Stalwart councillor looks back over the decades

This Is Wiltshire: Coun Mike Bawden Coun Mike Bawden

IN MAY’S local elections, Swindon’s longest serving councillor is due to stand down after more than 45 years of service to the town.

Coun Mike Bawden (Con, Chiseldon and Lawn) first joined the town’s council in 1967 but having been diagnosed with leukaemia he has decided to retire this year.

During his time as a councillor the town has changed dramatically and he has been involved in many of those changes. However, it is helping constituents that the 73-year-old will miss the most.

He said: “I have been involved in many of the big events which have happened in Swindon over the years.

“I think many people would expect me to say that is what I will miss, but actually it is helping people with their problems, especially the elderly, which I get the biggest kick from.

“When people come with an issue and you are able to find a solution to it – that is what I will miss most about being a councillor.”

His grandfather was a councillor for many years in Cornwall so it was almost natural when Coun Bawden joined the chamber at the age of 26. But the structure of the council has changed dramatically from when he was first elected.

“I come from a political family so it was no real surprise when I became a councillor,” he said.

“When I first joined it was like an old people’s club. The real change within the chamber, though, has been its make-up.

“Back then everyone on the council had a link with the railways ,which is not meant in a negative way. It was a mixture of the union leaders and the railway bosses. “It was very interesting to see them have disagreements at work but then come down the road and work together for the benefit of Swindon.”

The move to a council chamber of more varied backgrounds underscores the biggest change to Swindon during Coun Bawden’s time serving the town.

“Swindon has always had a tradition of engineering, and back in the 60s almost everyone worked on the railways or for Plesseys,” he said.

“That manufacturing tradition has been maintained with the likes of Honda and BMW but now if people want to work in another industry they can, with the likes of Nationwide or Intel.

“Since the 1950s Swindon has seen outstanding economic growth, which I think has benefitted the whole town.”

During his time on the council, Coun Bawden has served as both the leader and deputy leader of the council and has been mayor twice. While he expresses pride at those achievements, there is one fundamental regret.

He said: “I really wish we had been able to bring a university to Swindon. “When I first started out I was told ‘if you can bring a university to the town then you will have achieved where we have failed’ but unfortunately it was not to be.

“As a town we have a below average number of people going to university and I think if they could see the benefits first hand that would change.

“If the chance to have a university in Swindon comes up again then it should be grabbed with both hands.”

Coun Bawden’s battle with leukaemia is going well but he feels that he cannot run an election campaign, so has decided to stand down. “I have had a fantastic experience being a councillor in one of the finest towns in the UK,” he said.

“Swindon is a jewel in terms of its ability to provide jobs and growth and as the UK is growing once again Swindon should be ready to play its part.”

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