Here is an update on what I’ve been doing in the last two months since my previous blog.
Our response to COVID-19 continues and, with everyone getting used to virtual working, I have been working with colleagues to move forward on several other projects.
As the lockdown has eased, shops and businesses have been opening in Congleton and it has been pleasing to see people going out to eat, shop and meet, for the most part maintaining social distancing. I have continued to work with Council officers and community leaders on setting the strategy for the next phase and potential actions to address a ‘second wave’ in Congleton. The phone helpline has now stopped (redirects to the Council number) but the Facebook COVID community group is still running. Community Leaders are now meeting monthly from September.
My Council activities
If you want to chat to me about what I am doing, my work in the Council or about the Women’s Equality Party, we usually have an informal ‘open house’ on the second Monday each month at 7.30pm, previously in the Young Pretender in Congleton but more recently as an informal Zoom meeting. The next one is on the 14th September.
A number of initiatives have moved forward in the last couple of months:
I have been working with DI Claire Jesson of Cheshire Police and Saskia Richie of myCWA to see what services we can deliver to local people, and in July we brought a proposal to the Community & Environment Committee of the Council for a monthly Domestic Abuse Clinic in the Old Saw Mill, Congleton.
At these clinics people can have an informal discussion with the Police and/or with a myCWA support worker about the options open to them and how to prevent or escape from abuse.
I was delighted to see that the Councillors were in strong support of the clinic. It was voted through unanimously and I hope will make a real difference to families in Congleton. Many thanks are due to Peter Aston of the Old Saw Mill for the venue.
Meanwhile, Council officers and I are continuing to submit funding applications to build on this for more frequent clinics and even a ‘domestic abuse hub’ with support groups and a crèche facility. If you know of any funding sources, let me know!
Some background facts and figures:
- From 23rd March to 12thJuly there were 140 incidents of domestic abuse or violence reported to the police in Congleton – an average of more than one a day.
- The Charity Refuge reported an 80% year-on-year increase in helpline calls and 800% increase in visits to its website in June 2020, which it attributed to the impact of the COVID lockdown.
- According to Safelives, domestic abuse is under-reported. On average victims at ‘high risk of serious harm or murder’ live with domestic abuse for 2-3 years before getting help.
- Cheshire Police, together with Cheshire East Council and myCWA, collaborate to deliver one of most effective and co-ordinated domestic abuse services in the country, dealing with crimes reported as well as implementing preventative measures. Their work was highlighted in a BBC documentary with Cheshire survivor Abi Blake – more can be seen here. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/stories-51360772.
DI Claire Jesson
Our White Ribbon Group has made progress on a number of fronts recently. Richard Walton, one of our Ambassadors, has run an awareness session for Councillors and they were very supportive of CTC becoming White Ribbon Accredited. Several individual Councillors pledged their personal support, and Cllrs Robert Hemsley and Robert Douglas agreed to join the White Ribbon Working Group. Cllr Hemsley is our new Chair.
We broadened our Congleton White Ribbon purpose to be to “Strive to eradicate all forms of gender-based violence and abuse in Congleton”, recognising that victims can also be men.
We are reaching out to the community including getting connected with the Congleton Education Community Partnership and PubWatch, and also we’ve been asked to help other Town Councils with Accreditation.
Meanwhile, I updated our White Ribbon Action Plan to include some of our outreach and awareness activities, including the Maker’s Market in September and November 2020. I sent the revised plan to the White Ribbon headquarters and we hope it will now be enough to award our Accreditation.
Our local Police Beat Inspector, Kelly Johnston, is going to work with our White Ribbon Working Group, in addition to the links with the DA Clinic (above).
White Ribbon is a national charity that encourages men to stand up against gender-based violence and abuse.
Antisocial Behaviour Working Group
I chair this group which has been meeting by Zoom. The group discussed additional CCTV provision and a proposal has now been approved by Council for an additional mobile camera in the town.
ASB in the outdoors has included Astbury Mere, Mossley Cricket Ground, Congleton Park and Little Street recently – the police asked that people call 101 if they see an incident.
I have worked with the residents of Silk Mills who have had a number of problems with misuse of a public footpath through their garden. The Police are doing extra patrols there and the Streetscape team cut down some bushes that were providing a hiding place.
The community spirit we have seen through COVID has led to welcome moves to add more Speedwatch and Neighbourhood Watch Groups in Congleton, which the ASB team and the Police are supporting.
The biggest single category of crime we see in Congleton remains Domestic Abuse, and Sgt Paul Brunton reported 89 incidents in the 6 weeks between ASB group meetings. This will be on the agenda for the parent Community & Environment Committee meetings in future (which I also chair) so that these statistics will be made public. Domestic Abuse is not a ‘private’ matter – it is a challenge for all of us to tackle.
Health & Wellbeing
Our Congleton Health & Wellbeing Working Group has a priority of supporting adult mental health, and I’m delighted to see that, following our meeting with them, SWaNs are now offering an online support services funded by the Cheshire Community Fund. Details are here:
The survey on post-COVID Health & Wellbeing completed on the 28th August and the results will be published in September. The responses have been very insightful and it is clear that many people have been affected financially, emotionally and practically by this crisis.
I am working with Council colleagues to explore opportunities to improve childcare supply and support childcare businesses in Congleton. Many of them are struggling due to the lockdown and there is little government help for them. I am looking into opportunities to support training of childcare professionals.
ANSA, the Council HR provider, has informed us that they do not offer any support or information to new parents on their rights with regard to flexible working, childcare and parental leave. It is no wonder that the Gender Pay Gap in Cheshire East is not improving! We will be looking at how we can help with this.
Our Childcare workshop team (parents and providers) have given us some direction in terms of the questions parents and providers need to answer, and we are collecting information for a page on our website to support them.
Meanwhile, the Community and Environment Committee approved a proposal I brought to write to the Minister for Local Government in support of calls for carer’s allowance for Council meetings, to open up our democracy to those with caring responsibilities who could not otherwise become Councillors.
The SLIC (Sustainable Living in Congleton) elearning course is progressing and I’m providing input from a user experience point of view. We hope to have this delivered by the end of the year.
I’m also supporting the Congleton Sustainability Group in putting together a series of webinars, each on sustainability topic, to engage and inform residents about what we can all do for the environment and our carbon footprint.
We met in July to discuss proposals to create safe cycling routes to schools. Headteachers, especially of the high schools, are worried about children cycling instead of using public transport when some of our roads do not have cycle lanes. Pupils are advised to avoid buses due to COVID and there isn’t space for all parents to drive their children to school.
We came up with a proposal to ask CEC to create complete, safe cycle routes to each high school and the Council voted to approve this, so it has been sent to Cheshire East Council.
Congleton Museum Trust
I am continuing to support the sub-team to looking at re-opening of the museum. Most of the action plan has been completed and there is final task to sort out the WiFi to cope with the new contactless payments, video doorbell etc. We are hoping the museum will open after that.
Congleton Pride could not go ahead as an event in July, but we flew the Pride flag on the Town Hall that week. We had a Pride meeting and agreed on some activities to keep the movement alive whilst communicating (mostly) virtually. I suggested, and the team agreed, we might survey the people of Congleton and our LGBT+ community to learn more about being LGBT+ in our town. I did some research and drafted some initial survey questions for review.
Cheshire East Equality Strategy Input
I contacted Marilyn Houston, Equality Champion for CEC and sent input to the strategy. As a follow up we had a meeting and discussed the role of the Equality Champion to see if it is worthwhile setting up this role at Town Council level.
My Meeting Attendance
Overall, my Council meeting attendance for the two months has been 89% for all council meetings and working groups, either face-to-face or virtually (17 of 19). For the mandatory council committees my rate is 88% (7 of 8).
The Town Council’s remit unfortunately does not include things such as Social Services, Health, Transport – these are the domain of Cheshire East, but we can lobby in these areas.
I am a member of eleven other Groups as well as the Council Committees, which meet at regular intervals, typically every couple of months. I am a member of the groups below but I also attend the Town Centre, Assets & Services Committee and the Finance & Policy Committee whenever I can, as well as Congleton Sustainability Group.
Community and Environment Committee (Chair)
Health and Wellbeing Working Group
Anti-Social Behaviour Working Group (Chair)
Integrated Transport Working Group
COVID Community Leaders
Congleton Business Support/Regeneration
Congleton Pride Steering Group
Elizabeth’s Group – commemorating Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy