he arrived in Horrabridge seven years ago.

And there could well be another job waiting for him and his wife, Carol, when they head to the crossroads in a Winnebago, end of this summer, to hit the road in search of whatever it is.

The rectory they are leaving is less grand than the original one on Station Road. It was built on land at the back and fronts the other way, onto Tor View.

It goes with the job Gary is leaving behind – officially Associate Priest in the West Dartmoor Mission Team, covering six parishes between here and Princetown; but in common parlance round yer, “the vicar”.

Seemed like a good time to ask …

Why are you Captain?

From the Church Army, which is how I started my new life in my 30s. It was formed by a Church of England minister in Victorian London when hard times were desperate times. The original offer from the Church Army was you got breakfast if you chopped firewood and then you got the wood to sell. The army used to actually wear battledress, but in my day it was a grey suit. You do all sorts but the front line is with homelessness and hunger and that is what interested me. When you are commissioned, a man is a Captain and a woman is a Sister, equal in every way. It was a Sister who taught me to remember we were beggars trying to show other beggars where to get bread and that line made my hairs stand up.

How did you get there?

At 16 I became a trainee in WH Smith’s, and I got as far as running one of their stationery departments, in Winchester. My dad worked in a steel factory in Oxford but him and my mum moved to the Portsmouth area and opened a grocery business and I joined them when I was 21. Then I got married and my wife joined us all. We moved to Tetbury, Gloucestershire, and we seemed to be doing okay there. But it was a bad time for small shop values and when my parents needed to sell up and retire, I had to just walk away with £1 for my share. I ended up as night porter in a country hotel near Malmesbury. I got on well with the manager and my shift often started with us sharing a bottle of red. I had an awful temper anyway and I don’t suppose the drink helped although the talk did. What with tiredeness and money worries and a young son at school, I shouted a lot at home. But my wife and I had started going to Christian discussion meetings and I came across a letter from St Paul, in Galatians Chapter 5, about replacing anger with gentleness and self-control, and I wanted to know if I could achieve that by prayer and my mentor had the nerve to say Yes. So I entered into faith with no faith except: let’s see if it works.

And did it?

The next time I started shouting, a little voice in my head said you don’t have to do this. And the next time it was a longer interval and I stopped quicker. And I thought maybe there was more to learn and I bought a Bible. And then the real turning point was being encouraged to read the Acts of The Apostles, about what the disciples did after losing Jesus. Basically, they hid until the Holy Spirit arrived and gave them Faith. You have to be open to it but it is something that happens to you, not something you give yourself. Or that’s how I read it and how it was for me, in 1995. I was driving one day and singing a hymn and suddenly I was stopped but I heard the hymn continue in the most beautiful voice I had ever heard. A friend in the church told me I was hearing how I sounded to God. You could explain it in terms of psychology but I knew something had happened.

What next?

When I let myself be persuaded that I was feeling the call to service, the Church Army was my choice. But it meant we had to move to Sheffield for three years of training, largely self-financed, which earned me a Certificate in Evangelism Studies. Then we went to Bracknell, a new town in Berkshire, for nearly five years, then in 2003 I got a position in Exeter which included conducting quite a lot of services and getting to like that side of it. I started the training for ordination part-time over three years but then I had to have experience as a curate, which took me on to Plymouth. And then I was pointed towards West Dartmoor.

How have you found Horrabridge?

One of my first introductions was the summer fair and I was so impressed with the Cavaliers and the WI and the Scouts and everyone else working with one another. The other thing I have absolutely loved is the connection with the armed forces. My grandfather and father-in-law were both on the beaches at Dunkirk so it has been a big thing for me to be somewhere Remembrance still means a lot. It has been a privilege and a joy to work with the forces group here. Homelessness is not the problem it is in the city, although we have had to deal with a couple of difficult cases. But there are people who need some quiet help to get by. Our congregations are quite small – 30, 20, sometimes less than 10. But by getting them all working together, we are able to run a choir and a toddler group, fill all the service slots, run community events and so on. We are probably losing the older faithful quicker than we are replacing them. But there are young families who go into Tavistock Methodist Church for a less traditional service and we are reaching out to them in various ways. Starting May 31st, the Methodists are having a monthly Friday service called Ignite, with more modern music and less ceremony than we usually have on a Sunday.

Why are you going now?

It was time to make up my mind. My boss, Nick Shutt, is moving into Plymouth. I suppose I might have been invited to take on his job as Rector of the Mission. But the church can only afford one replacement for the two of us. I would need to be promising a good five years of work for it to be worth my standing in the way of the next generation. I always planned to retire at 60 and I’ll be 62 any day now.

Where are you heading for?

There is a lot of the UK we still haven’t seen. And then there is the rest of Europe. In between, we will come back this way, because this is where our connections are nowadays, including my son, who organises music in schools in Exeter. We might end up finding somewhere else we are needed but we don’t know what it is until we find it.”

What happens to the churches you are leaving?

My fellow associate priest, Di Caine, has been ill but expects to return to work soon. We have qualified Readers and good Churchwardens. Between them, they will draw up a new rota to hold the fort without me and Nick until the church makes another appointment, probably end of the year or early next year.


* Friday evening – Horrabridge singer and guitarist Liv Allen at Prince of Wales Princetown.

* This weekend: Garden Festival and Street Food Festival in Tavistock.

* Next Friday evening, May 31, a new worship gathering with a gospel church air about it: Ignite, organised by Methodist outworker Ali Mansfield but to be staged in St John’s Church. Monthly from now.

* Also next Friday, Mad Dog McRea open festival weekend at Morwellham.

* Don’t forget June 6 is Open Gardens Day in the village – barbecues, cakes and Pimms cocktails available, various locations on tickets from tent in Weir Park.

* Festivals on at Totnes and all over. Bath & West Show this week See our What’s On calendar for lots of outings suggestions HERE

* The Cavaliers looking for bookings for their big summer quiz night, Saturday July 13, 7.30 pm. Call Bill Mullery on 854819 and make him a promise.

The Harrowbeer 1940s weekend, in August, has been cancelled because of money problems left from a wash-out last year.

allfornow …

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Editor of The Horrabridge Times.