Time To Come Together.
The chain of office has a familiar feel for the new Mayor of Dartmouth, Councillor Richard Rendle MBE. This son of the town served as Mayor for a record five years from 2000 to 2005, and he’s back for another go.
But it’s not the ceremony that appeals, although Richard is very aware of the tradition, history and pride that goes with the job. He was a councillor for 19 years before he became Mayor first time around, and says it’s a love of the town that motivates him to take his place on Dartmouth Town Council.
“My biggest hope and aim is to bring people together, both within the town council and beyond it,” he said. “It is so important to get the town councillors to work together as a team, and to join with other organisations such as the Chamber of Commerce, event organisers, schools, sports clubs, those who represent the arts. Only by working together and listening to each other do we have the power to get things done.
“I’m not doing this for a quiet life. I know there will be times when I’ll be a punchbag and get my share of bad press. There will always be arguments as everyone fights for their own cause, which is understandable, but we must listen to each other and pull together if we care about the future of Dartmouth.
“I love this place. It is very special. The river is beautiful, the people are superb. Stand on Gallants Bower and there is nowhere like it on earth. But we have to recognise that Dartmouth is changing. It’s no good saying things aren’t what they used to be.”
The town really is in the blood for Richard, a successful engineer whose long and distinguished career took him all over the UK and Europe, but who has always lived in Dartmouth. He retired a couple of years ago, and now aged 70, seems younger than his years. He is the father of three sons and is a proud granddad.
Quite something for the first baby born in Britannia Avenue. A document found amongst his late father’s possessions congratulated Bill and Barbara Rendle on the birth of their son Richard, “the first baby to be born in the new houses provided for the poor and needy of the town.”
“You wouldn’t put it quite like that today!” he laughed. Bill Rendle was a grocer and Barbara Rendle worked as a cook at the Phillips Ship Yard. Richard, his brother Allin and their friends played throughout the changing seasons in the ferns and fields of Townstal Farm. It was a happy childhood, with lessons at the little Bedford House School in Victoria Road, where two elderly ladies presided over the education of about 14 children. From there the brothers progressed to the Boys’ School, where School Court now stands. By now the Rendles had bought their own house in Victoria Road. Scouts and swimming at Old Mill dominated their free time. Tragically Allin Rendle died aged 23.
Richard studied engineering at Torquay Tech and worked in Torbay before joining Britannia Royal Naval College and Vosper Thornycroft. He looked after Government contracts and every day presented a new challenge. “I loved it – it was a good career which I really enjoyed. I miss it greatly.”
At Richard’s side as he resumes the role of Mayor is his wife Wendy. He said: “This really is a two-person job. There are so many occasions when the Mayor relies on having a consort who can work in partnership with them. Thankfully I have the perfect partner in Wendy.”
Not afraid of controversy, this new Mayor added: “The days when Dartmouth was a borough are over. Now it is a large village. In 1974 the population was 9,600, now it’s 5,400. When I was growing up here no-one had cars and we relied on the town centre. It was full of families. A rare treat for us was to go up the line to Paignton on the train. Now everyone has cars and yet 82 per cent of people living in the lower town have absolutely no parking. That’s why pay-and-display parking on the roads would not work – there is nowhere else to park. Yet if the parking situation is not sorted out, the town cannot survive. Dartmouth was never big enough. It used to be a market centre that drew in people from all the surrounding villages. Now there are so many cars and so little parking that those people have gone elsewhere. If part of Coronation Park doesn’t become a car park in one form or another the town will die. Ideally I would like the parking to go underneath. It’s controversial but we need a bold step.”
In the past Richard has pushed for a funicular railway from Jawbones Hill into the town, as a Millennium project, when European Funds were available. He said: “In these economic times it will not happen, but Dartmouth is so special it would work here. People would come to use it all year round and marvel at that wonderful view. It would be good for businesses. I feel very strongly that there are not the full time jobs here that our young people need and deserve.
“I have lived here all my life and I love it, but that doesn’t mean I am against change, although I am suspicious of change for change’s sake. It must be change for the better. I very much welcome new people coming to live in Dartmouth because it is so important to have fresh blood and fresh ideas. We all have to embrace the fact that our town is changing, the profile of the town is different now.
“The main thing is to recognise that Townstal is part of Dartmouth, they are not two separate communities. The town centre needs the spending power of the families at Townstal. It is now the case that 52 per cent of the community lives at Townstal, and the lower town is 27 per cent holiday homes. Even though the town’s population has fallen dramatically since the Seventies, the estate has grown by 800 per cent.
“We all have a responsibility to make Dartmouth work. We all need to get involved and work together, to recognise what we really have here. There are so many great organisations. I played rugby, went to scouts, swam, rowed, played water polo in the Boatfloat. Some of this still goes on here, but with so many of these organisations if you took out one family from the running of them, they would fold. It’s about getting involved, working together, and celebrating what we have.
“When the fire struck in May we were overwhelmed with donations. The help was spontaneous and immediate. When people work together we get results. We are extremely lucky to live in such a special place – we have to work as a team to take it forward into the future.”
First published July 2010 By the Dart