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 as Chair of the Community & Environment Committee, I am on the COVID-19 Congleton Community Leaders’ group. I have also been moving forward on several other projects.
The Congleton COVID-19 Response
CTC has been working with community groups all over the town and many thanks once more to all those volunteers and organisations who have worked tirelessly, as well as our Council officers who have worked long hours to support the community.
We continue to maintain our various support activities as follows:
- A telephone helpline that people can call to get support. The number to call is 01260 541 815 and the helpline is open every day from 11am-7pm. I answer the phones on Thursdays and Saturdays.
- A section of the Congleton Town Council Website. I continue to maintain some of the content including the Frequently Asked Questions page.
- Congleton Coronavirus Community Support Group on Facebook.I’m one of the admins/moderators of this group, and posts are moderated to avoid spam and ensure it is for those with a connection to Congleton.
- Ongoing Communication of the support available through the Congleton Chronicle, our CTC magazine ‘Bear Necessities’, posters around the town and social media posts.
- A Community Leaders Group now meets fortnightly and we are planning for the next phase of the pandemic.
- A Business Support Working Group has been set up, chaired by Cllr Russell Chadwick. I sit on this group and as a local business owner I can bring my experience. The first act of the group was to survey local businesses to ask them about the impact of the pandemic.
Congleton Town Council is now having full Council and Committee meetings by Zoom. The meetings are open to the public who can apply for the link and meeting details in advance. At my suggestion, the meeting information is now posted on the CTC Facebook Page as well as the CTC website.
Council Zoom meeting
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 20th July.
I’ve been moving ahead, with colleagues, on a number of initiatives that are priorities in the CTC business plan, as follows:
Antisocial Behaviour Working Group
I chair this group which met during lockdown by Zoom. Our police colleagues informed us that in the first two months of lockdown we had 188 COVID-related police incidents, mostly in private dwellings or at Astbury Mere. The Police policy is to Engage, Explain and then Enforce.
Police domestic violence calls were down slightly year-on-year in the first two months, at 61 (88 last year). This is still an alleged one domestic violence incident a day, which is much more than the amount of street violence we have in Congleton. The ASB group will now monitor domestic violence and abuse reports from the Police and develop strategies to support preventative measures.
Experts warn that where Police DV calls have not increased this may be due to ‘pent-up demand’ where the victim and perpetrator are in the house together in lockdown and victims feel unable to call.
The lockdown has continued to cause concern as domestic abuse calls to helplines and visits to websites are skyrocketing across the country (Refuge has reported a 950% increase in website visits).
MyCWA here in Cheshire East has been very active supporting families with preventative measures and I wrote and maintained the page called ‘Staying Safe at home’ on the CTC website. The latest information added has been about child and adolescent violence to parents. Two thirds of this is son-to-mother violence with 87% of perpetrators being boys.
I and my WEP colleagues have been putting up our own ‘YOU ARE NOT ALONE’ posters with the same domestic abuse helpline phone numbers as the myCWA ones, just to help support their message. Thanks to all the shops who have put our posters up.
Thanks To Go East for putting the poster up
White Ribbon is a national charity that encourages men to stand up against gender-based violence and abuse. Richard Walton, who is on our White Ribbon Group, has run an awareness session for Council Officers by Zoom, and a similar session for Councillors is planned in July.
Our White Ribbon Action Plan has been submitted to the national HQ and we hope this will mean we get our Accreditation.
I and other members of our White Ribbon Group attended a webinar run by the national White Ribbon organisation to allow us to share experiences. Subsequently, White Ribbon asked me to write a blog for their website, which you can read here.
My Blog on the White Ribbon website
I have been working with Cheshire Police, which is a White Ribbon organisation. Our local Sgt Paul Brunton introduced me to the Beat Inspector Kelly Johnston, who is keen to join our White Ribbon Working Group and informs me that our local senior officers, Supt Crowcroft and CI Taylor are very supportive too. The Police Commissioner for Cheshire, David Keane, is also a White Ribbon Ambassador.
Health & Wellbeing
Our Congleton Health & Wellbeing Working Group has a priority of supporting adult mental health, and the COVID-19 epidemic has also shone a light on the importance of mental health services and mental wellbeing. We have continued to promote services and for those who need it, including through a page of our CTC website.
We are still working with other agencies on our goal of better local provision – in Congleton – for adult mental health.
I drafted a survey that the Health & Wellbeing Group is sending to Congleton residents on the impact that the pandemic has had on their overall wellbeing including health, relationships, family life and household income.
The COVID crisis has brought the national childcare challenge into sharp focus, as some parents have been unable to go back to work due to a lack of childcare, and nurseries, including several in Congleton, are under threat of closure due to the financial impact of the pandemic and the fact that they are not allowed to run at full capacity. This has had a particular impact on working mothers.
The outputs of our March Childcare workshop have been moving forward. We are aiming to meet with ANSA, the Council HR provider, to ensure that the Council has all the best practices in place.
Council Officers are gathering information for an online Childcare Hub for Congleton.
I brought proposals to Council Community & Environment Committee to continue this work. The proposal included the resolution to write to the Minister for Local Government in support of the campaign to allow carers’ allowance for future Councillors (this allowance exists at Borough, but not Town/Parish, level). This is to include those with caring responsibilities in our democracy and give, for example, single parents or those caring for elderly or disabled relatives the option to become Councillors in the future. The proposal was passed with a majority vote.
The project to make Congleton Sustainability Group’s ‘Sustainable Living in Congleton’ (SLIC) into an eLearning has started and I’m supporting Council officers in meetings with the chosen vendor to deliver this project.
Many thanks to the officers who have created a useful new page on the CTC website about sustainable planting by the Council in Congleton.
I sit on this working group which met to discuss ideas for Congleton Town Centre post-lockdown in order to ensure that the town centre was safe for people to return to.
Our proposals to Council were:
- 20mph limit in the town centre and 10mph in Broadhurst Lane
- Pedestrian passing points made by closing some – NOT most or all – parking bays in certain streets (e.g. Lawton St, High St, Swan Bank)
- Adding advance cycling stops at the traffic lights on Mountbatten Way to make the junction safer for cyclists
- Signage in the town centre
- Moving street furniture if needed to create safe social distancing.
We voted these through at full Council on 28th May and they were sent to Cheshire East. Unfortunately, CEC then employed a blanket closure of parking bays whilst re-introducing parking charges and allowing cycling on Bridge St, all of which were contra to the CTC proposal! Some of these measures have since been rolled back and Council officers are working towards a resolution.
Congleton Museum Trust
I am a Trustee of the Museum and a Council representative with Cllr Firkin on the Board of Trustees. We met to discuss re-opening options, post lockdown.
I volunteered for the sub-team to look at re-opening in more detail and I wrote the initial Risk Assessment.
The Museum is now likely to open in August when all measures for safety and social distancing will be in place.
I asked for the future of Moody Hall to be on the agenda at the Community & Environment Committee. CTC is very keen that this building is supported and maintained as it has considerable historical significance, due in part to the fact that it was the home of the girls’ school started by Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy. CTC officers are consulting with CEC Planning department to find out why the latest planning application to develop the building into flats appears to be stalled.
Moody Hall at the end of the 19th century
I have continued to support residents with ad hoc queries about COVID-19 re-opening (in particular getting the public toilets open in support of shops re-opening), antisocial behaviour and planning, among other things.
Cheshire East Equality Strategy Input
Cheshire East Council published a new Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, and on behalf of The Women’s Equality Party (not CTC) I provided some input to this.
First, I asked why only the legal minimum 9 ‘Protected Characteristics’ are considered (age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation) when it says Cheshire East is committed to “being an area of opportunity where everyone has a fair chance and people from all backgrounds can take part in community life”.
I suggested adding more characteristics, to include people who are often excluded for reasons other than the legal 9. For example, in our Congleton Equality and Inclusion Policy we add three more characteristics: ‘People in care’, ‘People with caring responsibilities’ and ‘People of different socio-economic groups’.
The statistics on hate crime in the strategy document showed that in the 12 months to March 2019 there were 636 crimes due to Race, colour, ethnic origin, nationality, or national origins, Religion or belief, Gender or gender identity, Sexual orientation, Disability or Age.
According to CEDAP in the same period in Cheshire East there were:
- 4566 cases of domestic abuse reported to Police, including 957 cases of domestic violence.
- 363 cases of rape or sexual abuse reported to RASASC (Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre), of which 23% involved children.
I asked CEC to consider asking Cheshire Police to view domestic abuse and sexual violence crime as part of the hate crime statistics, so that they get recorded in the same way and get the same focus and resources.
I also commented on CEC’s treatment of maternity and parental leave in its workforce information, as it does not even have council-wide data on this topic and seems to be doing the ‘legal minimum’ rather than promoting working practices to support parents. Related to this, the information about how CEC is addressing the gender pay gap was also too vague, especially given that the gap has hardly moved in the years since the statutory reporting began.
Finally, I suggested CEC produce an accessible version of the document itself which is not produced in a way that would be usable by those with visual impairment, and did not contain any information about how to obtain a Braille or accessible version, which seemed a big ‘miss’ for a document that is all about equality and inclusion!
Social Care Workers Campaign
This is not Council-related but I joined a national ‘Protect Them Pay Them’ WEP campaign to support social care workers and value their incredible contribution, which has been highlighted by the current crisis.
My Meeting Attendance
Overall, my Council meeting attendance for the two months has been 100% for all council meetings and working groups, either face-to-face or virtually (12 of 12).
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 beyond the Council Committees, which meet at regular intervals, typically every couple of months:
COVID Community Leaders
COVID Business Regeneration