The Five Year Plan

Our Five Year Plan 2014-2019

Front cover of the TWBC Five Year Plan.

You may remember that Tunbridge Wells Borough Council revealed their Draft Vision for the borough back in February. Well now it has been updated.

Now called Our Five Year Plan, it sets out, just liked the Draft Vision did, to show what the Council want to achieve between 2014 and 2019, and it does make for encouraging reading.

Visually it's a very different document to the Draft Vision and whilst there aren't too many changes there are a few that might interest you.

The most fascinating of these shows just how serious David Jukes is, and it appears in the very first words of the document: "Our vision..." has become "My plan...".

Additionally the following sentence in Jukes's opening foreword has had a little something added to the end (bolded) that makes promising reading for those following the Water in the Wells project:

"In five years time...Royal Tunbridge Wells...will have a vibrant retail trade and a rich cultural heritage based on music, the arts, leisure and water to continue its spa tradition."

Mr Jukes then finishes the foreword with this new, and rather good, line.

"People that know me will know I like to get things done and I believe it clearly sets out what we will do over the next five years to help local people, businesses and visitors to our borough."

I think he means it.

If you didn't manage to read a copy of the Draft Vision back in February then make yourself a cuppa and have a good nose of the new plan and see just where TWBC wants us to be in 2019.

I'd love to know what you think of the plan, let me know in the comments below.

British Pathé Film

British Pathé, the newsreel maker which documented all walks of life during the 20th Century, has uploaded its entire collection of film to YouTube.

Of course, like me, the first thing you would do is type Tunbridge Wells into the search facility, but worry not, don't waste those precious seconds, I've done the hard work for you and selected a few favourites from the list. Enjoy!

Tunbridge Wells 1942-1944

Some beautiful old footage of our town, including lots of Grosvenor and Hilbert Park, "Don't it make your pants shiny!"

Thrombosis - New Cure?

Did Tunbridge Wells hold the cure? Notice the cup on a chain to drink from the spring.

Floral Clock (1951)

Where is this clock today?

Yoga Dancing (1956)

Anyone remember Mrs Legat?

A Challenge

Who's the best, Maidstone or Royal Tunbridge Wells?

How utterly brilliant are they? Of course there are a few more, click here to save more precious seconds and explore the whole 3,500 hours of uploaded footage. Thanks to Michael Wadsworth for pointing out the news.

The Plant Hunter

There can't have been many exhibitions at the Art Gallery that make you want to get out of there in a hurry, but their latest is one of them.

The Plant Hunter

Mrs Anke's favourite tree, the Tibetan Cherry, prunus serrula.

The Plant Hunter is an exhibition celebrating the work of Bedgebury Pinetum, one of the most important collections of incredibly rare trees in the world.

On display is a showcase of photography by world-renowned photographer Edward Parker, some spectacular fine drawings by the Bedgebury Florilegium, a display of intriguing objects used around the Pinetum, and lots lots more. A reason alone for visiting is the cabinet of giant pine cones, I can't imagine the size of the squirrel that picked them!

The Plant Hunter

We liked the exhibition so much that we jumped in the car and sped off towards Bedgebury and enjoyed lovely day out in the sunshine trying to see who could find the biggest pine cone. Naturally I won.

The Plant Hunter

Mrs Anke enjoys the lovely surroundings of Bedgebury Pinetum.

There are some terrific looking events coming up at the Art Gallery to coincide with the exhibition. The Botanical Drawing Class (Saturday 3rd of May, £6), and the Behind The Scenes Tour (Tuesday, 13th of May, Free) both look especially good.

The Museum have also put the video that you can see at the exhibition online so you can watch it from the comfort of your sofa.

If you're looking for something to do this Easter then you'd be mad not to pay the Art Gallery a visit in the morning and then spend the rest of the day enjoying the Pinetum.

Demolition Commencing Soon?

A quick update on the Ritz Cinema site. I spotted a couple of workmen putting up these rather intriguing signs today. Could demolition be around the corner?

cinema site demolition sign

If the Facebook comments are anything to go by, then probably not. More news soon.

Judging by the amount of Facebook Likes the photo got I think it's going to be a popular day when those wrecking balls start swinging.

Graeme Lothian: War Artist

The distant crack of a gunshot. Suddenly an agonising bolt of pain charges down his arm. His shattered camera hits the floor and his arm falls lifeless to his side. Blood runs down his leg and starts to pool on the ground. More gunfire, much louder and faster this time, crackles all around him. He lays down on the ground, shocked and in crippling pain.

Graeme Lothian

Graeme Lothian painting.

That was Helmand Province, Afghanistan, eight months ago. Today I am standing on a peaceful Mount Ephraim in the beautiful spring sunshine with the man from that opening paragraph. His name is Graeme Lothian and I am watching him paint.

Graeme Lothian

Graeme Lothian paints.

You may have already heard Graeme’s story, if not let me bring you up to speed. Graeme, an ex-paratrooper and SAS soldier, was one of only two official war artists serving the Armed Forces. Since a parachuting accident curtailed his military career he had spent over 30 years painting scenes of army life in major conflicts all over the world. He was on his fourth tour of Afghanistan when he was shot by a Taliban sniper.

Graeme Lothian

Graeme Lothian out on patrol just minutes before being hit by a sniper's bullet. Copyright Graeme Lothian.

He was out on patrol with troops from the 1st Mechanised Brigade taking research photographs for one of his paintings. He had walked to one of the support vehicles for a drink of water, and whilst making his way back towards the group a sniper’s bullet had ricocheted off the ground and hit him in the arm.

The bullet entered his arm just above the elbow, it travelled along the length of his forearm shattering bones, severing nerves and tearing ligaments, until finally exiting through the palm of his hand. On its way out the bullet destroyed the camera he was holding. If it wasn’t for that camera his fingers might not be in the same places they are today.

Graeme Lothian

Graeme Lothian painting in Camp Bastion. Copyright Graeme Lothian.

The realisation that the sniper had hit him in his painting arm was probably more painful than the bullet wound.

Graeme Lothian

Graeme Lothian painting.

He was airlifted to Camp Bastion where he underwent emergency surgery before being transported back to Blighty to a military hospital in Birmingham for more operations. Graeme says he was very lucky, "if the bullet had been six inches to the right it would've hit my spine".

I am noticeably taken aback at the exuberance that Graeme shows when telling me his story. He has probably seen more of Afghanistan than any soldier, and after witnessing limbs being amputated and seeing the victims of the havoc created by IEDs, I am amazed how positive he is by it all.

Graeme Lothian

Graeme Lothian painting.

Back again to the present day, to the peaceful surroundings of the Common, and the very beginning of this story. I had decided to go for a walk for a bit of fresh air and as I was meandering along I noticed, far off in the distance, an artist's easel perched atop Mount Ephraim. I ran up that hill like a greyhound out of a trap. This was when I first said hello to Graeme.

Over the course of a couple of days I spent about five hours interrupting Graeme from his painting and enjoying his seemingly endless stream of extraordinary stories. Now, if anyone needs to get their life into a novel, it's Graeme. His tales of flying into Camp Bastion at night, watching the sun set over Mount Doom, and patrolling with the tank regiment, amongst others, were frankly astonishing. But perhaps the most amazing of all the tidbits Graeme told me was the fact that this was the first time since his accident that he had picked up his brushes to paint. I asked him why he chose this particular view to do so.

Graeme Lothian

Graeme Lothian painting.

It turns out that the road along the top of Mount Ephraim is part of his regular commute between Sevenoaks and Tunbridge Wells and he'd always thought it one of the most picturesque views of town. I think we can all agree with that. So when the time came to begin exercising his painting hand it was this view that he knew he had to start with.

Graeme Lothian

Graeme Lothian's security pass.

So how has the injury affected his ability to put paint to canvas? "I can’t do this any more", he says frantically waving the brush up and down, "but apart from that it’s much the same”. From what I can see Graeme is not one of those people who's going to let anyone or anything defeat him.

As we stood and talked many people passed by, and this being Tunbridge Wells most of them stopped to chat and compliment Graeme on his work, one lady even commissioned a painting of her house.

Graeme Lothian

Graeme Lothian painting.

I caught up with Graeme later in the week to see how he was getting on. This time he had brought with him more than just his paints and brushes. He reached into his bag and brought out something wrapped in a camouflaged blanket. He rested it on a nearby rock and unfurled it. It was his broken camera. He handed it to me and I stood in awe for a while. In my hands I held something that not only had taken a hit from a bloodied Taliban bullet but had also saved the fingers of the man who stood next to me.

Graeme Lothian

Graeme's broken camera.

Graeme Lothian An Artist in London

An Artist in London by Graeme Lothian. Click to buy.

Sadly Graeme doesn’t have the funds to replace his once-prized camera. He recently wrote to Canon and explained his story in the hope of a replacement but they didn’t even bother to reply. Can you believe that? Anyway, saying that, he's now decided that he wants to keep it as a souvenir but would dearly love another. Canon, if you are reading this then you can reach Graeme here.

Amongst all the other things that Graeme had brought to show me was a copy of his latest book, An Artist in London. He thumbed through it showing me some of the works he’d created over the course of five years painting in the capital. He then flicked to the opening page, he had signed it for me. I was quite touched. This will sit in a very special place on my bookshelf. If you want a copy for yourself you can buy it from Amazon.

That all happened a few weeks ago - yep we are skipping forward in time again - and today I paid Graeme a visit at his home for tea and biscuits. We sat and shot the breeze for hours. As well as watching some of the videos that he had taken in Afghanistan we also went through the prototype of his latest book that he is just finishing, An Artist in Afghanistan, which tells the story of the Armed Forces in Afghanistan. Graeme wanted my opinion on how the book was coming along, I thought it was rather impressive indeed. It's a bit different from his other books, it's more educational and story-like than before, if you've ever wanted to see what it's like to be a soldier living and working at war in Afghanistan then this will be a book you will want to own.

What I had especially looked forward to most of all on my visit though was to see the finished painting, and here it is:

Graeme Lothian

Graeme Lothian's painting of Tunbridge Wells from Mount Ephraim.

Graeme Lothian

Graeme Lothian holding his painting of Tunbridge Wells from Mount Ephraim. You can see his battle scar on his hand in this picture.

Superb isn't it. I think he's depicted the scene beautifully don't you? I'm hoping that this will be the first of many for a future book about Tunbridge Wells (hint hint Graeme).

Of all the works he has created over the years what are his favourites? Graeme says he has three: the Scots Guards at Pan Kalay (pictured below), the Fighter Pilot of the Royal Air Force, and the Eagles over the Steppe.

Graeme Lothian

The Scots Guards at Pan Kalay. Copyright Graeme Lothian and Cranston Fine Arts.

If you wanted to see more of Graeme's work, not only can you buy it from Cranston Fine Arts or the Sevenoaks Art Shop, but you can see it hanging on many prestigious walls all over the world including The Royal Society of Medicine, The National Portrait Gallery, The Royal Hospital Chelsea, Oxford University, and even in the home of George Lucas.

I really enjoyed my time accompanying (annoying) Graeme whilst he worked, I meet a lot of people who are generous with their knowledge but Graeme is in another league, he loves to share stories of his travels and experiences all over the world and you could sit for days and listen to them. If you wanted to learn more about him you can read more about him on The Big Issue and the BBC, but to be honest the best place to hear his stories are whilst standing right next to him, so if you happen to see Graeme around town painting then stop and say hello, trust me it's worth it.

I can't wait to catch up with Graeme again over the summer and show you more of his paintings of Tunbridge Wells.


  • I am a spritely 30-something living with my beautiful wife in the most fabulous town in the entire world, Royal Tunbridge Wells.

    We love to soak up the culture, the lifestyle, the nature, the history, the people, the art, the architecture, and the countryside in this idyllic part of the Weald, and because we love our town so much we made our blogs to share it with the rest of you.

    If you have any questions, comments or suggestions then please get in touch by sending us an email or if you are on Twitter then you can tweet me at @ankertw.

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