Long-time Acle parish councillor passes on chairman role

AT 88 years old and with half a century’s stalwart service at the parish pump behind him Basil Tibbenham can be forgiven for being a little hazy on the exact details of what happened when.

So much has passed under his rural radar in the last 50 years from meetings with ministers to sorting out a host of local nuisances that the particulars evade him – it’s the results that count. But the retiring chairman of Acle Parish Council, who has only ever missed one meeting, is certain of one thing: that things aren’t what they used to be in Acle – they are much better.

Always keeping in touch with the people on his patch in traditional ways he has never sent a single email and is not about to embrace the world wide web any time soon – living proof if any were needed of the value of doing things face-to-face or on the phone, and even the latter is slightly un-palateable to the sprightly octogenarian.

And while village fetes – the main annual money spinner for some communities – are rained off by summer downpours across the borough, Acle has no such weather worries. It doesn’t need to put out the bunting and risk bouncy castles turning into paddling pools because the social and bowls clubs pay for themselves, generating thousands of pounds which are ploughed back into facilities and services.

“How many other places have got a bath in the chapel?” Mr Tibbenham asks with a big twinkly smile, rightly proud of the volunteer scheme that allows the infirm to have a hot meal and a bath, thanks to a special hoist.

His proudest moments are to do with the whole complex of buildings that have sprung up off Bridewell Lane including the Methodist Church, Herondale old people’s home and tennis courts, and achieving a bypass for Acle.

All of the projects were drawn-out sagas that were hard won but now paying dividends, particularly the indoor bowls club which has more than 600 members.

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Having joined the council on a sudden whim 50 years ago it was hard to give up, but even Mr Tibbenham, with some encouragement from his caring and close family, had to finally admit it was time to slow down.

His decision not to stand as chairman again was helped by the retirement from the council by fellow stalwart and local vet Roger Clarke.

Born in Reedham in 1923, his working life was spent as a housing manager first for the rural and then the district council.

His wartime service was delayed while he repaired bomb-damaged houses locally but as a sapper with the Royal Engineers port construction and repair unit he saw active service landing at Normandy’s Sword Beach three days after D Day and making his way to the shattered city of Caen.

He married Betty 50 years ago and the couple celebrated their golden wedding anniversary with a meal and surprise party complete with balloons and two-tier wedding cake organised by three of their granddaughters on Sunday.

“After 43 years as chairman I felt I had done enough,” he said. “We have everything a village should expect. There are all sorts of facilities. I hope that what we have achieved will be well looked after. It has given me a lot of job satisfaction.”

Diane Fisher has taken over his role and John Harriss remains as vice-chairman.