REFLECTING on his year in office the mayor of Ross-on-Wye has concluded that the Town Council has invested heavily, embraced new technology and reaped the benefits of its property portfolio.

Mayor, Cllr Louis Stark told the annual parish meeting that the most iconic and greatest challenge for the town authority was the ownership of the Market House. “What would Ross be without it,” he quipped.

HIGHLY COMMENDED: Deputy town clerk Charlotte Reynolds and Cllr Daniel Lister receive the Highly Commended Award at the Great British Market Awards 2024. (Submitted)

“The sandstone Market House itself has stood since the 17th century and has suffered extensive stone erosion over that time, and now urgently requires specialist conservation.

“The stone window surrounds, are so badly eroded that there is a serious risk of glass falling out and the windows being boarded up. The council is investing some £180,000 in ensuring the preservation of this building and its historical importance for future generations.

“Along with a number of grants that the council has secured, this will take our investment in total to over £300,000. This probably represents the largest investment ever made by this council in a single project and shows our commitment to protecting the town’s iconic assets.”

Cllr Stark explained that with the council owning several buildings, it has proved very valuable to the town authority in giving it the flexibility to release the Market House for repairs.

“In particular, the deal we came to with Herefordshire Council allowing them to occupy the Old Chapel House for five years as an office meant we ended up with a bespoke building ready to occupy.

“As a consequence, we were able to move our staff into it without significant alterations being made. This also enabled Made in Ross to move form the Market House to occupy the town council’s old premises in the Corn Exchange.”

The mayor also highlighted that new technology has been embraced with the council developing a phone app that enriches the heritage walks that the council organises.

Cllr Stark added: “The app enables participants to experience an augmented reality tour, highlighting history that is no longer physically there.

“Its success has meant we will launch an app shortly providing interactive trails telling of past events and Ross’ rich cultural history.

“We have also invested in new software to enable easier access to our burial records for the town cemetery. The app ‘cemetery searcher’ is an on-line facility enabling the public to easily search digitised burial records to find ancestors, as well as other people of interest. The associated mapping software locates the grave or memorial on a digital map.”

Cllr Stark said that the previous year had been full of free events organised by the council for the benefit of the town, one of which was recognised by being highly commended in the Great British Market Awards 2024.

“Apart from the regular ‘Bands in the Park’, we held another Equinox Festival which included a variety of World music, wellbeing events such as yoga, meditation, dance, arts, crafts, circus skills and a chess zone. Some 30 stall holders sold food, drink and artisan products along with charitable organisations and other organisations taking part,” said Cllr Stark.

“Even bigger was the Christmas Fayre, which has grown exponentially over the years. There were over 85 stalls and thousands thronged to the town centre to enjoy live music with street entertainment, Santa’s grotto and the switching on of the Christmas lights in the town.

“The event was so good, the fayre won the highly commended award at the Great British Market Awards 2024 for Best Large Speciality Market, the ceremony for which was held in Birmingham in January this year.

There were two new events added to last year’s calendar, the Rubbish Litter Festival in November, which raised the awareness of all things littering, recycling and repurposing.

“There was also the Easter Bunny Bake Off where I had the great pleasure of being one of the judges, which suited my sweet tooth.”

The mayor also acknowledged that the town council had undergone changes to its staff at the town council, following the retirement of town clerk Sarah Robson after eight years.

“We’ve appointed Carla Boyles as the new town clerk and Charlotte Reynolds as her deputy,” acknowledged Cllr Stark.

“The fact we had such strong talent with the office to fill these posts is the result of the council investing in human resources in recent years and the emphasis we put on encouraging our staff to staff to extend their skills through training.

“All in all, it’s been a real honour and privilege to have spent the last year as mayor of Ross-on-Wye.”