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 on 7th November at 7pm. You can join on Zoom here or go to my event on Facebook
Cost of Living Crisis
I am working with a group of community leaders from churches, charities, businesses, Cheshire East Council and other organisations to see how we can help people in Congleton weather the storm of the current cost of living crisis. We are meeting regularly and plans are underway to offer support with affordable food and warm spaces.
My own role is in connections and communication. I am creating a Facebook group similar to the successful one we had during COVID pandemic, looking at what information is needed on the CTC website, and connecting with other online organisations.
I attended the Cheshire East Environment and Communities Committee on 29th September as Chair of Community and Environment Committee in Congleton, and spoke in support of getting a new Household Waste and Recycling Centre in Congleton, as well as joining a protest outside the building before the meeting.
Many thanks to the other Councillors and members of the public who also spoke in favour of a new tip at that meeting. We all made slightly different points, and the Congleton Town Councillors (Cllrs Douglas, Firkin and myself) worked together so we didn’t duplicate. The gist of my own statement was:
- Congleton is one of the biggest services centres in Cheshire East, and is twice as big as five of the seven towns that are being provided with a household waste and recycling centre in the new contract.
- Congleton supports rural villages as well as more than 4000 new homes in the town itself.
- The residents of Congleton are very angry that in the procurement of this new contract, no consideration has been given to their needs whatsoever, and that many want to reduce CO2 emissions and recycle more.
- Congleton has a high proportion of elderly residents and a large number of low-income families, including single parents. These often do not have their own transport and therefore it is much less likely they will be able to access a service provided in another town.
- I ended by asking the committee to ensure the new contract includes what our residents expect, namely a household waste, recycling and re-use facility in Congleton.
You can see the discussion and my contribution in the meeting minutes here.
As a result of the discussion, the committee decided that “a Working Group be established by the Committee to look at future household waste and recycling centre provision with particular attention to provision for Congleton”. We were pleased with the result and will monitor the next steps.
We have a strategy and roadmap in place for our ‘Global Museum’ project. This is intended to bring the museum and its collections to a wider audience – both local and further afield – in a variety of ways, using digital and traditional outreach tactics. The first step is to deliver a new website and web shop for the museum.
I completed an application for funding to the Inclosure Trust, and Cllr Firkin presented it to them when I was away. I am very happy to report that they approved it, so the project can now start.
The project will need further funding so if you know of any individuals or businesses that might like to support heritage projects, do get in touch. My own next step is to complete an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund.
White Ribbon Campaign
White Ribbon is an international organisation supporting men to campaign against men’s violence against women, and the behaviours and attitudes that lead to this. Congleton Town Council is a White Ribbon Accredited organisation and, as an inclusive council our goal is to ‘eradicate all gender-based violence and abuse’ from Congleton.
White Ribbon Day is 25th November, and the team has started planning the campaign and activities for this and the following ’16 days of action’ against violence and abuse. We are filming our Ambassadors and students from local schools as part of the campaign. We have also sent in images and video to the myCWA White Ribbon Campaign.
In addition, I was asked to present the White Ribbon campaign to the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) Policy Committee. It was very favourably received and supported by Sue Baxter who runs the NALC Women’s Network.
If you’d like to get involved in White Ribbon, please contact me or visit www.whiteribbon.org.uk
Sexual Violence and Domestic Abuse
MyCWA has now started their peer support group at the Old Saw Mill in Congleton, in addition to the Domestic Abuse Clinic.
The Police reports for sexual offences and domestic abuse make interesting reading. Sexual offence reports went up from 15 to 25 year-on-year from June to August, but colleagues in the Police believe this is most likely not a higher incidence but more confidence in reporting, due to the White Ribbon campaign and the work of Police liaison officers.
In addition, the domestic abuse statistics are interesting for June-August in Congleton. The number of incidents year-on-year reduced slightly (117 verusus 133), but the arrest rate more than doubled (from 12% to 31%).
Officers believe that this is due to victims now having more confidence to pursue their cases and not drop them, as result of the heightened awareness brought about by the Town Council’s White Ribbon work.
I also attended another workshop of the Whole Housing Project that is being run by the Cheshire East Domestic and Sexual Abuse Partnership (CEDSAP). In this workshop we looked at the relationship between domestic abuse, rough sleeping and other challenges such as mental health problems, and the multidisciplinary teams needed to address these. We also considered current gaps such as provision for victims who are abused in homes of shared ownership, and those leaving the criminal justice system.
Working with the Police
The Antisocial Behaviour Working Group, which I chair, brought a proposal to the Community and Environment Committee for CTC to sign up to the Community Safety Charter. This gives councils and others resources and support to help people feel safer in the streets.
This seems highly relevant, since concern for safety is one of the major areas people contact the Police about in Congleton.
The proposal was approved, so our next steps are to reach out to our Neighbourhood Watch teams (the Charter is a Neighbourhood Watch initiative) to see if they’d like to work with us on this.
Meanwhile, anyone can sign up to the charter – you can do so here if you like: https://www.ourwatch.org.uk/charter
A group of us visited the CCTV headquarters to see the Congleton cameras in operation and in particular the new camera looking at the Community Garden where we have had a number of antisocial behaviour incidents.
I attended two local community meetings with the Police – the Community Conversation Follow up and the new Community Cohesion Group.
The Community Conversation is about the Police seeking community projects to support with funding.
The Community Cohesion Group was a consultation about Police Stop and Search Powers, in which we looked at bodycam videos of searches and assessed whether we thought a reasonable process had been followed. It would be good to get a wider cross-section of the public involved in these meetings so please contact me if you are interested: firstname.lastname@example.org
I also attended a meeting of the Cheshire Police EDEI (External Diversity Equality and Inclusion) Board, in which the principal topic for discussion was the national Police Race Action Plan and how Cheshire Police will implement it. The Board will be scrutinising the implementation of this.
I am working on the new Green section of the CTC website, which brings together many of our initiatives in a more orderly way, under the headings of Green Council, Green Community and Green Business. The new website section will launch in November.
I am also working with our website providers to track the usage of the eLearning course on Sustainable Living in Congleton to check how many people are completing it and which sections they are most interested in, to inform any future developments.
In September we had the Green Fayre and I was on the Congleton Town Council green group stall. The attendance seemed good for my ‘shift’ and I had conversations with many enthusiastic Congletonians as well as several people who had travelled from neighbouring towns and said they wished something like that was happening in their own town!
As part of the Green week I also had a tour of the Vale Allotments which was very enjoyable and informative. What a great town-centre asset it is. I also went home with a bunch of beetroot!
I attended a group meeting with the consultant who wrote the Town Hall Decarbonisation strategy and we discussed the ‘quick wins’ and longer-term initiatives we need to implement in order to reduce the carbon footprint of this historic building. We will need to apply for additional funding to afford some of the more significant projects.
You can see the public version of our green calendar for the year here
In light of the cost of living crisis, we have designated November ‘saving energy at home’ month. Please join in our events by sending photos or videos of what you are doing, or putting them on social media with the hashtag #CongletonGreen.
Our celebrations of 750 years of Congleton continue. I attended the Mediaeval Banquet in aid of the Mayor’s Charities, which was very well attended.
I also had a pleasant evening with Benedict Goodale, the Ale Taster as part of his role visiting all the Congleton real ale hostelries.
In addition, as a Museum Trustee I helped to judge the Congleton 750 History Competition in which we invited young people to depict in any medium an aspect of our town’s history in the past 750 years. My colleague Cllr Firkin organised the competition (thank you) and the entries were very interesting and inspiring. Results to be announced in November.
I have been working with the Congleton Pride team on developing the governance and processes for a group that is growing rapidly in numbers, influence and popularity. My own role has been to draft an Equality and Respect Policy for the group, which helps to determine which individuals and groups Pride will work with and how we will address conduct that doesn’t meet our standards. In addition, I will be setting up a new ‘attitudes’ survey for Pride and it will be interesting to see what has changed from the last one we did 2 years ago.
Bromley Farm Community Hub Support
I have been working with the Bromley Farm Wellbeing Hub team and Plus Dane Housing, on ideas to support the Bromley Farm community.
I helped them set up a Community Consultation morning and we were delighted with the number of people who dropped into the Hub to offer ideas for activities and areas where support is needed. A good number volunteered to help run things.
The ideas will be collated and fed back in full to the community, then a team convened to put them into action.
We asked the Community-Centre-based group, the Bromley Farm Community Development Trust, for the results of its 2022 survey so that the Hub didn’t duplicate, but we have not yet received this.
I am a member of the Integrated Transport Working Group and we met recently to discuss 20-mile-an-hour zones and areas where works are needed. I pointed out that the Mossley Traffic lights are a death trap for families walking to school and pre-school from the Henshall Hall and Reades Lane areas. We really need a crossing there. This and a number of other areas were discussed to take to Cheshire East for recommendation.
I asked Cheshire East officers and Hollinshead transport about increasing the routes and times of the Beartown bus services (90, 91, 92) and this initiated new discussions about this topic, which had become dormant during the pandemic (when people were being told to avoide buses) and aftermath. I re-iterated Congleton’s offer to support and promote any improvements to bus services, which we have committed to as a Council as part of our input to the transport strategy.
Interestingly, our bus survey last year did show that most people, even those with cars, will use bus services if they are convenient, frequent and cheap enough. I re-sent the survey results to CEC and asked them to come back with suggested pilots for improvement.
I also expressed an interest in a new volunteer Sustainable Travel group that is forming in Congleton and I hope to attend their first face-to-face meeting soon.
Congleton Area Ukraine Refugee Support
Our Community and Environment Committee voted to support two events at the Town Hall in the coming months.
First of all a Hosts Evening to bring together families who are hosting refugees with those who want to, and share experiences and stories, and learn a little bit of Ukrainian language and culture, as well as how to support guests learning English. I am helping organise this with our officers.
The second is being led by the Mayor, Cllr Margaret Gartside, and is a Ukrainian Christmas event, designed by and for our Ukrainian guests.
I have personally been supporting two families, one of whom is now settled in a flat and working in Congleton and the other is still a guest in my house.
I did an interview for the U3A magazine about what it is like to host Ukrainians in one’s home, with the permission of my guests.
I’m still helping to administer the Facebook Group for the Congleton Area Ukraine Support Network. If you are interested in becoming a host, please get in touch with CAUSN on its website. https://www.causn.com/
Civility and Respect?
The National Association of Local Councils has been conducting a project called Civility and Respect, to put together a package of resources and services to help local councils implement best practice in councillor conduct.
This is a response to the national government refusing to re-instate sanctions for councillors who break the rules and harass or abuse each other, council officers or the public. If you do these things in the work place you can be sacked, but as a councillor there is no real punishment.
The government says ‘the public can just vote them out’ but often it is officers or individuals who are impacted by these behaviours and the public do not know about it. From around the country, there are stories of highly professional town clerks and other officers having to leave distinguished careers because of bullying from a councillor, who does not receive any consequences for his actions.
As a member of the NALC women’s group, even I have been surprised by the incidence of misogyny and abuse that some councillors have experienced or witnessed up and down the country. Everyone knows about the famous ‘Handforth Zoom meeting’ and Jackie Weaver herself (who has been my colleague on the ChALC board this year) is a supporter of the Civility and Respect project.
The perception of these behaviours is a major factor in ordinary people not wanting to volunteer as parish or town councillors. Some women, and anyone from a group that is subject to discrimination, can be reluctant to put themselves forward if they perceive that they will be subjected to the prejudice and abuse.
I have been part of a national focus group reviewing the toolkit for this project and The Civility and Respect Project has now been published. Councils can take the Civility and Respect Pledge and adopt the best practices that the toolkit provides.
Our Chief Officer brought this to a Congleton Town Council meeting recently, and to my surprise, it was voted down. The rationale given by some Councillors was that we are already respectful in Congleton, which I don’t disagree with, but our officers say that this toolkit will help train new councillors and ensure good practice continues. Some Councillors thought it would stifle free speech, but there is nothing in it that changes any rules about debate. No-one enjoys a robust debate as much as I but if you don’t know the difference between free speech and bullying, you probably need the training provided in the project!
I encourage you to look at this project and let your Councillors know if it is something you expect to see in Congleton.
Town Centre Vitality Plan and Neighbourhood Plan
The Congleton Town Centre Vitality Plan is out for public consultation. This is not yet funded but is intended to be a ‘wish list’ of ways to improve the town if we can secure funding, and I’ve been on the CTC focus group for it. You can learn more and answer the consultation here.
The Neighbourhood Plan, which will determine the framework for future planning and development in Congleton, will be coming out for consultation in November. I’m involved in this as part of the Planning Committee.
Elizabeth’s Group invited Dr Mary Holmes to give a talk in Congleton to launch her new book about Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy, Elizabeth: The Fiesty Feminist. It was a very interesting and enjoyable session.
The group has launched a new campaign: Make Moody Marvellous, to try to save Moody Hall for the community. Moody Hall was where Elizabeth set up her girls’ school in Congleton and is now in the hands of a developer, but is falling into ruin and it is not clear if the work will be completed. You can sign our petition to Make Moody Marvellous here. You can read more on the campaign page on the Elizabeth website.
Elizabeth’s Group is invited people to become ‘friends’ to get discounts from future events and support our future work. You can become a Friend of Elizabeth Here.
I attended Proclamations in Congleton, Cheshire East and commemorative services in September after the death of Her Majesty the Queen.
I supported the ‘Thursday Thirty’ meeting at Congleton Town Hall in partnership with the East Cheshire Chamber of Commerce. We invited local businesses into the town hall to learn more about the work of the Town Council and the facilities and services we can offer businesses. I enjoyed showing them our Great Hall which is a fantastic venue for large corporate events.
I attended the Visyon Open Afternoon and Annual General Meeting. Both as a Councillor and as a local business owner I am a supporter of Visyon and the great work they do to support young people’s mental health in Congleton.
I am one of a few Councillors and Officers who have been supporting the Old Saw Mill community café to help re-group after the pandemic and access sources of funding in the face of escalating running costs. The Old Saw Mill not only provides affordable lunches and excellent apple juice and cider, it also hosts around a dozen groups including for mental health support, domestic abuse services, and groups to bring isolated people together.
I followed up with Cheshire East Officers on the challenge of bins being left on Sheldon Avenue. I have been trying to get something to happen, with the support of CEC Ward Cllr Rob Moreton, for 3 years now, but the pilot scheme for enforcement is going on for much too long!
My Meeting Attendance
Overall, my Council meeting attendance in these two months has been 100% for all council meetings and working/other groups, either face-to-face or virtually (21 out of 21). For the mandatory council committees my rate is 100% (6 of 6).
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%, and this week my total meetings attended reaches three hundred!
I am a member of eighteen other Groups as well as the Council Committees, some of which are council-related, some are other local charities and community groups. 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.
In other news (not council or community-group-related)….
With the Women’s Equality Party, I recently organised a cross-party protest outside Fiona Bruce MP’s office because she organised a conference which removed women’s reproductive rights from an international treaty. Public support was very high. Thanks to everyone who took part from all political persuasions and none.
I also attended the March of the Mummies in Manchester. This was a nationwide protest about the ridiculously high childcare costs in this country and to demand flexible working and better parental leave, especially paternity pay. I encouraged Susan Mead, nursery owner from Congleton, to speak at the rally, and she did a fantastic job.
The protest made the regional and national news.
You can watch the ITV News clip here