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 I have an ‘online surgery’ on the first or second Monday of each month at 7pm. The next one is on Monday 12th July. You can join on Zoom here or look out for my event on Facebook.
Vaccinations have now finished in the Town Hall and I’ve done my final shift as a ‘vaccine volunteer’. If you need COVID 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. I am also continuing to help administer the the Facebook Congleton COVID-19 Group.
Following our attendance at a number of Cheshire East Council meetings, Cllr Sam Corcoran, leader of CEC has agreed to meet Congleton Town Councillors and discuss the future of Household Waste and Recycling in Congleton. Our existing tip must close (the lease has expired) but we will do what we can to encourage CEC to provide a replacement service in future.
The SLIC (Sustainable Living in Congleton) elearning course is likely to launch in the next few weeks. I have been looking at the user experience of it and making recommendations, working with colleagues Cllrs Gartside and Firkin and expert Barry Fox, who have been focused on the content. We plan to pilot it with Councillors and then release it to the general public.
As Community & Environment Committee Chair, I’ve been involved in discussions about areas of the town we are ‘re-wilding’ by not mowing and allowing wildflowers to grow. This is a controversial topic – some people complain when verges are mown, some complain when they are not! We have come to a compromise where we are wilding some areas unless a majority of local residents say no to this, and signs will be up in those areas explaining the plan so people will know we have not just forgotten to mow!
Following on from our input to the Cheshire East Air Quality Action Plan, Barry Speed of our Green Group has borrowed an air quality monitor and we are monitoring outside schools at ‘peak times’ to see if particulates are going to unsafe levels.
I have volunteered on the rota for this and have spent an hour or two outside Mossley School so far, where the particulate levels did go out of the safe zone for a period at peak times.
Our local service provider, myCWA, had 1700 referrals from Congleton in the year to April 2021, up from 1500 the previous year (a rise of 13%). This may be due to the COVID lockdown. I helped secure funding for the set up of a Domestic Abuse Clinic in Congleton.
The DA Clinic has been continuing weekly in the Old Saw Mill, and virtually. This is run by myCWA in partnership with Cheshire Police. The team have been very pleased with the success of this clinic and evidence suggests that significant harm has been prevented. As a result, they are confident that they will be able to secure more funding and are looking at the possibility of starting a peer support group in Congleton. These groups are a vital part of the support structure for survivors of domestic abuse so it would be a very good addition to the service here.
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.
Violence against Women and Girls
Cheshire East Council is currently running a survey about the Safety of Women in Public Spaces. Please complete it if you wish – the deadline is 4th July.
I was not happy about the content of the survey, which asked women about factors such as what they wear, their age and so on, which is unacceptable victim-blaming. At no point did it ask the question ‘what can we do to stop some men attacking women’ which is the most important way to make our streets safer for women! I commented and had a very positive meeting with the Domestic Abuse & Sexual Violence Team at CEC; we are going to collaborate on this issue. They will be piloting some schools’ materials to encourage more positive behaviour in boys, and I will investigate the possibility of Congleton being part of this.
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.
Our Congleton White Ribbon Group consists of (male) councillors and members of the community, plus our Chief Officer and myself.
Our next activity is a Town Centre Stall on 10th July from 10am-3pm. Please pop along and find out more about White Ribbon and how you can get involved.
We have recently acquired a new (male) Ambassador and (female) Champion – members of the public who have volunteered. Many thanks to them! I also contacted the new PCC for Cheshire, John Dwyer, who is interested in working with us and is himself a White Ribbon Ambassador. I and colleagues have met with Councillors from Alsager, Holmes Chapel and Stockport to support them with their White Ribbon Accreditation Projects.
If you like you can join our 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 behaviours that lead to violence.
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.
Council Officers and I have started work on a section of our website to support local parents in various ways, including signposting to facilities in Congleton and online information about childcare, tax credits and other support for parents. This is the result of working with parents in a workshop last year.
Now that lockdowns are easing I’m contacting Macclesfield College again to see if we can re-start the ‘remote learning’ courses in childcare and social care that we were planning to pilot in Congleton. This is to help local people such as single parents get training to get into work, without having to travel to Macclesfield or Crewe.
Following from our Bus Back Better meeting we met with Cllrs Craig Browne and Laura Crane of CEC to discuss what is possible within Congleton.
Unfortunately, there is no national government money for public transport in a town like Congleton, but we could fund our own pilot scheme based on encouraging people to use the bus and save money on taxis and parking, especially for short trips into town. We have a few ideas of projects we might fund and are considering how to consult the public on these to get constructive feedback.
Congleton Senior Forum
Cllr Suzy Firkin is chairing this group and we have been discussing commissioning services such as talking books and newspapers for older people, using Partnership funding.
Congleton 750th Year Celebration
A number of projects are getting underway to celebrate Congleton’s 750th Charter Year in 2022. I’m on the working group for this, chaired by Cllr David Brown, and have volunteered to help with any of the activities. It should be a great year for Congleton.
The Congleton Pride event is now going to be on 21st August 2021. If you want to get involved please contact Congleton Pride.
We followed up on the results of our LGBTQ+ Survey with both Church leaders and the Police.
As a result we have had two meetings with Church leaders. Attending the meeting were Rev. Murray George of United Reformed Church and Rev. Ian Enticott from the Parish of Congleton (which includes four churches), with Rev. Anne-Marie Naylor of Astbury St Mary’s sending apologies. At the first meeting Frankie Markland and Sam Worthington, who are trans and gay, described what it felt like growing up and how some religious teaching had affected them. The meeting was very constructive and all involved want to work together to build understanding and a welcome for LGBTQ+ people into local worship. The Churches will have a joint stall at Congleton Pride event which is fantastic.
In addition I am in contact with the Cheshire Police who have also agreed to have a stall at Pride and work with our group in a similar way to ensure everyone feels safe in Congleton.
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 investigated the possibility of Purple Flag status but whilst we are doing a lot of the things this accreditation requires, we felt the scope of it was beyond the ASB group and is too much to take on with our 750th year preparations too. It will be deferred for consideration at a later date at full Committee.
Following Councillors being divided on the actual location of the Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy statue, Cllr James Smith has been putting together an options paper with the support of Council officers. I have had a great many people write to me and stop me in the street to say they want the statue on Bridge St, which is the group’s preferred location over a garden or park, as it is intended to be ‘street art’.
I was involved in providing some input to this review, as were the artist, renowned sculptor Hazel Reeves, and the Cultural Economy Development Manager at Cheshire East Council, Janey Moran, in addition to the utility providers and the Police. This paper will be presented to Council for a final decision on the Council’s own preferred location, then Elizabeth’s Group (an independent charity, not Council funded) can decide what to do.
The group is seeking its final sponsors. If you know of any organisation who might sponsor 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! To learn more about Elizabeth join the Facebook Page or see the Website.
Congleton Museum Trust
Congleton Museum, of which I’m a Trustee, reopened on 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 on 19th July 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.
I and Cllr James Smith have supported officers to produce a paper recommending that the Council should continue to have Hybrid Meetings – allowing remote participation by non-voting members, the press and the public. (Unfortunately legislation does not permit entirely remote meetings now that the COVID emergency rules have ended, and the Local Government Association is campaigning to get this law changed).
I believe allowing some to join remotely will open up our democracy to members of the public who may not be able to attend in person, due to caring responsibilities, lack of transport, disability or other factors. This is an important ‘equality’ move by our council, as well as being a major step in reducing our carbon footprint. I hope that the members of the Town Hall, Assets and Services Committee vote in favour of it at their 1st July meeting. I’m not on that committee but intend to speak at the meeting if possible and you can read the document in the meeting papers.
I have participated in a panel that investigated a breach of Council confidentiality. As a result some of our procedures have been tightened.
As a member of the Personnel Committee I have been involved in a number of meetings recently relating to recruitment and staff reviews. We also are saying goodbye to Jackie Potts, who is retiring after a distinguished 14-year career as our Council’s Responsible Financial Officer. Thank you Jackie!
I have supported residents requesting disabled parking bays, concerned about local crime and worried about potholes in recent months. I have also followed up on the problem of waste bins being left on the street.
I appeared in an Ask the Councillor programme on Canalside Radio.
I’ve also been working with a national cross-party group of Councillors, Officers (Including Jackie Weaver) and Residents on a Government Petition to deal with bullying and harassment by Councillors. Happily this is not a problem in Congleton, but it is elsewhere in Cheshire (as you may have seen in that now-famous ‘Handforth’ video) At the moment there is no way to sanction or punish Councillors who behave in a way that they would be disciplined and potentially sacked for in a workplace. We believe this should change. Our petition was featured on Radio 4’s PM programme recently. You can sign it here: www.tinyurl.com/LocGovPetition
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% (7 of 7).
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 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 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.