New Mayor of Rye, Jon Breeds has Hard Act to Follow
By Jim Hollands
There have been many good people who have held the unique position of Mayor of Rye within my memory.
I knew many of them personally. In the old days of the Borough Council it was a very powerful position and great Mayors of the calibre of Alfred Horner, Phil Ellis and John Hacking made great improvements that enhanced the amazing town that we and our visitors love
Since 1973, when Rother District Council took over the town and most of the assets, the position of Mayor of Rye became more of a ceremonial position. Rye Town Council lost all it’s powers to Rother. True they have an ‘advisory’ job, but in practice this has meant approval of porches, conservatories and other small building proposals are rubber stamped by Rother but big projects like the new builds of Valley Park, which were vehemently opposed by Rye Town Council, were forced through by Rother.
Historic buildings and cobbled streets, which were meticulously looked after in the time of the Borough are falling into ruin and disrepair since District Council took over.
For the past ten years Rye Mayors have been bringing their lack of influence into the open but have been frustrated at every step. The unelected Rye Partnership has had far more power and finance than Rye Town Council. Peter Dyce, Paul Carey, Ian Potter, Paul Osbourn, John Breeds, Sam Souster and Shaun Rodgers were all deflected from their aims of improving Rye by Rother and the Partnership. A new Mayor, with new ideas, came on the scene in 2014.
Bernardine Fiddimore, a Councillor with six years experience on Rye Council, and a former 1970’s Miss Rye, brought more than glamour to the Town Hall. Berni came to the mayoralty with the intention of lifting Rye back out of the downward spiral and getting some of our pride and property back.
The long journey started at the very outset of her Mayoralty when she represented the town at World War One events commemorating the start of that terrible war 100 years before. The Mayor of Rye was present on 4 August 2014 as Rye’s representative for the opening, by Prince Harry of the new Memorial Arch at Folkestone where hundreds of thousands of men had marched on their way to War in France and Belgium. So many had the final glimpse of England as they sailed out of Folkestone Harbour. Berni attended many Remembrance events, even visiting the Menin Gate with Rye British Legion.
Berni used all her influence as Mayor to support Rye. She encouraged residents and visitors to the town to support the small independent shops and businesses in Rye and the local villages. Her efforts produced much publicity and encouraged her to look for other ways to publicise and popularise Rye as a place to go shopping. Not one to do things by half, Berni decided that the Christmas Festival, which had been getting adverse reports and attracting little trade to the shops, could be made into a fun festival for everyone and a money spinning event for Rye’s hard pressed small businesses.
Bernie persuaded a host of people to help with the massive undertaking and her enthusiasm attracted Liz Pen-Dennis to throw her weight behind the Festival. It turned into a brilliant partnership. They formed a Committee that consisted of some of the hardest working members in the Community.
Liz PenDennis – Sales and events coordinator at Entertainment Workshops
Caroline Drummond – Resident
Andrew May – Business Owner
Jenny Sinclair – Graphic Designer and Event Stylist
Sophie Judge – Resident
Hayley May – Photographer & Andrew May’s partner
Catherine Mills – Rye resident
Berni Fiddimore – Town mayor
Gill McGannan – Resident
Heather Stevenson – Rye Castle Museum
Neil Cunliffe- Accountant and Chamber of Commerce
Ann Cockerham – Executive Principal of Rye Academy Trust
Paul King – Rye Bay Marketing Ltd
Jeremy Tustin – Choreographer
Jon Dellar – Owner of Concepts Rye and COC member
Mike Dellar – Business Owner
Jean Floyd – Rye Castle Museum
Richard Fairhall – Town clerk
Peter Costick – Rye Heritage Centre
Dan Lake – Resident
Desi Dalton- Business Owner
There were many, stewards and marshals on the day, the many people who dressed in Dickensian Costumes and brought such a great atmosphere to the day.
Berni told me privately that she had many sleepless nights after she had set the ball in motion and told the press that it was going to be a “Fantastic Success.”
It was a huge undertaking, the town was closed off the day, a difficult task in itself. Berni used all her powers of persuasion and ‘Mayoral clout’ to convince doubters that it would work.
The rest is history – It was the best day of fun in Rye in living memory. Not even the great August Bank Holidays of the 1950’s with Rye Sports, Rye Carnival and a Grand Dance in the evening combined, were better than this. And going back in my long memory to VE Day, good as that was, with the atmosphere it prevailed at the time, I still consider that “Christmas in Rye 2015” was the greatest.
There are so many other things that Berni has been involved in as Mayor during her two year term of office. She was nominated as an East Sussex Women of the Year in 2015, supported the creation of a cycle / footpath on Rye Harbour Road and was present for the opening of the long awaited completion of the full distance.
Many things she has done on behalf of Rye have gone unnoticed, other things started in the period she plans to pursue as a Town Councillor.
One really important change has been the attitude of Rye Town Council in relations with Rother, East Sussex and Rye Partnership. Before it was acceptance that little could be achieved on the return of Rye’s assets and little influence could be asserted to make these bodies comply with the wishes of the people of Rye.
In the Mayoralty of Bernardine Fiddimore acceptance changed to strong request and then demand. We have a strong set of Councillors who are beginning to believe that things can be changed if there is the will and determination.
Bernie has seen the first move towards the restoration of the Landgate Tower (by Rother) and the demand that Rother give Rye Town Council the chance, with the aid of the Rye Fund to buy back Camber Fields. Rother refused to withdraw the land from Auction but a Rye farmer has prevented it from being sold off to property speculators and bought it at the Auction.
Thanks to him the beautiful views of Rye over the Rother will be enjoyed.
Now the fight to save the Landgate begins and Councillor Bernardine Fiddimore will be there to support the New Mayor of Rye to get it returned to the town’s safe keeping in the same condition as when they took it off the town in 1974.
Well done Berni, a lot has happened in the past two years, you set the ball rolling and demonstrated that the impossible is possible.
Now is the time for Jon to keep the ball moving and continue on the right tracks.
Congratulations Berni and Good Luck to Jon Breeds. You have a hard act to follow.