November-December 2019

As 2019 draws to a close, it has given me a chance to reflect a bit on what I have done since the election in May. I have been involved in some important initiatives, but there is a lot to do in 2020 to finish the initiatives we have started, as well as starting new ones that are in the priority list. Still, some progress has been made.

I am glad that domestic abuse and violence against women and girls have been addressed several times in Council, and made it to the front page of the Congleton Chronicle. We have good start to The CTC Climate Emergency initiative. I am pleased with some excellent priorities in our new Business Plan (see below). I have got to know my fellow Councillors better and, although we don’t agree on everything, they are for the most part hard working and dedicated to making a difference in Congleton.

Here is an update on what I’ve been doing in the last two months since my previous blog.

Tell me what you think

If you want to chat to me about what I am doing in the Council or indeed about the Women’s Equality Party, we have an informal ‘open house’ in the Young Pretender on the second Monday each month at 7.30pm – the next one is 13th January. If you’d like to talk to me in private, do let me know and we can set that up, but these open ‘chats’ have been working pretty well so far. Please come along.

Did you know that you can also submit a question to any Council or Committee meeting (dates are here), and come along to hear the answer? You have to submit questions a week in advance and can do so here on the Council’s website.

What I’ve been doing

As you know I belong to the Women’s Equality Party and so I’ve been focusing on the things I set out in my manifesto before the election. You can see my priorities on my Cllr page here.

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 for change in these areas.

Congleton Town Council Business Plan

For the last couple of months, I have been working with fellow Councillors developing the new Congleton Town Council Business Plan for 2020-23. This is important as it sets out the priorities, strategic objectives and high-level action plan for the next three-and-a-half years, and summarises how the Council would like to improve Congleton for everyone, based on what we have learned from people who live here, both formally and informally. You can read the entire Business Plan on the Council’s Website.

I am very happy that the Council voted to appoint a new officer to oversee and manage some of these priorities. Sustainability will require some focused effort, especially as we assess our current carbon footprint, and we will need resource to support many other initiatives too.

The strategic objectives in the plan are as follows:

  1. Ensure growth of the town is matched by adequate services and infrastructure
  2. Ensure transport infrastructure is integrated and sustainable
  3. Reduce economic, social and health inequalities within our community
  4. Ensure that the town centre is fit for 21st century
  5. Greater promotion of Congleton as a place to work, live, visit and do business
  6. Congleton Town Council will be sustainable and carbon neutral
  7. Ensure we effectively communicate with all sections of our community
  8. Ensure a high standard of operational quality and asset management

All of them are very important to me and indeed the whole council was aligned around them. The strengthened focus on equality and sustainability is particularly welcome to me. I will expand on these below.

Equality and Inclusion

I am very happy to report that the new Business Plan has equality as a strategic objective:

Strategic Objective 3: Reduce economic, social and health inequalities within our community

I was on the sub-team that developed this objective with several councillors from all parties and independents, and I’m delighted to report that it has some promising actions behind it. Many of these will require working with other agencies as they are not CTC-owned services, but we can certainly lobby and influence.

The details behind this strategic objective are as follows:

GOAL:

By 2025, Congleton will have measurably ‘narrowed the outcomes gap’ for members of our community so that Congleton has some of the best social, economic and health mobility indicators of any Cheshire East town.

Actions and activities:

3.1. To establish a benchmark for social, economic and health inequalities

3.2. To strive for first rate mental health services for our town and surrounding areas

3.3. Promote existing services and support the development of additional support for families and young people

3.4. Improve provision and enable access to affordable childcare for people in Congleton

3.5. Support the requirements of an ageing population

3.6. Support the requirements of people with disabilities or complex needs

3.7. Promote the benefits of a diverse and inclusive workforce

3.8. Support and promote initiatives to close the Gender Pay Gap in Congleton

3.9. Work to increase the provision of social housing in Congleton

3.10. Empower and promote agencies supporting those living with addiction and abuse e.g. of drugs, alcohol, gambling

3.11. Promote initiatives to improve the health and wellbeing of people in Congleton

As you know from my previous blogs, I am already working with council colleagues on several of these:

Support for families affected by Domestic Abuse

Following the presentation of Saskia Richie, the CEO of Cheshire Without Abuse, and the Council’s unanimous vote to support a Domestic Abuse Support Hub in Congleton, I have been working with Saskia and others to try to source funding for this Hub. It has been agreed that one of our Connected Communities venues may well be available, and we need the funding to staff it. This is a work in progress and we have applied to a number of funding sources. If you know of any potential funds we can apply to, please let me know! Thank you.

CTC White Ribbon Campaign

The White Ribbon Campaign works with men and boys to challenge those male cultures that lead to harassment, abuse and violence. It has volunteer ambassadors who act as role models, engaging with other men and boys to call out abusive and sexist behaviour among their peers and promote a culture of equality and respect.

Congleton Town Council has agreed to try to become a White Ribbon Accredited town. We ran another White Ribbon stall at the Christmas Lights Switch on in support of White Ribbon Day, 25th November. Sadly, Christmas time is a peak time for domestic abuse, and we had over 70 more people come to make the White Ribbon Promise not to commit, condone or ignore male violence against women. If we missed you on the day, you can make the promise online here – please do so: https://www.whiteribbon.org.uk/promise

Mental Health

The Health and Wellbeing Working Group, of which I’m a member, met with the Cheshire Clinical Commissioners and learned that adult mental health support is indeed being stepped up across the county with national support, including the idea of ‘hubs’ in each town – which is what we want for Congleton! We will lobby for Congleton to be one of the first. In addition, Cllr Suzy Firkin from that group has been talking to Visyon to see what can be done about getting their service extended to 25-year-olds, as previously. They currently only provide services for up to age 18 and would very much like to extend this, subject to funding.

I went along to meet the ‘Nailed It’ Group, set up by Gaz Lewis in Congleton as a peer-support mental health group. An excellent initiative, and I invited Gaz to come and meet our Working Group in the New Year to see how we might collaborate.

A page of the CTC Website is called ‘Where to go for Support’ and we plan to continue to update this page with local groups and services specifically for Congleton.

Environment and Sustainability

The new Business Plan has the following objective which I’m happy to say is much stronger on climate change and sustainability than the previous plan:

Strategic objective 6: Congleton Town Council will be sustainable and carbon neutral

GOAL:

Congleton Town Council to reduce its carbon footprint to zero by 2025 and work towards creating a sustainable and carbon neutral town.

ACTIONS/ACTIVITIES:

6.1. Reduce the carbon footprint for the Town Council’s assets and Streetscape service

6.2. Through partnership working and engagement with the adjoining parishes plant and maintain 30,000 new trees by 2024

6.3. Review existing facilities for recycling and develop new where necessary

6.4. Develop and deliver a campaign(s) promoting the need and facilities for recycling

6.5. Create awareness of training opportunities

6.6. Maximise opportunities for the retention and enhancement of Green Open Spaces

6.7. Support the development and delivery of the Congleton Sustainability Group’s initiatives

6.8. To work with partners on recycling initiatives

6.9. To improve the air quality in Congleton

As I have previously informed you, CTC has declared a Climate Emergency and set up a Working Group with Cllr Margaret Gartside in the Chair. I’m on this group as the Community & Environment Committee Chair. We have had our first Green Fayre and there is already a tree-planting initiative underway, supported by Congleton Partnership. More on this will be communicated in January.

We had a presentation on Streetscape which I found very interesting, especially the information about more sustainable planting and management. I made notes, some of which made it onto the new page about Streetscape on the Council Website.

The Congleton Green Working Group – consisting of Councillors (including me) and experts from the community – will meet early in the New Year to agree on next steps.

Integrated Transport

The CTC Business Plan has this objective which I am very happy with:

Strategic Objective 2: Ensure transport infrastructure is integrated and sustainable

GOAL:

A sustainable, flexible transport system that meets the needs of all residents and creates a cleaner, better connected Congleton by 2030.

ACTIONS/ACTIVITIES:

2.1 Development of a Sustainable Transport Masterplan for Congleton and surrounding Parishes

2.2 Promote existing infrastructure for sustainable modes of transport

2.3 Review current bus and train provision and develop proposals with CEC for integration

2.4 Review provision for car drivers including electric charging points and Car Parking strategy

2.5 Safety campaign and educational programme for motorists, walkers, cyclists and wheelchair users

2.6 Reinforcing the need for high quality transport plans from developers of new housing

This huge subject has been discussed several times in Council, especially in the Planning Committee in relation to transport provision for all the new housing in and around Congleton. I and other councillors have already given input to the Cheshire East Transport Strategy and will continue to work with the Transport Strategy Group led by Cllr Suzy Akers-Smith, to achieve these ambitious goals.

Being a Councillor in Congleton

Almost every Thursday is a Council meeting, either the full Council, the Planning Committee (which is all councillors) or one of the other Committees. I am Chair of the Community & Environment Committee which has a large remit. We have voted in the last two months to take the ‘Services’ part of this committee away and added it to the Town Centre & Assets Committee – so that they look after all our service provision, including, now, the Streetscape service. However, the C&E Committee will still retain an interest in Streetscape from a sustainability point of view.

We also have regular meetings of the Chairs of the various Committees.

In addition, I am now a member of nine other Groups which meet at regular intervals, typically every couple of months, and do other work in between meetings of course:

· Health and Wellbeing Working Group

· War Memorial Hospital Cross-Party Group

· Anti-Social Behaviour Working Group (Chair)

· Congleton Partnership

· White Ribbon Working Group

· Congleton Sustainable Transport Working Group

· Congleton Green Working Group

· Congleton Museum Trust

· Congleton Pride Steering Group

For those interested in statistics, of the statutory meetings I am expected to attend, in the 6 weeks since my last blog I have attended 86% of them (6 out of 7).

Other Activities

In addition to the above I have been working with Council Officers on communications and marketing. I believe the team already does a great job, but there are always opportunities to keep everyone better informed and involved, to drive more transparency and hopefully get more people participating in the life of the town. As a marketer and digital specialist, I can help out so have been providing a bit of time towards this, and will continue to do so.

I have joined the Congleton Pride Steering Group and attended two meetings, discussing the date (18th July) and location (town centre) of the Pride event in 2020. I can’t wait to do more with this enthusiastic and hard-working team.

Aside from the Council, I have continued to be part of Elizabeth’s Group which is campaigning for a statue of suffragist Elizabeth Wolstenholme-Elmy in Congleton. We have recently launched the website www.elizabethelmy.comand are planning a heritage trail about Elizabeth around the town.

As you may know (and this is nothing to do with the Council) in my capacity as Women’s Equality Party Branch Co-Leader in Cheshire East, I also helped to run a General Election Hustings in Congleton Town Hall, which the WEP paid for, with the support of Jeremy Condliffe and the Congleton Chronicle. It was a very interesting debate, the outcome of which I’m sure you are now aware of.

I was particularly pleased that at the hustings all five Congleton parliamentary candidates, including Fiona Bruce, signed the Women’s Equality Party pledge to amend the Recall Act so that MPs found guilty of sexual harassment, abuse and bullying can be removed by their constituents. I will be writing to Mrs Bruce in the New Year to ask how this is progressing.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

September-October 2019

Here is an update on what I’ve been doing in the last two months since my previous blog.

Tell me what you think

If you want to chat to me about what we are doing in the Council, I’m having an informal ‘open house’ in the Young Pretender on the second Monday of every month at 7.30pm – the next one is 11th November. If you’d like to talk to me in private, do let me know and we can set that up, but these open ‘chats’ have been working pretty well so far. Please come along.

Did you know that you can also submit a question to any Council or Committee meeting (dates are here), and come along to hear the answer? You have to submit questions a week in advance and can do so here on the Council’s website.

What I’ve been doing

As you know I belong to the Women’s Equality Party and so I’ve been focusing on the things I set out in my manifesto before the election. You can see my priorities on my Cllr page here.

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 for change in these areas.

Please note that this blog post mentions domestic abuse and sexual violence. If you need help, please contact one of these: Cheshire Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0300 123 5101. Rape Crisis: 0808 802 9999. Women’s Aid: 0808 2000 247. Men’s Advice Line: 0808 801 0327. Galop (LGBT+): 0800 999 5428

Equality and Inclusion

Following our Council’s first business planning session in September I have worked on the ‘key issue’ relating to economic, social and health inequalities, working with Cllrs Martin and Holland. Our work will be input to the next business planning working session in October, and the resulting Business Plan will guide our Council’s work for the next 4 years.

Support for families affected by Domestic Abuse

I invited Saskia Richie, the CEO of Cheshire Without Abuse, to speak at the Community, Environment and Services Committee which I chair. Saskia gave us a good insight into the services provided by CWA and the challenge presented by domestic abuse in Congleton. Her presentation is here.

CWA offers practical and emotional support services to families including women, men and children and shows a measurable impact – for example they reduced the number of ‘high risk’ families (where serious injury or death is likely) by 27% in 3 years.

In Congleton, recent domestic abuse statistics are as follows:

  • 200-250 families per year (2017-2019)
  • 100 referrals for 62 families between 1st July and 25th September 2019 (1 male victim, the rest female)
  • Linked to these families are 6 referrals for perpetrators and 24 for children

A major problem is the lack of a local service for families in Congleton. Service users must travel to Macclesfield or Crewe, which is often impractical, especially with children. CWA tried to initiate a centre in Congleton, but a lack of childcare facilities made it impossible to continue.

Saskia asked the Town Council to help her start up a new service centre with childcare, for one day and one evening per week.

Congleton Town Council voted unanimously to support this initiative and work is now underway to identify a venue and the funding to start this service here in Congleton.

Tackling male violence against women and girls – the White Ribbon Campaign

In September I came to the Council with the rationale for Congleton to spend an annual fee of £300 and invest in training and activities to become a White Ribbon Accredited Town.

The White Ribbon Campaign works with men and boys to challenge those male cultures that lead to harassment, abuse and violence. It has volunteer ambassadors who act as role models, engaging with other men and boys to call out abusive and sexist behaviour among their peers and promote a culture of equality and respect.

The White Ribbon Accreditation programme ensures organisations take a strategic approach to ending male violence against women by engaging with men and boys, changing cultures and raising awareness.

I presented to the full council the extent of the problem, for example:

  • 3 women a week are killed by a partner or former partner
  • 6 out of 7 victims of domestic violence are women
  • 35% of girls have been sexually harassed on the street whilst wearing school uniform
  • Rape conviction rates have recently fallen below 3% in the England and Wales (150,000 rapes per year)

The Council unanimously voted to support this motion and we are now implementing an Action Plan to become White Ribbon Accredited. Our White Ribbon working group is Cllr Paul Duffy (Chair), Richard Walton, Chief Officer David McGifford, Cllr Mark Rogan, Cllr George Heyes, Peter Munro and myself. (Many thanks are due to Richard Walton, by the way, who initiated this discussion before I became a councillor.)

As a first step we launched our White Ribbon Campaign at the Maker’s Market on 29th September.

I for one was humbled by the number of people who came to our stall and said ‘This happened to me/my sister/my daughter/my wife by her ex’. It was quite shocking and really brought it home to me how important this work is.

We were also delighted by the support from the public with over 70 people signing the White Ribbon Pledge and two men offering to become ambassadors – a Rugby Coach and a Boxing Coach. Thank you!

Mental Health

The Health and Wellbeing Working Group is prioritising adult mental health because we understand that service provision here in Congleton is less than that in some other towns. Many patients have to go to Macclesfield for services and support.

This month the Group agreed to invite the Clinical Commissioners to meet us and explain the new mental health strategy for Cheshire and how it may meet our needs in Congleton, and allow us to ask questions.

Environment and Sustainability

In September, on behalf of Congleton Green and the Community, Environment and Services Committee I presented a proposal that Congleton Town Council should declare a Climate Emergency and initiate steps to become carbon neutral by 2025.

The council voted unanimously to support this with the following specific eight resolutions:

  1. Declare a ‘Climate Emergency’;
  2. Publicise this initiative to at the Congleton Green Fayre on 26th October 2019;
  3. Appoint Cllr Margaret Gartside as Lead Councillor on Climate Emergency;
  4. Pledge to make Congleton Town Council carbon neutral by 2025;
  5. Call on Cheshire East, and the national government to provide the powers and resources to make the 2025 target possible;
  6. Continue to work with partners across the town and region to deliver this goal through all relevant strategies and plans;
  7. In all discussion, debate and decision-making procedures ensure that climate impact is thoroughly considered and recorded;
  8. Report to Council within three months with the initial actions the Council needs to take to address this emergency.

Please come along to the Congleton Green Fayre on 26th October and learn what YOU can do to save the planet. Thank you!

Transport

Integrated and sustainable transport, another ‘green’ issue, is a national and Cheshire East priority and there is a lot we can do locally to address this. We had our first meeting of the Congleton Town Council Transport Strategy Working Group in September. As a result, we are compiling Congleton response to the Cheshire East Local Transport Plan (LTP) and I have written the ‘buses’ section of that response.

General

In addition to the projects above I’ve been involved ad hoc with various issues:

  • I have continued to work with residents of Sheldon Avenue to try to get a resolution to the bins and cars being left on their footpaths, and have written to CEC to try to get a resolution for this. Cheshire East Councillors from Congleton are now taking this on and Suzie Akers-Smith will submit CEC proposals about footway obstruction at Cheshire East Council.
  • I was invited to join the Congleton Pride Steering Group, and did so.
  • I met with Ian Doughty of Congleton Museum and became a Director of the Museum Trust
  • I invited the Mayor to open Elizabeth’s Garden, in celebration of Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy, our Congleton Women’s Rights campaigner. Many thanks to Patti Pinto and team for making the beautiful garden, and to Mayor Holland for ‘cutting the ribbon’.
  • I took part in the Emergency Council public debate about Congleton Leisure Centre redevelopment. There is some strong feeling in the town that the consultation on this was inadequate. I was not on the Council when the redevelopment was originally approved, so it was a steep learning curve for me. The arguments I heard on each side were:
    • The squash and badminton groups were annoyed that the new centre has fewer courts than the old one (to make room for spinning studio and other new facilities)
    • The swimming clubs wanted an 8-lane swimming pool and a proper viewing gallery. However, some of the Cheshire East Councillors present mentioned that Crewe had requested and not been granted an 8-lane pool, for their town of 120,000 people, so the likelihood of Congleton (with less than 30,000) getting this was felt to be slight.
    • The access to the centre was questioned including problems for the bowling club and facilities for cyclists and walkers.
    • Some thought the plan was not ambitious enough and we should go back to the drawing-board and plan a centre ‘fit for the next 50 years’
    • Others were afraid that if we went to the new Cheshire East Council with a suggestion to re-plan completely, this might risk the entire project.

Eventually the Town Council voted to ask CEC to re-look at the plans to evaluate if changes could be made to increase squash and badminton facilities, improve access for cyclists and for the bowlers, and consider adding a ‘stand’ for viewing the swimming pool, but not a complete re-plan. I voted for this proposal.

Being a Councillor

Almost every Thursday is a Council meeting, either the full Council, the Planning Committee (which is all councillors) or one of the other Committees. I am Chair of the Community, Environment and Services Committee which has a large remit that seems to keep getting bigger! We also have regular meetings of the Chairs of the various Committees.

In addition, I am now a member of nine other Groups which meet at regular intervals, typically every couple of months, and do other work in between meetings of course:

  • Health and Wellbeing Working Group
  • War Memorial Hospital Cross-Party Group
  • Anti-Social Behaviour Working Group (Chair)
  • Congleton Partnership Executive
  • White Ribbon Working Group
  • Congleton Sustainable Transport Working Group
  • Congleton Green
  • Congleton Museum Trust
  • Congleton Pride Steering Group

For those interested in statistics, of the meetings I am expected to attend, in the 6 weeks since my last blog I have attended 100% of them (5 out of 5 ‘council committees’ and 8 out of 8 in total). For all meetings and working groups since May my attendance is 88% (28 / 32).

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

May-August 2019

I became a Congleton Town Councillor in May 2019 and thought it might be helpful in the interests of transparency and accountability to let you know what I’ve been doing as a Councillor, and indeed how we work. Before I joined the Council, I didn’t really know anything and this has been a very steep learning curve for me – one that continues!

Tell me what you think

If you want to chat to me about what we are doing in the Council, I’m having an informal ‘open house’ in the Young Pretender on the second Monday of every month at 7.30pm. If you’d like to talk to me in private, do let me know and I can set that up, but for now I thought a general, open discussion might be most helpful. Please come along.

Did you know that you can also submit a question to any Council or Committee meeting (dates are here), and come along to hear the answer? The Council requests that if possible questions are submitted a week in advance and you can do so here on the Council’s website.

Being a Councillor in Congleton

Almost every Thursday is a Council meeting, either the full Council, the Planning Committee (which is all Councillors) or one of the other Committees. I am Chair of the Community, Environment and Services Committee which has a large remit that seems to keep getting bigger! We also have regular meetings of the Chairs of the various Committees.

In addition, I am now a member of eight other Groups which meet at regular intervals, typically every couple of months, and do other work in between meetings of course:

  • Health and Wellbeing Working Group
  • War Memorial Hospital Working Group
  • Anti-Social Behaviour Working Group (Chair)
  • Congleton Partnership
  • White Ribbon Working Group
  • Congleton Sustainable Transport Working Group (just starting)
  • Congleton Green (Joined August)
  • Congleton Museum Trust (just joined)

For those interested in statistics, of the statutory meetings I am expected to attend, I have attended 85% of them so far (11 out of 13), missing the ones that coincided with my holiday in July (booked, to be honest, at a time when I had no notion that I’d actually get elected!). Adding all the groups I have volunteered for, there have been 24 meetings in these first months of which I have attended 20 (83%).

What I’ve been doing

As you know I belong to the Women’s Equality Party and so I’ve been focusing on the things I set out in my manifesto before the election. You can see my priorities on my Cllr page here.

The Town Council’s remit unfortunately does not include some things I campaigned on such as Social Services, Health, Transport – these are the domain of Cheshire East, where I didn’t get elected. However, we can put proposals to the Borough Council for the things that are beyond the means of CTC, and we do have scope to influence other service providers, businesses and so on. So I’m still working towards those goals as far as possible.

In addition, I’ve been responding to requests from the public for help and support with specific issues. Here is a summary, and I’ll blog a bit each month from now on to let you know where things are up to:

Equality and Inclusion

I have been working in the background reviewing the Council’s policy on Equality, because everything we do is guided by policies and I want to ensure what we deliver and provide is equally accessible to all regardless of who you are or where you live.

I submitted a proposal at my first Council meeting to change our titles to gender neutral ones – from ‘Chairman’ to ‘Chair’. It was more controversial than I thought it would be! But in the event I was delighted that the Congleton Chronicle also changed its style guide in a similar way – what we call things and the language we use, especially in the media, is important. I want girls and women to get a clear message that they can participate in our democracy on an equal footing.

I reviewed the Council’s Business Plan and have suggested some additional priorities relating to equality and inclusion, to ensure the maximum participation and diversity in our democracy and our Town. The Council is starting work on revising the Plan this month so more on that soon.

With help from my WEP colleagues I produced some street names of notable women from Congleton’s history and submitted them to Cheshire East for some of the new roads being built. (I bet the majority of our streets are named after men – Wagg, Lawton, Daven, Mountbatten…)

Support for Women and Families

Before the election I met survivors of domestic abuse and was amazed at their resourcefulness and ideas for combating this crime. I commented that they should be standing for local government, not me, and was met with a list of challenges that stop single parents, in particular, from participating in our democracy, and in working life too. I’ve got a few initiatives on the go to address this and the needs of women and families in general:

  • I have met with Saskia Richie, the CEO of Cheshire Without Abuse, and we will be bringing proposals forward to help their service in Congleton, where they are supporting 150 families;
  • I have distributed CWA’s ‘Open the door’ helpline posters and leaflets to the TIC, CAB, Library, Visyon and Meadowside Surgery in Congleton.
  • I’ve conducted an online survey into childcare options and issues amongst Congleton families. So far, 95% of respondents are women and 83% of them have said that childcare issues impacted their career, financial situation and/or family life. The survey is still open if you’d like to complete it – here: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/5PPNK23;

Initial results of childcare survey in Congleton

  • I’ve interviewed childcare providers in Congleton to learn more about the challenges they and parents face when government funding does not cover the cost of childcare for full-time working. In addition, low incomes often don’t cover the cost either so ‘work doesn’t pay’ and the benefits system continually lets parents down.
  • I have worked with some other Councillors, Richard Walton and our Chief Officer David McGifford, to move forward the process of getting Congleton Accredited as a White Ribbon Town. White Ribbon is a movement of men who stand up against male violence against women. Cheshire Police and Cheshire Fire & Rescue are White Ribbon organisations. You can learn more about this on the White Ribbon Website.

Mental Health

I met with Theresa Pass, the new CEO of Visyon (who provide mental health services for young people) to discuss how we should work together and put her in touch with Council officers. We have a number of potential areas of collaboration we are working on.

The Health and Wellbeing Working Group is prioritising adult mental health because we understand that service provision here in Congleton is less than that in some other towns. Many Congleton patients have to go to Macclesfield for services and support.

This also has impacts domestic abuse survivors, especially those with children, who frequently have mental health challenges due to what has happened to them and struggle to travel to another town to access services.

The Group is consulting on the requirement for adult mental health services in the local area to learn more about how it might be addressed as a healthcare priority.

Antisocial Behaviour

I chair the Antisocial Behaviour Working Group and the good news is that we have seen a decline in ASB in the past three years in Congleton. The Police including the PSCOs have done a great job and this, combined with improved CCTV, some Public Spaces Protection Orders and stopping some of the perpetrators from outside our area, seems to be working.

I met with one of the ASB co-ordinators from Cheshire East to take advice on how to address the root causes of ASB and I am starting work with the Youth Council to look at how we might provide a ‘place to go’ in the evenings for young people in Congleton.

Environment and Sustainability

Congleton Sustainability Group came to the CE&S Committee with some strong proposals for driving the sustainability agenda in Congleton. I was delighted to hear of the work they have been doing for years – we really do have some amazing volunteers in Congleton!

As a result of that we set up Congleton Green, a new Working Group including myself and 3 other Councillors plus the CSG itself, to thrash out what we should be doing as a Council. I’m happy to say that some ideas for action will come forward to Council soon!

Transport

In order to have a sustainable town, especially with all the new housing, we simply have to have a more integrated approach to transport. It costs £3 to get the bus into town and back from where I live and less than £1 to park my car if I drive there. Meanwhile, who thought that charging £3 to park at Congleton Station for a day was a good idea? It is both deterring people from using the train and causing congestion as people park in the streets around the station.

Meanwhile, for walkers and cyclists, many parts of our town are either downright dangerous or just unpleasant to use, because our streets have largely been designed for car users.

Integrated and sustainable transport is now a national, and Cheshire East, priority and there is a lot we can do locally to address this. We have set up a CTC Working Group to look into this and our first meeting is coming up, but in the meantime, I have:

  • Received a report on ‘Living Streets’ at the CE&S Committee from Cllrs Gartside and Akers-Smith, and supported it by suggesting the Working Group.
  • Consulted with the Integrated Transport Foundation and Transport for New Homes to learn how we can improve transport strategy both in the existing town and new housing estates.
  • Taken advice from the Green Party and the Macclesfield Transport Group on integrated transport for small towns.
  • Proposed that the Council object to 3 planning applications relating to new housing (which it did) because the developers had not put in sufficient provision in their Travel Plans for walking, cycling or public transport usage. For example why are they not offering to support a bus service to the station so that fewer car journeys are needed?

General

In addition to the projects above I’ve been involved ad hoc to help residents with various issues:

  • The people of Sheldon Avenue came to the CE&S Committee to request help to remove a good many bins belonging to other people (Hightown shops and Biddulph Road flats) from their avenue. To try to help them I have visited the area on several occasions, including with the Police, and talked to the various bin-owners to try to get a resolution. Some of them have moved their bins away, for which I’m very grateful. Some have not (yet). I have also written to Cheshire East relevant departments to ask for some help and support – various ideas are being discussed. I continue to follow up each week with the residents, bin owners and Cheshire East.
  • I corresponded about Bromley Woods footpaths and asked officers to contact Cheshire East, who are responsible, to take action.
  • I have interacted with several different people about planting in the town centre and Congleton In Bloom and directed them to the In Bloom working group.
  • I volunteered for a town tidy up in support of In Bloom.
  • I tried to help residents of Meadow Mill Court concerned about antisocial behaviour by liaising with the Police who addressed some issues in the area.
  • I attended and helped on the WEP table at Congleton Pride, which was a wonderful celebration of the diversity and spirit of our town, a very happy day.
  • I continue as a trustee of Elizabeth’s Group, and we are campaigning to spread the word about the amazing Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy and hopefully get a statue of her in Congleton. We have launched a project called WomenLikeUs in which we will make a mosaic of Elizabeth’s face made up of nominated women of today – you can join in at www.womenlikeelizabeth.com.

What is being a Councillor like?

The past few months have been extremely busy. I do about 15 hours’ council work a week and I have reduced my working week to accommodate this (I run Kanga Health Ltd in Congleton). In case you were wondering, being a Town Councillor is unpaid.

I am managing my time carefully as I’m enthusiastic about so many things, it is difficult not to ‘run after every issue that moves’ but I simply cannot do everything! So I am doing my best to let others lead on things they are passionate about and trying to focus my energy on doing a finite number of things well.

I am very grateful for the support of my Councillor colleagues who of course campaigned against me but have been extremely collaborative and positive to work with. The ‘pre-existing’ councillors have been on the whole welcoming and helpful. Some Councillors are key partners on the projects above and I am very grateful for their teamwork.

I’m especially impressed by the Council staff who do an incredible job and work long, hard and flexibly to support the workings of the Council, especially with so many ignorant newbies like me asking questions every five minutes!

The response so far from people in Congleton

I have had an interesting response from people in Congleton – both the general public and other service providers.

I’ve had some lovely emails and comments from some folks who have said, and I quote:

“may I say how well I thought you chaired the meeting, a breath of fresh air”

“Just to say how impressed we were with the meeting today.

There is clearly a real and shared concern amongst the Council for the environment, for sustainability, and for healthier and more appropriate lifestyles, and with your leadership we are sure there is a real chance of positive action that will be supported by residents and businesses alike.”

“Really lovely to meet you and so excited to hear about how the many causes you are fighting and how we can get involved.”

On the other hand, I was accused by someone in the Congleton Chronicle of ‘victimising’ Fiona Bruce (I criticised her for voting against women’s reproductive rights and gay marriage), but I think our local MP needs to answer for her voting record and I will continue to hold her accountable!

The same person accused me of just going to Sheldon Ave for a ‘photo opportunity’ when in fact I have done quite a lot – and continue to do so – in trying to get a resolution to that situation.

But I guess that is just politics for you. I can certainly roll with those punches as long as it doesn’t stop me getting on with things!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment