Here is an update on what I’ve been doing in the last two months since my previous blog.
As Congleton moves out of lockdown it has been good to plan future events and activities for the town, and consider how to support businesses and people as we recover from the past 12 months.
Vaccinations continue in the Town Hall and I’ve done a couple more shifts as a ‘vaccine volunteer’. If you need support or information please visit the CTC COVID-19 support page.
The COVID community group is still meeting regularly and much of the discussion is about how to open up events and support groups around the town. For example, The Lunch Club is still delivering on Fridays but would like to go back to serving in the Old Saw Mill.
The Town Council is setting up a Civic Award scheme for residents who have gone out of their way to support others during the crisis. More on this soon! I am also continuing to support the the Facebook Congleton COVID-19 Group.
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 or second Monday of each month at 7pm. The next one is on Monday 10th May. 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, and virtually. 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.
Due to the continued tier restrictions and lockdown caused by the COVID 19 pandemic, the team redesigned the delivery of the Congleton clinic, to ensure that residents were still able to have enhanced access to domestic abuse support.
Since September last year myCWA have provided 63 domestic abuse clinics in Congleton offering a total of 252 consultations. They have also offered a weekly virtual peer support group each Tuesday afternoon, and a closed Facebook group. This group is moderated by a trained staff member.
The service, including the 24 hour helpline, have appeared in CTC’s Bear Necessities, the Congleton Town Guide and The Beartown Voice. The team has provided 50 care packs (including safety advice for children and resources for adults) to the Congleton Children’s Centre to be distributed to families in the area.
238 have people directly benefited from the Congleton Domestic Abuse Clinic so far. As an example, Julie (not her real name) saw the article in the Beartown Voice and this prompted her to come to the Domestic Abuse Clinic after years of physical violence and controlling behaviour from her partner. It would not have been safe for her to access phone or online support so the ability to come to a local clinic was essential to access the service. As a result of this, Julie is now planning her safe escape and re-housing with the support of clinic support workers.
I would like to thank myCWA for providing this important service and Cheshire Police for their support in attending some of the clinics to provide specialist advice.
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 a very active group, taking the message out and in particular tackling the male behaviours that lead to violence against women and girls (VAWG).
The White Ribbon Group is now encouraging people from across the community to join the cause. With this in mind we have created a Toolkit of useful resources that you might like to use if you want to become more informed about White Ribbon or even become an Ambassador.
We are sharing components of the toolkit, tips and information as well as the latest research on and legislation around VAWG, in our new 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 toxic masculinity and encourage respect and kindness. One such resource is the recent national Victim Focus research showing the extent of VAWG across the country, from the victim’s point of view.
We are planning more awareness sessions, workshops and webinars about White Ribbon later this year. If you, your employer, your sports club or any other group would like a White Ribbon awareness session, please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Following on from the work I have done with local parents and providers, I’m now working with Council officers to see what we can add to our website to point parents in the right direction when organising parental leave and childcare, to ensure all opportunities are available to parents in Congleton.
The SLIC (Sustainable Living in Congleton) elearning course is likely to launch in Q2 2021, slightly later than originally planned.
In addition, I have attended a meeting to discuss the Cheshire East Air Quality Action Plan and the Congleton CTC Green Group submitted a response to the plan. We suggested a number of improvements, including monitoring outside schools at ‘peak times’ not just taking average readings throughout the day. you can read our comments in the Community & Environment Committee papers from March starting at page 28.
As the country moves out of lockdown there are a number of government initiatives to seize the moment and change the way people travel. Most notably in recent weeks is the Bus Back Better programme to try to encourage bus use, in smaller towns and rural areas as well as cities.
Our Working Group met with a local coach company to discuss the opportunities and we updated our ‘Bus Ideas’ document from 2020 to re-send to Cheshire East Council and volunteer CTC as a test town for new bus services. This document is the same as the ideas already voted on and submitted as part of the Local Transport Plan submission from Congleton Town Council. We will continue to work with CEC and bus companies to make the most of this opportunity.
I and other councillors have been continuing to campaign for a new Household Waste and Recycling Centre in Congleton. We attended the Environment & Regeneration Scrutiny Committee of Cheshire East Council in March to encourage them to ask Cabinet to consider this further. The Scrutiny committee voted to implement a ‘Task & Finish Group’ to look into it, but this has not been done.
We then attended the April Cabinet meeting, only to have the subject pulled from the agenda at the last minute. The next Cabinet meeting is on 4th May. I have asked to speak at this meeting but the feeling of CTC Councillors is that the decision has been made. We will continue to campaign, even when the Congleton site closes in September.
Thanks to my CTC colleagues who have worked so well together on this, especially Robert Douglas who has led the charge with forensic analysis of the poor decision-making at CEC, Suzy Firkin who has spoken at and attended many CEC meetings, and Paul Duffy who started a petition that you can still sign here.
Congleton Business Support
I am on a Business Support and Regeneration Working Group, chaired by Cllr Russell Chadwick. In the early days it was offering support during COVID but now it is looking more at making Congleton attractive for new businesses and business growth. As the owner of a local digital business that works across the world, I have a specific perspective on this.
Council officers have done a fantastic job of sprucing up the town centre with cleaning, new bunting and festoon lighting to welcome shoppers back into town, as well as fixing a number of ‘grot spots’, many of which were identified by Cllr Chadwick on a walkabout.
We are also considering how else we can co-ordinate and support Congleton businesses to get more out of and put more into the local community. We have spoken to a number of business leaders and received some promising ideas. If you run a business in Congleton and would like to chat about this, please get in touch or come to my surgery. Thanks.
Congleton 750th Year Celebration
Volunteers and Council Officers have already started to plan some wonderful activities for next year’s 750th Charter Year for Congleton. I have volunteered to be one of the Councillors on the joint Working Group that is now being set up to support this.
The Congleton Pride event is now going to be on 21st August 2021. The group, of which I’m a Trustee, has pushed it back from July but is very much looking forward to it and planning is well underway. Luckily most of the sponsors/stalls etc are already in place from last year, but if you want to get involved please contact Congleton Pride. The team is also planning smaller social events through the year (as requested) so watch out for those on the Pride Facebook page.
We have discussed the results of our LGBTQ+ Survey with both Church Leaders and the Police. As a result we have a meeting scheduled in May with the Churches to take this further. I am in contact with the Cheshire Police Network Lead for Pride to try to set up a similar discussion.
Antisocial Behaviour Working Group
I chair the Antisocial Behaviour Working Group of the Council, in which we partner with Cheshire Police.
The ASB Group has been monitoring COVID incidents and planning additional CCTV as well as discussing the output of the Pride survey (above) and also how to move forward on VAWG in collaboration with the White Ribbon Group.
We are interested in potentially trying to achieve Purple Flag Status, which means our night life is safe for everyone. I am investigating this with Council officers.
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.
The fantastic news is that the new Congleton link road has been named Wolstenholme Elmy Way, after Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy.
I am a Trustee of Elizabeth’s Group and to celebrate we walked the new road, then drove down it in a classic car (Daimler) on the official Opening Day.
The event, and especially Elizabeth, were featured in BBC North West Tonight news, as you can see below.
This shows how much attention the new statue of Elizabeth will bring to Congleton. At the April Council meeting, Councillors were divided on the actual location of the statue in a very heated debate.
An independent panel is going to be asked to evaluate the main site options based on heritage, context, convenience, artist’s intent, safety, education, practicality and a number of other criteria. More on this in the coming months!
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. You can donate here if you wish.
Hazel Reeves, the sculptor, is asking local children to submit pictures or writing to inspire her as she designs the statue. Watch this video to hear from Hazel and join in!
Congleton Museum Trust
Congleton Museum has again been closed due to lockdowns, but is hoping for a busy summer and will reopen on the 20th May. Book your tickets here.
This period has given the trustees a chance to reflect on the future and we are planning a workshop after June 21st to agree on the Museum’s strategy to engage people of all ages and bring Congleton’s history to life.
In particular the Museum is planning to collect ‘100 objects’ that tell Congleton’s Story to celebrate the 750th Charter Year in 2022. Do you have an object that might be included? Email Congleton100@congletonmuseum.co.uk to suggest it.
Young Person and Children’s Mental Health Group
As C&E Chair I am joining meetings with mental health providers from Congleton and Holmes Chapel to discuss how we can better co-ordinate, communicate and ensure access to services for young people. CTC can potentially help with awareness and connecting with residents.
I have supported residents requesting disabled parking bays and investigating the removal of trees in the last couple of months.
Annual Town Meeting
I gave part of the presentation at the Annual Town Meeting in April, the section on what we have been doing on domestic abuse and White Ribbon. We had some interesting questions from the public, and the Zoom format worked well.
International Women’s Day
I was invited to give a talk at IWD 2021 about my two years as the first Women’s Equality Party Councillor in the country. The video will appear online in due course.
I helped organise a Hustings for the Cheshire Police and Crime Commissioner elections on May 6th. All four candidates turned up and the organisers were the Women’s Equality Party and Reclaim These Streets Cheshire and Chester. It was a very lively and insightful debate! You can watch the whole thing (1.5 hours) here, or here you can see the Introductions and the Closing Statements.
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 (26 of 26). For the mandatory council committees my rate is 100% (11 of 11).
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 94%.
I am a member of fifteen 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 unfortunately 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.