Wiltshire magazine meets the counties 'People of Power'
13:13 22 November 2012
People of Power
In the first of a new series, Fiona Scott meets six influential individuals who have a significant county presence
Chairman of Swindon Town Football Club
Jeremy Wray is first and foremost a football fan when it comes to sport (although hes also got a soft spot for horse racing). When I grew up, you supported your local team and Saturday was the day of the week the day everyone looked forward to!
His passion for and commitment to grassroots football, and his respect for supporters, has come to the fore as hes played an increasingly prominent role in the current success of Swindon Town Football Club. A father of five who lives with his family in Ramsbury, Jeremy first became connected with the club at a senior level in 2008, although hes lived in Wiltshire for 20 years.
The club was just 48 hours from collapse when a group of people, including Jeremy a successful financier with his own fund management business were hurriedly approached to come up with a rescue package. Working with wealthy entrepreneurs, including Andrew Fitton and Andrew Black, the new consortium launched a five-year plan to get the club into a better financial position and into the Championship.
For me, this is the natural place for Swindon Town to be, its where the club deserves to be.
The club was saved but success wasnt guaranteed or immediate. The team went on to just miss out on promotion in the play-offs and then suffered relegation. Good players left, managers came and went. Just like the fans, the directors were disappointed by the poor form and Andrew Fitton, then Chairman, was deeply affected. He resigned from the role, passing the reins on to Jeremy.
We had to look at what had gone wrong. Basically, it came down to disharmony we were not united on or off the pitch. Managers had come and gone. We needed a completely different approach and when Nick [Watkins, Chief Executive] and I went out to see various people managers with good pedigree but quite safe, quite samey we met Paolo, who came with health warnings attached!
For Jeremy and the Board, former professional Italian footballer Paolo Di Canio was the right choice, with a strong work ethic and ambition.
He is able to make the tough decisions and has a way of getting what he wants out of players. Hes charismatic and excites the fans. Hes created a buzz around the County Ground, with everyone looking forward to every Saturday. Hes created that feel-good factor.
Consequently, Swindon Town was promoted to Division One last season, and Jeremy, the Board, players and fans have their sights realistically set on the Championship this time around.
The appointment of Mr Di Canio was seen as controversial by some, as hes been the subject of rumour over allegedly holding extreme right-wing views. Another event offering a rehabilitation opportunity to a footballer serving a prison sentence for causing the deaths of two children through drink driving shows that Jeremy can also take the tough decisions.
I believe that if you have strong principles that you believe in, and which are genuinely held, you do not allow one-off events to influence you. I looked at the so-called controversies around Paolo and found they were irrelevant, and as for Luke McCormick, everybody deserves a second chance. He will suffer at the hands of fans for what he has done, as fans can give anyone a hard time. That is the price he has to pay and my view is that we were right to help in his rehabilitation and I would do the same again.
Jeremy constantly plays down his role as club Chairman.
Every club has to have a front man and, from my point of view, I happen to carry out that role, but on the list of who is important to this club, I would put myself well down the list.
Others might disagree.
Childrens author and educationalist
Neil Griffiths was born and bred in Wiltshire, beginning life in Chippenham in 1957, then moving to Highworth in the north of the county at the age of six. He left briefly to attend St Pauls College, Cheltenham, where he received a Bachelor of Education and was honoured by being named Student of the Year. He returned to Wiltshire as a primary teacher and became Head Teacher of Westlea Primary School in West Swindon at the age of 27, and stayed for 13 years.
In 1995, inspired at a conference on challenging schools to engage with parents, Neil created what has now become an international phenomenon: the Storysack. This involves creating a decorated sack that holds a storybook with relevant props, which children can take home and enjoy reading with their parents and making the narrative come alive by using the props.
Storysack was recognized by the government as a simple but effective literacy resource, and the Basic Skills Agency funded Neils promotion of the idea nationwide. Two years later he was awarded the Alcuin European Award for initiatives that make a wide-reaching contribution to childrens education the first and only time an educator in the UK has received this honour.
I was overwhelmed to receive such an honour, said Neil. And then in 2008, I was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters by Bishop Grosseteste, University College Lincoln, for an outstanding contribution to education. That was the proudest day of my life.
As funding ended, Neil began a new chapter as a freelance consultant and childrens author. He founded a training company called Corner To Learn Ltd with a publishing branch, Red Robin Books.
In an effort to return to his roots as a teacher, together with his passion for stories and storytelling, Neil has now become a prolific author of more than 30 childrens picture books.
One of his books, Fatou, fetch the water, which arose from a trip to The Gambia, was nominated for an award and chosen as a Must Read on this years National Library Summer Reading Challenge.
The resilience and optimism of The Gambias people in the face of unrelenting poverty awakened in me an urgent desire to make a small difference in the lives of its children.
Focusing on one small town and with the generous help of my friends and colleagues, Ive been able to resource five schools, with a sixth about to be built, and to provide malaria nets for children throughout the town.
Neil currently lives on the outskirts of Swindon. With three new picture books to be published later this year, he will be touring Asia, South America and Africa.
Manager of Swindon Therapy Centre for Multiple Sclerosis
Jackie Wray is a young 55-year-old who was instrumental in creating a bespoke therapy centre in Swindon for those who suffer from MS and other conditions. Together with her husband, David, she has worked tirelessly to turn this organisation into one that is professional, friendly and sustainable for the future. Using her experience as a senior secretary and administration manager, she secured funding from the Big Lottery, which meant moving into purpose-built premises in West Swindon in 2010.
As well as working in a part-time paid role as Manager, she and Dave voluntarily fundraise continuously for the centre, which needs more than 130,000 a year to keep going. This year, thanks to the hard work of Jackie and her team of volunteers, the centre has been awarded the Queens Award for Voluntary Service. The award was officially presented by the Lord Lieutenant of Wiltshire, Mrs Sarah Troughton, on 21 September.
This is a big achievement for all of us, says Jackie. Being recognized in this way shows me that our organisation is healthy and fit for the future, offering an invaluable service to the people of the Swindon borough.
What is even more inspirational is that Jackie has MS herself.
I was diagnosed when I was 29. We knew there were some symptoms going on when I started having tests; I was getting double vision and lots of pins and needles. When the diagnosis came it wasnt that much of a shock as Dave and I had done some research and both thought that it might be MS. That was some year, as not only did I find out that I had MS but I was also told that it might not be possible for us to have a family.
Jackie and Dave joined an MS self-help group in Reading and started reading around the subject. They also began years of fertility treatment to try to have children. At the age of 35, she became pregnant with twins, a boy and a girl both now 20.
When, in the early 1990s, Daves job meant working at the headquarters of Nationwide in Swindon, they moved to nearby Bishopstone and joined the local MS therapy group.
It was run by a lovely couple called Barry and Jan, who offered an invaluable service. But Barry died suddenly of a heart attack, which was dreadful, and over time we all recognized that we needed the group to evolve. It was sheer hard work and a huge learning curve. When I started out in my career I was a nervous person; now, Im definitely a people person I guess I wouldnt be here if I wasnt!
Now MS sufferers and people with cancer, brain injury, autism and ME can use the oxygen therapy chamber at the centre. There are also Pilates, yoga, diet and exercise classes, all run by trained therapists.
As for Jackie, she enjoys walking and cycling and is a keen gardener, keeping her own allotment. She considers herself lucky that MS has not left her disabled.
Chief Executive officer and founder of Good Energy
Juliet Davenport has achieved an amazing feat in the business community in Wiltshire shes an entrepreneur who has put green at the centre of her business vision. Her company, Good Energy, is based in Chippenham and she has strong reasons for choosing Wiltshire as the hub for a business enjoying global recognition.
I grew up here, so it was natural that Id choose it as a base for my business. Chippenham is a great location for travelling by train to London or Bristol for meetings. Our offices are close to the train and bus stations, which is important for encouraging staff to use public transport, and they have a lovely outlook across the park to the River Avon.
Juliet graduated from Merton College, Oxford in 1989, where she studied Atmospheric Physics and developed her interest in climate change. She then took a Masters degree in Economics and Environmental Economics. Before entering the private sector, Juliet worked at the European Commission and the European Parliament on carbon taxation.
Recognising that energy was the key to cutting carbon emissions in the UK, and frustrated that politicians and industry werent doing enough to change things, she set up her own business in 1999. The aim was to supply homes with 100% renewable electricity, offering consumers a better choice in an industry dominated by giants, where the renewable element was close to zero.
In 2002, the firms first share offer was launched and 600 customers invested, allowing the company to buy Delabole Wind Farm in Cornwall. A year later the firm was renamed Good Energy and went on to launch the first reward schemes for microgenerators (small independent generators of clean energy through wind, hydro, tidal and solar), a precursor of todays government Feed-in Tariff.
Delabole Wind Farm was re-developed to double its output, and Good Energy now also buys energy from the community-run Westmill Wind Farm outside Swindon and from fledgling co-operative Westmill Solar.
About 30,000 customers now buy their electricity from Good Energy and it also supplies gas, which is linked to the UKs first renewable heat incentive, and is known as an industry leader in feed-in tariff administration services supporting 40,000 microgenerators.
Good Energy now employs more than 130 people and July this year saw it debut on the AIM market of the London Stock Exchange.
Juliet is an influential figure. She sits on industry regulator Ofgems environmental advisory group, and has won numerous accolades, including being the PLUS-quoted CEO of the year in 2009 and a top 20 Eco Hero in At Home magazine in 2010.
At home, Juliet is mother to three-year-old Morwenna, partner to Mark, keeps horses and plays polo, and has been sustainably renovating her Cotswold stone farmhouse.
Assistant Director of Wiltshire Scrapstore, a social enterprise with a green ethic
Glynis Cosgrave, who lives in Chippenham, is one of those cheerful souls who will brighten up the darkest day. Shes also one of Wiltshires hidden green ambassadors, working daily to promote play and creativity using waste materials from premises on the outskirts of Lacock.
As Assistant Director of Wiltshire Scrapstore, her mission is to stop thousands of tons of waste going unnecessarily to landfill while sharing her love of arts and crafts with children and families across the county.
My dearest wish is that companies, firms and individuals will not think where is my local recycling facility? when they have waste to get rid of, but where is my Scrapstore?
The Scrapstore operates thanks to 60 volunteers and a handful of part-time paid staff; it stockpiles clean, unused and safe materials that anyone in Wiltshire can browse and buy. Unusually, membership is free (most Scrapstores in the UK charge membership fees).
This facility is an emporium of delights for anyone interested in arts and crafts. Volunteers make up kits, cards, cushions and bags, all of which can be bought. Sacks can be filled with plastic, felt, leather, fabric, and bubblewrap in all colours in return for a reasonable donation. Materials come from all over the county; companies large and small donate appropriate waste. The Scrapstore also swaps materials with other organisations to ensure there is variety of stock. Glynis works tirelessly to ensure that the Scrapstore is full of variety and colour.
Children see things that adults dont. They look at some pieces of scrap and think I can make a spaceship or a car from that. Those moments make this work worthwhile. And some of our suppliers save up to 600 a month on waste disposal fees by donating their waste to us and we can find so many uses for so many materials.
A former BT manager responsible for exchanges in Chippenham and Shepton Mallet, Glynis became a homemaker after having her two sons, but she couldnt be idle and threw herself into her hobby of making things. Now she makes that happen all day long while ensuring that Wiltshire Scrapstore raises enough funds to keep going into the future.
We are always looking to connect with companies, local businesses, local volunteers and anyone interested in arts and crafts in the county.
Glynis is Wiltshire born and bred, growing up in Royal Wootton Bassett, and she is proud of her working-class roots.
My grandfather was James Bond, mayor of Swindon. I spent a lot of time in and around the Railway Village in Swindon and the town was a major part of my childhood. Im now in Chippenham so I havent gone far for me this is a wonderful place to live.
Chief Executive of Swindon Council, rock guitarist and charity fundraiser
Gavin Jones has held the top job at Swindon Council for the last six years and in that time has turned the council around in terms of performance. Coming from a background in the private sector, Gavin had only been with the council for 18 months before he became the lead officer. He came in at a time when Swindon Council was struggling its education service was in disarray and many other departments were found wanting.
We were in a poor state and we had to work quickly to raise the quality standards across the board and weve done that. Ive found thats given my fellow officers and staff much more confidence in themselves.
One of our proudest achievements has been the improvement in our schools, which was hugely challenging, and there are still things to be done, but the people of Swindon have benefitted enormously from those actions. More recently and the benefits have yet to be seen is preparing the council for the cuts that are coming down the road in times of austerity.
One of the key strategies for dealing with cuts is very simple to work with and alongside communities in Swindon rather than doing things to them.
Gavin believes that his love and knowledge of Swindon and the surrounding borough has helped with the challenges hes faced as Chief Executive. He came to Swindon in 1965 when his family moved from Yeovil in Somerset, as his father had secured a job at Vickers in South Marston. Initially living in Park South, the Jones family moved to Purton where Gavin attended the local primary school before passing the 11-plus to go to Malmesbury Grammar School, as it was then known.
I was what some might call a late developer. I didnt do well in my A levels and didnt get a place at university. But I worked in a bank for 18 months and didnt really like it, before getting a job with BT. That company was fantastic at sponsoring staff so I took a degree in IT at Bristol Polytechnic (now University of the West of England) on a day release. It was tough as I had to work at weekends, and we had just had a new baby, but my wife was wonderful.
Thus began a career that meant working all over the world even though home has always been in the Swindon borough.
Moving from the private to the public sector might be seen as a hard step to take, especially the political dynamics of a local authority.
Many people thought that might be a difficult dimension to the role, but in reality Ive not found it to be so. A lot of my career had been dealing with account management, and there are striking similarities understanding the different priorities of customers.
One of my challenges from the point of view of politics is trying to get an agreed view. But I have enjoyed working with politicians of all the parties because they are all passionate about making a difference and that is something worth working with.
Gavins vision for the next year is to attract new investment into the town through bringing in new businesses, thus helping the boroughs economy to grow.
Im also passionate about helping those who are vulnerable. I feel it is my responsibility to ensure that those who are vulnerable are protected, that they will be properly cared for and supported.
When not at work, Gavin is well known as a guitarist in the Graham Mack Rock Band, which performs solely for charitable causes. Its aim is to raise 30,000 by the end of this year; its currently raised more than 20,000. Hes also a keen runner and cyclist and an accomplished photographer, particularly of landscapes and wildlife. He lives in Chiseldon with his wife Caroline. They have two daughters, Emily, 26, and Lucy, aged ten.