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 9th May. You can join on Zoom here or look out for my event on Facebook
Congleton has stepped up once more to support those in need and many people have volunteered to host Ukrainian families as well as donating huge quantities of essential items to be taken to people who have lost their homes due to the fighting. I joined in the early efforts to pack boxes and the number of toiletries and essential items donated was quite staggering. I smiled when I saw the message I wrote on a box label ‘Love from Congleton’ was featured on the Congleton Chronicle!
Thank you so much to all those who have worked tirelessly to help, including driving trucks to Poland and setting up support groups for people coming to stay in Congleton and the surrounding area. A group from Marton has shown considerable leadership in this area and Congleton Town Council is working closely together with them. Our first Ukrainian guests have arrived and we are holding a meeting for them and anyone interested in hosting on 29th April in the Town Hall. There are regular social get-togethers too, in the Plough at Eaton so far – let me know if you are a host family and want to get involved. Meanwhile my husband Mike and I are awaiting visas for our own guest family to be able to travel.
Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy Statue Unveiling
After four years of work and campaigning, I was delighted to be part of the unveiling of Our Elizabeth, the life-size sculpture of Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy, on International Women’s Day, 8th March.
Elizabeth was a nationally-recognised campaigner for women’s rights who lived here in Congleton and started a girls’ school in Moody Street. I am a Trustee of Elizabeth’s Group, the charity that raised the money for the statue, and partly in this capacity and partly as Chair of the Town Council’s Community & Environment Committee, I had the pleasure of giving a speech at the unveiling, together with The Baroness Lady Hale of Richmond, who unveiled the statue, sculptor Hazel Reeves, Chair of Elizabeth’s Group Susan Munro and two girls from the local high schools – Lily Smith and Helen Banks.
I worked with Jo Money of Congleton Community Projects to organise the parade part of the day, led by Beartown Stompers Jazz Band. Children dressed up from ten local primary/nursery schools, together with Women’s Institutes, the Guides and many more community groups paraded into the town centre and packed into the busy pedestrian area ahead of the unveiling. Congleton Choral Society and Daven & Mossley school choirs gave wonderful feminist-inspired performances. My colleagues on Elizabeth’s group organised a great set of Victorian stalls and games, including a Punch ‘n’ Judy show with a twist, as Punch learned his lesson and became a White Ribbon Ambassador!
You can see the BBC news report here:
It was a wonderful sunny, happy day for Congleton and the first big event of the Congleton 750-year celebrations.
Many thanks to the Council officers, Community Projects, Rotarians and other volunteers who made the day flow so smoothly, as well as the residents and businesses of Congleton who donated goods and cash for the project as well as the professionals including architects, engineers, craftspeople and our audioguide voice-over artist, who gave their time pro bono to this important project.
Congleton 750 and ‘Beating the Bounds’
As part of Congleton’s 750th Year celebrations I joined the Beating the Bounds walk on the 10th April. It was well-attended and extremely well-run with a dedicated team of Council Officers, Rotary Club marshals and other volunteers. Many thanks to them for making it a wonderful day for all, and to Cllr Akers-Smith who led the team that mapped the route and set the whole thing up.
You can still ‘Beat the Bounds’ any time by picking up the map at the Information Centre or download it here.
Also as part of the 750 celebrations the Town Hall was decorated with some marvellous heraldic banners in time for the Mayor’s Ball in March.
Two White Ribbon Ambassadors – Jonathan Dakin and Mike Wesley – and I gave a presentation to years 10, 12 and 13 at Eaton Bank School.
The talk included an interactive poll to stimulate discussion about sexism, harassment and abuse, and what can be done about it. In April 2021 a national survey by Victim Focus found 94 per cent of girls under 18 have been catcalled in the street by men. In Cheshire East, a 2021 survey of women found that over 90 per cent do not always feel safe on the streets.
The polls conducted at Eaton Bank reflected similar concerns, with 98% of the girls and 75% of the boys saying they would feel the need to take specific actions to keep themselves safe on a night out in Congleton.
There was enthusiasm for continuing the work in school and 48 students made their White Ribbon promise there and then, going back to lessons wearing a white ribbon badge. Almost 70 per cent said ‘All of the above’ to a list of actions they could take, from calling out sexist behaviours to becoming a White Ribbon School.
Following on from the Marketing Strategy and Plan that I produced with the CTC marketing team, we got together and developed tactics for the entire year including a ‘calendar’ to focus on different topics, for example
April – Stop Food Waste Day
May – No Mow May
June – Cycling and Walking
July – Going Plastic-Free
We sent out communications during April to residents and businesses about this and hope that they will make videos each month showing what they are doing about the topic in question.
I made my own ‘Stop Food Waste’ video and shared it on Facebook.
I spent some time speaking with Congleton Climate Emergency Group and we are synching our calendars so that we can share each other’s campaigns.
I have also continued to help out when I can with tree and hedge planting, with the planting season almost over now. I also attended the Plant Swap at Astbury Mere and picked up a few garden plants and herbs. Thank you very much to the organisers.
I attended the Congleton Hydro Annual General Meeting and it was fantastic to hear that this sustainable-energy project is now turning a profit, which is being ploughed into other sustainability programs.
Local residents, including myself, have been concerned about the loss of a number of important and established trees at Quarry Close in Mossley. That site was a small wood before development started, and the majority of the trees have now gone. The developer, Elan Homes, was instructed by Planning Officers to replace some of the lost trees, but this had not happened. I raised this issue at our Planning meeting in March, and the Congleton Chronicle reported this on its front page. They interviewed Elan Homes who then returned to the site and planted some replacement trees.
Household Waste and Recycling
I joined other Councillors on a trip to the ANSA centre in Middlewich to learn more about what happens to household recycling from Congleton. It is very reassuring to know that less than 3% of Cheshire East household waste ends up in landfill. We saw the new hydrogen refuse trucks and had a look in the big sheds where the waste and the recycling goes. There is clearly work to do to educate people on what exactly can go into the grey bin, as we saw quite a few incorrect objects, which are removed by hand. ANSA has recently updated their website with lots of information and resources to help you reduce waste. Check it out here:
We will continue to lobby for a new Household Waste and Recycling Centre in Congleton.
Congleton Leisure Centre
Together with Council colleagues I went on a guided tour of the new Congleton Leisure Centre that is being built. It is progressing well and, we were told, on target to open by the end of 2022.
The Centre itself will include two new pools, a thermal suite, modern new gym with state-of-the art fitness equipment, café area and soft play area for the very young.
I organised a training session with Congleton Pride and Cheshire Police in March, in which members of the Pride team were trained to become a Reporting Centre for hate crime in Congleton.
This means that anyone who is concerned about harassment, abuse or other hate crime can speak to one of our trained representatives and we will support them in deciding what to do next, hopefully reporting it through the hate crime portal to Cheshire Constabulary, but we can also direct them to support services if they would like, or just be a friend they can talk to about what has happened. The Pride team will make it known at future events that we are there for anyone who wants to approach us for support.
I also attended the Pride St Patrick’s Day Party at the Vale Club which was a very enjoyable evening with singer and all-round entertainer Andy Hoffman. This was to raise funds for the main Pride event in summer.
I also helped out at the Sponsor’s Evening for Pride, presenting the survey results from last year to help businesses see the importance of the Pride group and event. My own business is also a sponsor of the event.
One of the publicans in the room asked if we would present the survey results at a PubWatch meeting, which I did the following week with fellow Trustee Richard Walton.
Congleton Pride has a new podcast – highly recommended and often hilarious listening! – and I had the pleasure of being interviewed for one of its shows.
I have led the team that has now selected a vendor – Joi Polloi – for our ‘Global Museum’ project – to digitise our collection and museum, in order to enhance the in-museum experience as well as making it more available to people remotely. Work on the project has started to gather insights about what people in Congleton want from their museum. We have had a kick-off workshop with the vendor and run some online and in-house surveys to get input.
One interesting finding was that half the people we asked know that we have a museum in Congleton but have not yet visited. Our future website and other digital assets can certainly help encourage people to come and see the important collection of objects we have, as well as reaching out beyond Congleton to interested people all over the country, and world.
We are also working with local schools to build better relationships with the Museum. Cllr Suzy Firkin is leading this effort and I’m a member of the team.
CEDSAP Board Meeting
I attended the Cheshire East Domestic and Sexual Abuse Partnership Board meeting in April and was very happy to hear that Cheshire East has been selected as a national pilot for the Whole Housing Project – this means investment into holistic solutions for survivors and perpetrators of abuse, working with every agency and a number of partners involved in housing.
Bromley Farm Community Development Trust (BFCDT)
Several questions were asked at the Community & Environment Committee in March, about the implementation of the 11 recommendations from Cheshire East for making the Trust more transparent and inclusive.
I answered on behalf of the Council that we have no authority over the Trust and do not know the current status of the 11 recommendations; also the Council’s offers of support have not yet been taken up. The Chair of the Trust then told the Congleton Chronicle that 9 of the recommendations have been implemented. Since these are about transparency, I look forward to the Trust Committee telling me and the public which 9 have been implemented and how.
My own offer to attend the Residents’ Steering Group meetings and support the Trust in its work still stands, but I have been told I am not invited. Meanwhile a survey has been sent out by the Trust to residents, and I look forward to full publication of the results in due course.
I have been co-opted to the board of the Cheshire Association of Local Councils and attended my first meeting this month. It was good to hear the perspectives from Councillors all over Cheshire.
International Women’s Day
I and my WEP Colleagues attended the Motherwell International Women’s Day Conference at Crewe, as we have for the past 4 years, and it was great to attend the main event ‘in person’ once more.
The Conference was hybrid, and as another strand of it, I presented a webinar on why we need more women (of any or no party) in local government. You can watch it here:
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 (15 out of 15). For the mandatory council committees my rate is 100% (3 of 3).
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 seventeen 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.