Constable captured Gillingham’s history on canvas but Gillingham Chamber of Commerce & Industry criss-crossed the sands of time with their recent Meet the Neighbours event at the Olive Bowl in Gillingham. Local Businesses, local Government and local societies all joined in to welcome Chamber members from Mere, Shaftesbury and Wilton to a showcasing of just a sample of the town’s rich and diverse business community.
Treasurer and Dorset Chef owner Rob Setchell introduced the evening, highlighting just some of the exciting adventures Chamber are involved with: Gillingham School 500 Anniversary events, Gillfest, Gillingham in Gear 2017, Gillingham Youth Foundation and the Lighting Festival. Sam Woodcock from the History Society finished the evening with a slide show taking the audience through the arrival of the train up through the High Street and back to a very different thriving business community that John Constable will remember only too well.
Meet the Neighbours is an event that local Chamber groups host usually once a year. Five different Town Chambers take advantage of this and this year it was the turn of Gillingham to host. There is no pre-set formula except that the neighbouring Chambers of Shaftesbury, Wilton, Tisbury and Mere are all invited and each group tries to send representation. With such a rich tapestry of business history in the town it seemed right to use the historical theme to showcase the current incumbents of the business community with the old.
Jenny Trim who runs a graphic design and printing business said “it was fascinating to see the old pictures. I’ve lived here all my life and some of the buildings I do remember but found myself checking the roof of the shops by the station; they are the same as the pictures we were shown. It was a wonderful blend of old and new.”
Andrew Wilson and his staff from the Olive Bowl laid on the most superb finger food buffet for the visitors, greeting them with their first drink ‘on the house’. Olive Bowl staff worked hard with Chamber members to create a welcome and productive arrangement in the room allowing traders and organisations to mingle freely with visitors and each other, developing new links or strengthening old connections. The bar remained open and the food continued to be served seamlessly tempting even the most discerning palate.
Gillingham History Society were joined by the Town Twinning Group and Rotary with tables manned by their members discussing the roles they play within the fabric of the town. David Beaton and Simon Kidner from Gillingham Neighbourhood Plan Group were on hand to update enquirers with the current plans. Representatives from both the Town Council and North Dorset District Council attended the event.
There was a varied and eclectic mix of businesses showing the diverse nature of this small but still thriving town. Representatives from Portmore Insurance, Octopus Personnel and Southern Tank Services mingled with Jennifer Trim – Design and Print, Neal’s Yard Remedies Consultant, Gillingham and Shaftesbury Guide, East West Design together with new businesses: Stephen O’Keefe – Sports Massage and Gillingham Chiropractor replace the old industries such as the glue factory and royally appointed bacon factory of former years. While more established old master firms such as Farnfields, Cullingfords and Andrews and Palmer bridged the gap between old and new commerce.