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 big news is the rollout of the COVID vaccine and Congleton Town Hall has been a vaccination centre from the start. The Main Hall is the vaccination area and the NHS-led teams have vaccinated thousands of people here, some days working 8 till 8.
It has been my privilege to join the volunteer vaccination marshalls and support people before and after their ‘jab’. It was good to meet so many people who were feeling optimistic about the future for the first time in months. Some people had not really left their house since early 2020. Congleton, and Cheshire East, were one of the fastest areas in the country in getting all the over-70s ‘done’.
Hats off to the NHS and the volunteer teams who have made this happen. A big shout-out also to Mark Worthington, Town Hall Manager, and his team who have accommodated this and kept the cogs turning so that the operation can be as smooth as it has been. Wonderful job!
I also got trained as a Lateral Flow Tester and practiced my skills helping test some members of the Council’s Streetscape team as part of their regular weekly testing. Thanks for being my guinea-pigs!
If you need support or can offer it, please visit the CTC COVID-19 support page.
The COVID community group is turning its attention to the wellbeing of children who are not able to to to school at the moment, and Jo Money of Community Projects is leading an initiative to deliver them ‘fun packs’ with Easter and Spring-themed activities and treats included.
My Council Activities
If you want to chat to me about what I am doing in the Council I am now having an ‘online surgery’ on the first Monday of each month at 7pm. You can join on Zoom here or look out for my event on Facebook.
The Domestic Abuse Clinic has been continuing weekly in the Old Saw Mill, Congleton. This is run by myCWA in partnership with Cheshire Police. At these clinics people can have an informal discussion about the options open to them and how to prevent or escape from abuse. This clinic is funded with grants from two charities that I and myCWA have applied for, but in my view it should be funded as an ongoing essential service.
I attended the Police and Crime Commissioner’s webinar recently and asked if more central government funding was coming for domestic abuse services. The response from David Keane, PCC for Cheshire, was:
“Thank you for the question. For me this has been one of the key issues that I and the team have addressed during the pandemic.
We realised that there have been lots of vulnerable people trapped at home with their abuser. We immediately started talking to local authorities about their services, also local charities, and the voluntary sector. We noticed that calls to the Police had dropped at first, but we realised quickly that that was because people were stuck at home with their abusers and not able to report crimes or escape easily.
I and my strategy team went out and put ‘Alone at Last’ posters up at the supermarkets all over Cheshire, and talked to staff in those supermarkets to ask them to point people in the right direction to get support – the phone numbers on the posters – as this was one place people could go alone during lockdown.
We also worked with Cheshire Without Abuse to understand the best strategy and set up a working group to assist people. We put in two bids for national govt funding during the pandemic:
- £330,000 – this was distributed to charities across Cheshire that work in DA and SA services
- Fund to support a ‘whole family’ approach to DA – we bid for £250k. This was to work on the perpetrators in the family setting with the support of the rest of the family. This has been very effective in some families where stresses were coming out due to lockdown.
Oddly, in this case, success was to increase reports of abuse in the short term as we knew from our partners that a lot of abuse was happening and not being reported. And this did happen. People found the ways to reach out for help.
The weekly clinics have been great, and we have seen real impact from them. Make no mistake, it is our goal to eradicate Domestic Abuse from Cheshire. We are here to help and so far, the recent campaigns have been a huge success. As well as partner abuse, we have seen progress in child abuse and elder abuse too.”
I was pleased with that reply, but rather disappointed that Congleton (i.e. me) was the only Council that raised this issue and no other Town asked a question about it. However, when anti-social behaviour, parking and speeding were discussed, Councillors from other towns had a lot to say!
Note: if you need advice or support on Domestic Abuse please call 0300 123 5101. In an emergency call 999. Also see the Council’s web page – Staying Safe at Home.
Our Congleton White Ribbon purpose is to “Strive to eradicate all forms of gender-based violence and abuse in Congleton”, and we have been very active since our White Ribbon Accreditation was confirmed in September, especially in activities for the 16 days to eradicate violence in November/December 2020 around White Ribbon Day.
The White Ribbon Group is now reaching out further into the community and I attended a CeCP (Congleton Headteachers’) Meeting with a colleague from myCWA to explain the services available to schools and teachers. One headteacher said he had used the ‘MonkeyBob’ materials to good effect with a child who was a victim of domestic abuse.
We have contacted ManKind and downloaded their materials for male victims of abuse, although of course White Ribbon is really about male perpetrators and prevention – challenging those ‘toxic masculinity’ behaviours that lead to the current ‘pandemic of abuse’.
Many thanks to the women who have got in touch with me in the last couple of months to tell me about their own experience with domestic abuse, controlling behaviour and sexual violence. It is clear that the DA Clinic and the White Ribbon campaign is helping to bring this out from behind closed doors, so thanks to all those who have reached out to us, and of course to the volunteers who have joined the campaign.
I have been working with Council Officers to look at how we as an employer support working parents. The Chief Officer and Ruth Burgess have updated the employee handbook to bring it up to date on a number of fronts, including our new Equality and Inclusion Policy, and our White Ribbon agenda. This is now in final review.
I spoke to some nursery owners this month about how difficult is has been during the COVID lockdown, and with the help of Council colleagues and Officers, supported one in particular with trying to get further grants in order to stay afloat through a COVID-induced closure.
The SLIC (Sustainable Living in Congleton) elearning course is progressing. I am part of the team reviewing each module’s content and visual layout. The course is looking very good and we expect to launch it in Q1 2021.
My role in the team is principally to consider the usability and accessibility of the training as I’m not an environmental expert – indeed, reviewing the materials has been an interesting education for me!
Our Council met as a Strategy Group and created an extensive response to the Congleton Local transport and Car Parking Plan which has been submitted to Cheshire East Council.
Our feedback on transport in general was in support of more cycleways, footpaths and buses, and a more integrated approach, for example bus services to Congleton Station to connect with commuter trains. We opposed car parking cost increases in Congleton to match other towns. The full submission from CTC can be seen on the minutes of the January Community & Environment Committee meeting here. (page 5 onwards)
If you like, you can visit the Local transport page for more information and to submit your own views.
I and other councillors have been campaigning to retain a Household Waste and Recycling Centre in Congleton, and we are planning to meet in early March to discuss this further. Many thanks to my colleagues in the other political parties who are lobbying their own party members in Cheshire East, especially Cllr Robert Douglas who has attended a number of CEC meetings.
Also to Cllr Paul Duffy who started a petition that you can sign here.
The group has run two surveys to understand the needs of, and attitudes to, LGBTQ+ people in Congleton. I drafted and ran the surveys, and collated the results.
The first was an ‘attitudes survey’ looking to discover more about Congleton public views about LGBTQ+ people. The second was for LGBTQ+ people to say what ‘life is like’ for them in Congleton.
The group was pleased to see that most of the ‘public’ are tolerant and supportive, with a 91% ‘LGBTQ+ friendliness’ score overall. The surveys has revealed a couple of areas where it seems that education is needed, especially around transgender topics.
Not so positive were the feelings of LGBTQ+ people themselves, almost two-thirds of whom said they have experienced discrimination, harassment or abuse in Congleton
People were particularly concerned in pubs/clubs and public spaces, and there was some concern expressed about the attitudes of some local churches.
The group is also concerned that some people are reluctant to report harassment or abuse because either they have reported before and ‘nothing was done’ or they don’t believe anything will be done, or they don’t know how/where to report it.
I and the other members of the Pride team are hoping to meet with the Churches and PubWatch in order to move forward in some of the areas identified and ensure that Congleton is safe and welcoming for everyone.
I also plan to raise this in the Antisocial Behaviour Working Group of the Council, in which we partner with Cheshire Police.
Both groups of survey respondents thought that having a Pride event in Congleton was a good thing (c.80%) and the LGBTQ+ people asked for more informal social events and opportunities to meet like-minded people.
The Congleton Pride team is now planning some social events, the first of which was a quiz night to celebrate LGBT History Month on 24th February.
Please note: if you have been a victim of hate crime in Congleton please do report it at Cheshire.Police.uk, on 101 or 999 in an emergency.
I’m a Trustee of Elizabeth’s Group which is spreading the word about Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy, Congleton’s suffragist campaigner, and trying to get a statue of her in the town. Our group Chair, Sue Munro, and I presented to Congleton Town Council to request support for the statue. The Council voted to support in some practical ways but not to make a cash donation.
Funding has been set back a year due to the pandemic so we are seeking new sponsors. If you know of anyone who might sponsor (we have platinum, gold, silver options) please get in touch with me. Or you can donate here: https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/elizabethelmystatue
Our goal is a statue to put Congleton on the national heritage map – it would be great to get this done in 2022 – the 750th year of Congleton’s Charter that will feature a number of important historic celebrations.
Renowned sculptor Hazel Reeves has agreed to create the artwork and Baroness Lady Hale has agreed to unveil it so the project is going very well.
Sue Munro, Chair of Elizabeth’s Group, has made a super educational video about Elizabeth that is suitable for schools or indeed anyone who wants to learn more:
I have been writing to CEC officers again this month to ask that Sheldon Ave can be part of the pilot to enforce ‘getting bins off pavements’. This is a long-running battle and they have not answered my emails this month.
I have supported residents reporting potholes, damaged grass verges, requesting disabled parking bays and investigating the removal of trees in the last couple of months.
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 (16 of 16). For the mandatory council committees my rate is 100% (8 of 8). You can see the meetings I attend on the About Me Page.
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.