Here is an update on what I’ve been doing in the last two months since my previous blog.
If you want to chat to me about what I am doing in the Council my monthly surgeries are continuing on the second Monday of the month. The next one is 10th January. You can join on Zoom here or look out for my event on Facebook
I volunteered to help at the Christmas Lights Switch-on which was a very successful event, brilliantly put together by Congleton Town Council Officers. It was wonderful to have people gathering in our Town Centre to celebrate Christmas together once more.
I also volunteered with the Congleton Santa team, going round with Santa’s float to give sweets to the children and collecting donations for charity – we collected for the Congleton social supermarket.
White Ribbon Day
White Ribbon Day was on 25th November – this is also the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. As we are a White Ribbon Town Council, I and the team led a number of activities to raise awareness and engagement.
I facilitated an Ambassadors’ Workshop on 9th November to help hone skills and prepare to have – sometimes difficult – conversations with men (especially) about male violence towards women. It was an interesting session and the Ambassadors had some great ideas of how to move our work forward.
We ran a town centre stall on 27th November, and had some great conversations. Many people didn’t know the extent of the problem of violence and abuse, some absolutely did. Survivors told us their stories, some parents expressed concern and asked us to engage more with high schools, which we intend to do in 2022. More than sixty people made their White Ribbon Promise on the day.
Some of the group attended the White Ribbon Day Conference on 25th November. There were some inspiring presentations, including from a young man from SHOUT, the campaign devised by young people in Cheshire to stamp out sexual harassment. I am working with Emma Storey, CEC’s Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Development Lead Advisor, to get a presentation in Congleton about this campaign.
I and the White Ribbon Ambassadors made a series of White Ribbon Videos as follows:
- What is White Ribbon Day? – Peter Munro
- What is the problem in Congleton? – Robert Douglas
- Why I became a White Ribbon Ambassador – Richard Walton
- What have we done here in Congleton? – Robert Hemsley (Chair of WR Group)
- What are we going to do next? – David McGifford
- Why women are sick of ‘keeping ourselves safe’ – Kay Wesley
- What can you do? – Jonathan Dakin
You can watch the entire White Ribbon Congleton Playlist here.
We also had a publicity campaign including a ‘home page takeover’ of our Facebook Page and Website, flying the White Ribbon Flag on the Town Hall and articles in the newspapers.
If you like you can join our White Ribbon Congleton Facebook Group. This is a private group intended to be a safe space for men (especially) to have constructive conversations with each other about how to challenge sexism and behaviours that lead to violence.
If you, your employer, your sports club or any other group would like a White Ribbon awareness session, please get in touch: email@example.com.
Working with the Police
We heard in the Community & Environment Committee meeting in November that there have been 54 incidents of anti-social behaviour, 48 incidents of Domestic Abuse and 14 Sexual Offences reported in the 7 weeks since the previous meeting. These figures cover Congleton, Alsager and Odd Rode and represent an incident of DA every day and two sexual offences a week. Plain clothes officers have been patrolling near high schools after an incident where a schoolgirl was followed.
Violence against women and girls is a priority for our new Local Policing Unit which is headquartered in Congleton, and led by Chief Supt Claire Jesson.
Some posters were circulating in Sandbach that were entitled ‘Drink Spiking – Don’t let it Happen to You’ and it was thought that they had police endorsement. This was brought to my attention by women who – like me – were appalled at this headline, apparently making it the victim’s job to prevent this crime, rather than targeting perpetrators. I made a few enquiries and our Police colleagues confirmed that these were not centrally endorsed by Cheshire Police. Most of them have now been taken down on the request of local people.
Meanwhile our PCSOs delivered to me some more helpful posters – addressing perpetrators – created by Rape Crisis – these are now available in our Information Centre. See image. If you would like a poster like this for your venue or workplace please get in touch with me.
I also followed up with Cheshire Police on an incident of homophobia that I was made aware of. Although the number of hate crimes in Congleton is low, the local force has a ‘zero tolerance’ approach and they were happy to pursue this. In 2022 I will continue to work with the Congleton Pride team on partnering with the Police.
I am delighted to have been appointed at a member of Cheshire Police’s External Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (EDEI) Board. This body meets regularly and its role is:
- To have an overview of the force’s commitment and ongoing work in regards to DEI in line with the NPCC Diversity, Equality & Inclusion Strategy
- To scrutinise the priority areas of the NPCC toolkit identified by the force gold governance group and to consider the adequacy of action being taken to address those priority areas
- To act as a critical friend to Cheshire Constabulary giving constructive feedback and advice on identified areas of DEI practice for the force
- To provide independent qualitative reviews on areas of DEI progression within the force referred by the Chief Constable or their statutory officers
- To advise on the development of new and existing force policies and strategies in relation to DEI.
I attended an initial meeting with the new board and we have kick-off workshop in January 2022.
Cllr Suzy Firkin, Officer Ruth Burgess and I met to discuss how to account for our carbon offsets resulting from activities supported by Congleton Town Council including tree and hedge planting and ‘rewilding’ projects.
I will be working on adding these offsets as calculations to the project plan for all the different areas where these activities are underway, and this will total to our ‘overall offset’ so that we can get a sense of where we stand and how much more we need to do.
I’ve also volunteered to work with Officers on the marketing and digital campaign for all of our Congleton Green activities, and we’ll move forward on this in early 2022.
I helped our excellent Tree Planting Volunteers, led by the talented Ruth Benson, with some tree and hedge planting during this period and will continue to do so in 2022.
Congleton 750th Year Celebration
I’m on the working group for this celebration and during this period I contacted people I know involved in ceilidh bands and Morris Dancing Groups, so that the events team can invite them to the Medieval Ball and to the town centre events respectively.
Bromley Farm Community Development Trust (BFCDT)
Following the AGM of the Trust at which it was clear that little progress has been made on the points made in the Cheshire East Review, it has been announced that the Constitution is going to be updated together with 10 other actions that Cheshire East Officers have requested to make the Trust more inclusive. I have been supporting some residents who are interested in getting more involved with the Trust. I have had a number of conversations with residents and with the Cheshire East Officers who are supporting the Trust in implementing the improvements. I also attended a meeting about the fact that some of the Bromley Farm residents’ efforts towards InBloom were not recognised on the prize-giving night. I will continue to support the Trust working for Bromley Farm residents in any way I can in 2022, and will happily work with the current leadership to make the organisation more transparent and accountable.
A number of residents are still concerned about having to travel out of Congleton for COVID booster jabs. I raised this as an Urgent Item at our Community & Environment Committee Meeting and have continued to pursue this with the local NHS Clinical Commissioning Group. More booster clinics are planned in Congleton.
I am an NHS Volunteer Responder and have re-activated my account in the first responder system so that I can volunteer for vaccine clinics in the New Year.
I attended at Congleton Partnership meeting at which the new Chair, Peter Aston, discussed his vision for the future of the Partnership. There are number of areas where the group believed it could improve, especially in terms of clarity of purpose, accountability/transparency and the specific role of the Town Council supporting the Partnership (which is separate from the Council). As Partnership liaison Councillor I offered to be part of the working group to redefine how the Partnership works, and if not on the group I will certainly offer ideas about the liaison role.
My brief for the future ‘Global Museum’ project – to digitise our collection and make it available to people remotely – has been sent to vendors and during December I conducted meetings with 3 of them who are preparing proposals for us. The current brief is to complete the strategy and business case that we can use to submit for more funding to develop the project further.
The idea is to allow people to interact with the museum and its collections online in a variety of ways, and to add digital components to a ‘real-life’ museum visit.
If you would like to get involved with the Museum, please contact me or firstname.lastname@example.org
I have been working with a local architect, Tom Withers, who prepared the drawings for the location of our statue of Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy on Bridge Street, Congleton, and we submitted the Planning Application complete with drawings, background story and Heritage Statement.
These are now on the Cheshire East Council Planning Portal and the public has come out in force in support of the application. More than fifty members of the public have written letters of support to the Planning Portal, and the official response from the Cultural Economy Team at Cheshire East Council is also in support. The Landscape, Archaeological and Highways responses offer no objections.
Three commentators asked about possible hazards for the visually impaired or wheelchair users. I got some advice from the Sensing Culture project (of RNIB) which recommends how to make artworks accessible for the visually impaired, and from a doctor who is a national disability rights campaigner, both of whom support the idea of the statue as ‘street art’ that is at wheelchair-level and accessible by touch (with appropriate sensory paving around it) rather than placing the artwork on a plinth out of reach.
Hybrid Council Meetings
I have been working with Town Hall Manager Mark Worthington who has done a fantastic job in sourcing a solution that will allow us to run meetings with remote attendees and decent sound and visuals, using software such as Zoom. Cllr Suzy Firkin (Chair of Town Hall, Assets & Services Cttee) and I tested it with Mark and Chief Officer David McGifford, then we conducted a larger test at a Council Planning Meeting.
I hope this will be a route to opening up our democracy and allowing many more members of the public (including those with caring responsibilities or without transport) to attend our Council meetings.
Congleton Town Regeneration Group
I attended a meeting of our Regeneration Group with the new Chair of the East Cheshire Chamber of Commerce, Jackie Randles. We shared a number of ideas for who we can work together to support Congleton Businesses, including CTC possibly hosting one of the Chamber’s Thursday Thirty breakfast meetings. More on this in 2022.
Budgeting for the Coming Year
As Chair of the Community & Environment Committee I made some suggestions for the coming year’s budget, which has now been ratified by the Council. This included an upgrade for the Council’s Website, which is how many residents choose to interact with us, and funding for work on the climate change (including carbon offsetting), and biodiversity, as well as integrated transport.
My Meeting Attendance
Overall, my Council meeting attendance in these two months has been 100% for all council meetings and working groups, either face-to-face or virtually (17 out of 17). For the mandatory council committees my rate is 100% (7 of 7).
In total since I have been a Councillor (from May 2019) my overall meeting attendance across all types of meetings and statutory meetings has been 95%.
I am a member of fourteen other Groups as well as the Council Committees, which meet at regular intervals, typically every couple of months. You can see my memberships on the About Me Page.
The Town Council’s remit does not include things such as Social Services, Health, Transport, Waste, Recycling – these are the domain of Cheshire East, but we can lobby in these areas.