Grand Tour by Elisabeth Skinner – back on the road

10 May 2022

Our Academic Leader, Elisabeth Skinner started a Grand Tour in March 2022. The aim is to visit every one of our Community Governance students in their own community over the course of the year. Elisabeth is offering tutorials to support students’ studies but is also hoping to see some of the towns and villages across England & Wales that she hasn’t visited before.

Elisabeth began her tour in the south west and is now moving on to East Anglia. By the end of September, Elisabeth should have also visited those in the rest of England and Wales.

“On 9 May I was back behind the wheel of my Skoda Citigo visiting two clerks in Oxfordshire.   First stop was the very busy Aston Pottery where I met Level 6 student Elaine Anstee, clerk of Aston, Cote, Shifford and Chimney Parish Council.  Elaine is very busy making sure things happen properly in the 6.5 hours a week she does as clerk in addition to her full-time job at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.  She is also in her final year of the degree and is working on her dissertation.  Respect.

This deeply rural parish is a massive area of agricultural countryside north of the River Thames (yes – flooding is an issue) and west of Oxford.  It comprises Aston itself, a village under some pressure of development initiated by local landowners, and the much smaller communities of Cote, Shifford and Chimney – just a small scattering of houses at the end of long narrow lanes.  On an enjoyable tour around this huge parish by car, a really special moment occurred at the end of the no-through-road at Chimney as housemartins flew up from the road in front of us.  We stopped to watch; they were collecting mud from an old puddle and taking it up to the eaves of a nearby house for nest building.  It was a treat to see them briefly on the ground and so close by.

After a twenty minute drive I was in Eynsham just south of the A40 west of Oxford.  This is an old village under pressure from development that would horrify most of us – around 3000 new houses in Eynsham and neighbouring parishes.  I met the clerk, Katherine Doughty in a little gem of an old building in the market square.  Fixed to the walls were a number of old boards listing people who had donated money to support the poor of the parish centuries ago.  One said that the donations were to be made ‘for ever’ – so were they still making those donations?  Katherine just smiled.  There was a real sense of history and I was rather envious as the building has been renovated and is likely to become a museum – I wish we had one of those in my village.

Katherine and I spent a whole hour and a half discussing a range of fascinating issues arising from her studies at Level 5.   I heard about an important hedge planting project that attracted excellent community support but didn’t work out quite as planned – lessons were learned.  Katherine said how much she was enjoying the politics module after expecting it to be as dry as dust – we then pondered the state of our democracy both nationally and locally.  West Oxfordshire had just had elections where Labour, the Lib Dems, and the Greens are likely to form a coalition to replace the previous Conservative administration.  Finally we checked that everything was in place for a field visit to Edinburgh in July where five students and I are going to find out how community councils function without a precept.  Katherine is particularly interested in the Scottish Government’s policy of place-making – relevant to the new settlement being planned on Eynsham’s doorstep.

The time passed quickly and I was surprised to see it was 4:00pm.  I had a smart drive back to Gloucestershire in time for my yoga class. The next stage of my East Anglian tour will be in Buckinghamshire.”

Click here if you would like to contribute to my Just Giving page. 

By Elisabeth Skinner MBE. Follow her progress on Twitter – @lisabethski.

Elisabeth Skinner's Blog