July-August 2020

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, with everyone getting used to virtual working, I have been working with colleagues to move forward on several other projects.

COVID-19

As the lockdown has eased, shops and businesses have been opening in Congleton and it has been pleasing to see people going out to eat, shop and meet, for the most part maintaining social distancing. I have continued to work with Council officers and community leaders on setting the strategy for the next phase and potential actions to address a ‘second wave’ in Congleton. The phone helpline has now stopped (redirects to the Council number) but the Facebook COVID community group is still running. Community Leaders are now meeting monthly from September.

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 14th September.

A number of initiatives have moved forward in the last couple of months:

Domestic Abuse

I have been working with DI Claire Jesson of Cheshire Police and Saskia Richie of myCWA to see what services we can deliver to local people, and in July we brought a proposal to the Community & Environment Committee of the Council for a monthly Domestic Abuse Clinic in the Old Saw Mill, Congleton.

At these clinics people can have an informal discussion with the Police and/or with a myCWA support worker about the options open to them and how to prevent or escape from abuse.

I was delighted to see that the Councillors were in strong support of the clinic. It was voted through unanimously and I hope will make a real difference to families in Congleton. Many thanks are due to Peter Aston of the Old Saw Mill for the venue.

Meanwhile, Council officers and I are continuing to submit funding applications to build on this for more frequent clinics and even a ‘domestic abuse hub’ with support groups and a crèche facility. If you know of any funding sources, let me know!

Some background facts and figures:

  • From 23rd March to 12thJuly there were 140 incidents of domestic abuse or violence reported to the police in Congleton – an average of more than one a day.
  • The Charity Refuge reported an 80% year-on-year increase in helpline calls and 800% increase in visits to its website in June 2020, which it attributed to the impact of the COVID lockdown.
  • According to Safelives, domestic abuse is under-reported. On average victims at ‘high risk of serious harm or murder’ live with domestic abuse for 2-3 years before getting help.
  • Cheshire Police, together with Cheshire East Council and myCWA, collaborate to deliver one of most effective and co-ordinated domestic abuse services in the country, dealing with crimes reported as well as implementing preventative measures. Their work was highlighted in a BBC documentary with Cheshire survivor Abi Blake – more can be seen here. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/stories-51360772.

DI Claire Jesson

White Ribbon

Our White Ribbon Group has made progress on a number of fronts recently. Richard Walton, one of our Ambassadors, has run an awareness session for Councillors and they were very supportive of CTC becoming White Ribbon Accredited. Several individual Councillors pledged their personal support, and Cllrs Robert Hemsley and Robert Douglas agreed to join the White Ribbon Working Group. Cllr Hemsley is our new Chair.

We broadened our Congleton White Ribbon purpose to be to “Strive to eradicate all forms of gender-based violence and abuse in Congleton”, recognising that victims can also be men.

We are reaching out to the community including getting connected with the Congleton Education Community Partnership and PubWatch, and also we’ve been asked to help other Town Councils with Accreditation.

Meanwhile, I updated our White Ribbon Action Plan to include some of our outreach and awareness activities, including the Maker’s Market in September and November 2020. I sent the revised plan to the White Ribbon headquarters and we hope it will now be enough to award our Accreditation.

Our local Police Beat Inspector, Kelly Johnston, is going to work with our White Ribbon Working Group, in addition to the links with the DA Clinic (above).

White Ribbon is a national charity that encourages men to stand up against gender-based violence and abuse.

Antisocial Behaviour Working Group

I chair this group which has been meeting by Zoom. The group discussed additional CCTV provision and a proposal has now been approved by Council for an additional mobile camera in the town.

ASB in the outdoors has included Astbury Mere, Mossley Cricket Ground, Congleton Park and Little Street recently – the police asked that people call 101 if they see an incident.

I have worked with the residents of Silk Mills who have had a number of problems with misuse of a public footpath through their garden. The Police are doing extra patrols there and the Streetscape team cut down some bushes that were providing a hiding place.

The community spirit we have seen through COVID has led to welcome moves to add more Speedwatch and Neighbourhood Watch Groups in Congleton, which the ASB team and the Police are supporting.

The biggest single category of crime we see in Congleton remains Domestic Abuse, and Sgt Paul Brunton reported 89 incidents in the 6 weeks between ASB group meetings. This will be on the agenda for the parent Community & Environment Committee meetings in future (which I also chair) so that these statistics will be made public. Domestic Abuse is not a ‘private’ matter – it is a challenge for all of us to tackle.

Health & Wellbeing

Our Congleton Health & Wellbeing Working Group has a priority of supporting adult mental health, and I’m delighted to see that, following our meeting with them, SWaNs are now offering an online support services funded by the Cheshire Community Fund. Details are here:

The survey on post-COVID Health & Wellbeing completed on the 28th August and the results will be published in September. The responses have been very insightful and it is clear that many people have been affected financially, emotionally and practically by this crisis.

Childcare

I am working with Council colleagues to explore opportunities to improve childcare supply and support childcare businesses in Congleton. Many of them are struggling due to the lockdown and there is little government help for them. I am looking into opportunities to support training of childcare professionals.

ANSA, the Council HR provider, has informed us that they do not offer any support or information to new parents on their rights with regard to flexible working, childcare and parental leave. It is no wonder that the Gender Pay Gap in Cheshire East is not improving! We will be looking at how we can help with this.

Our Childcare workshop team (parents and providers) have given us some direction in terms of the questions parents and providers need to answer, and we are collecting information for a page on our website to support them.

Meanwhile, the Community and Environment Committee approved a proposal I brought to write to the Minister for Local Government in support of calls for carer’s allowance for Council meetings, to open up our democracy to those with caring responsibilities who could not otherwise become Councillors.

Congleton Green

The SLIC (Sustainable Living in Congleton) elearning course is progressing and I’m providing input from a user experience point of view. We hope to have this delivered by the end of the year.

I’m also supporting the Congleton Sustainability Group in putting together a series of webinars, each on sustainability topic, to engage and inform residents about what we can all do for the environment and our carbon footprint.

Integrated Transport

We met in July to discuss proposals to create safe cycling routes to schools. Headteachers, especially of the high schools, are worried about children cycling instead of using public transport when some of our roads do not have cycle lanes. Pupils are advised to avoid buses due to COVID and there isn’t space for all parents to drive their children to school.

We came up with a proposal to ask CEC to create complete, safe cycle routes to each high school and the Council voted to approve this, so it has been sent to Cheshire East Council.

Congleton Museum Trust

I am continuing to support the sub-team to looking at re-opening of the museum. Most of the action plan has been completed and there is final task to sort out the WiFi to cope with the new contactless payments, video doorbell etc. We are hoping the museum will open after that.

Congleton Pride

Congleton Pride could not go ahead as an event in July, but we flew the Pride flag on the Town Hall that week. We had a Pride meeting and agreed on some activities to keep the movement alive whilst communicating (mostly) virtually. I suggested, and the team agreed, we might survey the people of Congleton and our LGBT+ community to learn more about being LGBT+ in our town. I did some research and drafted some initial survey questions for review.

Cheshire East Equality Strategy Input

I contacted Marilyn Houston, Equality Champion for CEC and sent input to the strategy. As a follow up we had a meeting and discussed the role of the Equality Champion to see if it is worthwhile setting up this role at Town Council level.

My Meeting Attendance

Overall, my Council meeting attendance for the two months has been 89% for all council meetings and working groups, either face-to-face or virtually (17 of 19). For the mandatory council committees my rate is 88% (7 of 8).

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. I am a member of the groups below but I also attend the Town Centre, Assets & Services Committee and the Finance & Policy Committee whenever I can, as well as Congleton Sustainability Group.

Council

Community and Environment Committee (Chair)

Planning Committee

Personnel Committee

Health and Wellbeing Working Group

Anti-Social Behaviour Working Group (Chair)

Congleton Partnership

White Ribbon Working Group

Integrated Transport Working Group

Congleton Green Working Group

Congleton Museum Trust

COVID Community Leaders

Congleton Business Support/Regeneration

Congleton Pride Steering Group

Elizabeth’s Group – commemorating Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy

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May-June 2020

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.

Council Business

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.

Domestic Abuse

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

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.

Childcare

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.

Congleton Green

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.

Integrated Transport

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.

Moody Hall

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

Other Activities

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:

Health and Wellbeing Working Group

Anti-Social Behaviour Working Group (Chair)

Congleton Partnership

White Ribbon Working Group

Integrated Transport Working Group

Congleton Green Working Group

Congleton Museum Trust

COVID Community Leaders

COVID Business Regeneration

Congleton Pride Steering Group

Elizabeth’s Group – commemorating Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy

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March-April 2020

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

Of course, during that time, everything has changed. COVID-19 has come to the UK, and to Congleton. The ‘lockdown’ has happened. Friends, relatives and colleagues have been sick and most have recovered. Some of us have lost loved ones. In these unprecedented times, we have seen great sorrow and great kindness, and learned a new appreciation for our NHS and our front-line workers in social care, healthcare, retail, delivery and our public services.

As Chair of the Community & Environment Committee, I’ve been involved in the COVID-19 Congleton Town Council emergency effort from the start. I have also been moving forward on several other projects.

The Congleton COVID-19 Response

I have been blown away by the response of our Council Officers to this crisis. While some other town and parish councils around the country apparently slowed or stopped work, the Congleton Town Council team has been working at 200% (and round the clock) throughout this period. At the lockdown, in a heartbeat they started working from home and re-planning how to do their work, as well as how to support Congleton through COVID-19. The Officers work behind the scenes and are not often in the public eye but they deserve huge credit for keeping Congleton going and working tirelessly to help residents at this difficult time. They are some of the heroes of the hour. Thank you!

I also have to mention the people of Congleton who have stepped up to volunteer. Shaun Radcliffe immediately got a team together to ensure that emergency food supplies were available those who needed it, and continues to run a food hub. Organisations like the Partnership, the U3A, Community Projects, the Old Sawmill, Ruby’s fund, the churches and many more have joined forces with some Councillors in a ‘Coronavirus Community Team’ to co-ordinate support and ensure it is targeted to those who need it most. Neighbours have shopped for neighbours; volunteers have befriended isolated people with a friendly phone call. I take my hat off to them all. Thanks – you are amazing!

The CTC response to the crisis, and my role in it, is outlined below.

  • A telephone helpline that people can call to get initial help and support. We can point callers in the right direction e.g. if they need help with shopping or medication, if they are lonely or if they are concerned about their health. I am one of a team of volunteers on this, and I do 2 ‘shifts’ a week. The number to call is 01260 541 815 and the helpline is open every day from 11am-7pm. This is run by Officer Ruth Burgess, who is also doing her ‘day job’ of managing Streetscape.
  • A section of the Congleton Town Council Website including information such as how to get shopping delivered, financial advice, access to doctors and pharmacies. This has been the project of Officers Jackie MacArthur and Martha Hayes with the help of some councillors. I have written some of the content including the Frequently Asked QuestionsGetting and Giving Help and the Staying Safe at Home pages.
  • Emergency Support co-ordination with Cheshire East’s ‘People Helping People’ service, including food packs for those in greatest need. This has been set up by Chief Officer David McGifford. Town Hall Manager Mark Worthington and team have worked round the clock to ensure people get emergency food and also helped Shaun Radcliffe get his food hub operation going in the Town Hall initially, before it moved to The Vale Club. The Town Hall is also distributing ready meals to people who normally attend the luncheon clubs in Congleton. I have not been involved with this directly, and include it for completeness. I did set up a local online form ‘Neighbours Helping Neighbours’ on the CTC website which is just for Congleton but has added to our list of volunteers.
  • Congleton Coronavirus Community Support Group on Facebook.This was set up by two brilliant volunteers, Lisa Brooks and Emma Hall, who subsequently asked the Town Council to administer and moderate it. It now has 2500 members and is a great place for people to ask for and offer help. 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, a special issue of Bear Necessities, posters around the town and social media posts.
  • A Community Leaders Group meets regularly (at first 3 times a week but now weekly) to ensure that efforts are co-ordinated, help and support is properly targeted, and we are planning effectively for the next phase.

Congleton COVID-19 Community Leaders

Council Business During COVID-19

Congleton Town Council had an emergency meeting at the start of the lockdown and agreed that the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and the Chairs of the Committees (Community & Environment, Planning, Town Hall, Assets & Services and Finance & Policy) would meet regularly with some devolved emergency powers to keep Council business going. This has been working with wider Council consultation and decision-making by email. Our Chief Officer, David McGifford, has made this work well, and is now planning how to run all our meetings virtually going forward so we can get back to a regular committee meeting schedule. More on this shortly.

Meanwhile several of the Working Groups that I am involved with have continued to work, using Zoom. I helped them, the Council and several other groups in the town get up to speed with Zoom – it is how I run my own digital business, Kanga Health Ltd.

I’m still open for business!

If you want to chat to me about what I am doing for COVID-19, my work in the Council (or about the Women’s Equality Party), we usually have an informal ‘open house’ in the Young Pretender on the second Monday each month at 7.30pm, and we have replaced this with an informal Zoom meeting. The next one is on the 11thMay – join here.

What I’ve been doing

In addition to the COVID-19 direct support work, I’ve been moving ahead, with colleagues, on a number of initiatives that are priorities in the CTC business plan, as follows:

Domestic Abuse

There is evidence that the lockdown is enabling a domestic abuse disaster. We already had an ‘epidemic’ of domestic abuse in the UK with 2 women murdered a week by a partner or ex-partner, and in the first four weeks of lockdown this rate doubled to 4 a week.

Agencies working in this field nationally are reporting much higher volumes of calls to helplines, and this is reflected in Cheshire East with calls levels up to 3 times the norm for this time of year to the ‘Hub’ number (0300 123 5101). Although calls are already up, experts also expect there to be ‘pent-up demand’ as situations are escalating in some homes but the victims do not feel able to call helplines and cannot easily escape to seek help and advice.

myCWA poster

I have been working on a number of fronts to support this effort. New posters that have been produced by myCWA (our local domestic abuse service provider) will be going up around Congleton. We had a White Ribbon emergency working group meeting (Congleton TC is seeking White Ribbon accreditation), and as a result I wrote a new page for our website – Staying Safe at Home, featuring some new myCWA and White Ribbon support materials to help families avoid crisis.

I hope that this time has helped shine a light on this ongoing crisis in our society and we can ramp up services to support families once the COVID-19 pandemic is over. We were already working to have more services based in Congleton and I hope we can achieve this in the months to come.

Mental Health

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.

At the start of the crisis we had an emergency H&W Group meeting and generated a number of ideas that have become part of the CTC COVID response, and subsequently we had a session focusing on Mental health with representatives from Visyon and SwANs present.

In the short term we are signposting on our website and social media to the new NHS mental health helpline (0300 303 3972) and other resources, and we have added more information on our Mental Wellbeing Page.

The Working Group would like to support ongoing mental health support for those who need it and we are in discussions with other agencies about this. Longer-term we were already lobbying for a ‘crisis café’ in Congleton and still hope to achieve this.

Childcare

We had an excellent workshop in the Town Hall with some childcare experts – parents, nursery providers, Cllr Suzy Firkin and others – just before the lockdown. It was a very productive session.

The key issues we identified with childcare in Congleton are:

  • Cost and flexibility of childcare options provide a barrier to (mostly) women working
  • This reduces opportunities for fathers to be more involved parents, mothers (especially single ones) to return to work, and employers to tap into local talent to fill jobs.
  • The government allowances are not adequate to cover the costs of providing childcare
  • Parents and employers are often unaware of facilities and financial options

This led to a brainstorm of solutions, and we prioritised some ‘quick wins’ and some potentially more ambitious solutions:

  • Provide a hub of information for parents, providers and employers
  • Council to role-model childcare good practice in our own organisation
  • Work with local employers to encourage them to support parents with flexible working and childcare options
  • Investigate a Congleton workplace nursery scheme

Further work is proceeding on several of these ideas. Many thanks to the participants for their fabulous contribution to this, and for coming out under the cloud of COVID pre-lockdown (a good deal of hand sanitiser was used!)

The Gender Pay Gap

I’ve done an analysis of the Gender Pay Gap in Cheshire East, based on the statutory reporting that the government requires of organisations greater than 250 employees. Not all companies have reported yet because the government allowed a reporting deadline extension due to COVID-19. You can see a summary in the graph.

Median Gender Pay Gap Cheshire East 2019 (companies reporting on time)

Even with the partial reporting, nothing much has changed year on year. Cheshire East Council itself has a bigger gap than the region in general, and like many big organisations does have a promising-looking strategy to address it. Whether that strategy is being implemented effectively is in question given the (lack of) progress over the past 3 years.

Addressing this is in the CTC Business Plan for Congleton and I intend to continue to meet with local businesses to see what we might put in place. Cllr Suzy Firkin works in this area and, I’m happy to say, is keen to work together with me on this.

As we applaud our ‘front-line’ workers each Thursday I reflect that many of them – especially in social care – are doing a life-saving job for a ridiculously low wage. The gender pay gap is at least in part due to the fact that society does not value this work that is mostly done by women.

Congleton Green

The Congleton Green Working Group is progressing with Zoom meetings, and Barry Speed, one of our members, did a great job starting to estimate CTC’s carbon footprint. At our last meeting we had some advice on measuring the carbon footprint of procurement activities and this needs to be factored in.

Meanwhile we are keen to take Congleton Sustainability Group’s ‘Sustainable Living in Congleton’ (SLIC) training out to all residents as an eLearning course so that people can accelerate their ‘green living’ from home.

I wrote the brief for this and we are currently evaluating vendor proposals.

Integrated Transport

Our Integrated Sustainable Transport Working Group has met to discuss the bus funding that Cheshire East is getting and discuss ideas for Congleton. I put together a list of ideas including increasing the frequency of bus services, running them into the evenings and on Sundays, reducing the cost of fares and marketing buses as a convenient and cheap alternative to car use.

The working group added some builds and I sent the ideas list to Cheshire East as input to their thinking when putting together bus proposals.

The working group has also considered some ideas for moving towards being a ‘Living Streets’ town, and in particular has expressed support for a ‘20’s Plenty’ proposal in Cheshire East, whereby residential streets have a 20mph speed limit. This will come back to our full council for consultation if the idea is accepted at CEC.

Congleton Museum Trust

The Museum’s ‘comms calendar’ that I created kicked off in March with regular posts on ‘heritage days’ through the month. The results were very promising with Facebook page reach up more than 100% and engagement (Likes, Comments, Shares) up 400% month-on-month. The posts also went onto Instagram and Twitter.

Congleton Museum has over 200 followers on Instagram

The lockdown has caused some interruption to this but still some posts are going out and getting good engagement, which is great when people cannot visit the Museum

In addition, I helped the Museum Trust move their meetings to Zoom, so work is continuing behind the scenes, on both acquiring collections and planning museum events for post-lockdown.

Council Communication and Transparency

The Council’s work is driven and approved by a number of large Committees (such as the one I chair – The Community & Environment Committee) which meet publicly and make all the decisions with public and press scrutiny. Often, however, it makes sense to set up smaller working groups to thrash out issues and brainstorm solutions, before coming to the Committee for a decision.

I proposed at the start of 2020 that we should publish working group information on our website together with any notes of the working group meetings. In the past the working groups have reported to the Committees, which are public meetings, but sometimes it can be difficult to find information about them because it is buried in the full Committee proceedings. The Working Groups were also approving their own meeting notes at the next meeting before it went to full Committee which caused a delay, sometimes of months, before that information was made public.

In the new system I proposed, working groups approve their minutes by email and so they can be fully approved at the very next Committee (typically within a month) and then put separately on the website. In addition, I suggested a web page about each Working Group so the public can see what they are discussing and offer to help if they have specific expertise in that area. I am happy to report that these pages are now going live on the website and you can see them here.

My Meeting Attendance

Overall, my meeting attendance for the two months has been 100% for all council meetings and working groups, either face-to-face or virtually (11 of 11). This is in addition to the COVID-19 Community Leaders’ Group which was 3 times a week at first, going down to once a week.

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 nine other Groups beyond the Council Committees, which meet at regular intervals, typically every couple of months:

Health and Wellbeing Working Group

Anti-Social Behaviour Working Group (Chair)

Congleton Partnership

White Ribbon Working Group

Congleton Integrated Transport Working Group

Congleton Green Working Group

Congleton Museum Trust

Congleton Pride Steering Group – Pride has been postponed due to the COVID-19 crisis as you would expect, but will be back!

Elizabeth’s Group – commemorating Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy, Congleton’s Suffragist. We have had to postpone our ‘Elizabeth’s Day’ celebrations at the start of May but Sue Munro, our Chair, has done a fantastic job of keeping the statue campaign alive on social media with videos and other posts.

I am lucky that, through the COVID-19 crisis so far, my ‘day job’ has been extremely busy, because we are a digital business and with a world wide distributed team we we are used to working virtually and using videoconferencing all day. Therefore, for me, life and work goes on, including council work, and I am busier than ever.

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January-February 2020

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

It has been a busy couple of months. Overall, my meeting attendance for the two months has been 93% for all meetings and working groups (13 of 14) and 83% for statutory meetings (4 of 5). In addition, I’ve attended the Finance & Policy Committee twice, although not a member. Being a Councillor is so much more than meetings though, there is stuff to be done, too!

Tell me what you think

If you want to chat to me about what I am doing in the Council (or 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 9th March. 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. You can see my priorities on my Cllr page here.

Equality and Inclusion

I am very happy to report that the Finance and Policy Committee of the Council voted unanimously to approve a new Equality and Inclusion Policy for Congleton Town Council which I presented to them on 13th February. At the same meeting the F&P Committee awarded Congleton Pride a grant to support their event in 2020, which I also spoke for.

The new Equality and Inclusion Policy sets out how the councillors and staff will behave with respect to people with different characteristics, including the legal ‘protected characteristics’.

The old Equality Policy met minimum requirements in terms of mentioning the protected characteristics but did not describe many of them in detail. Furthermore, the policy had an emphasis on discrimination and what we ‘will not tolerate’ and protective actions, rather than portraying equality, diversity and inclusion as a positive aspiration that CTC will embrace and promote.

I consulted the Local Government Association guidance, The Cheshire East Equality and Diversity Strategy, national government guidelines, Citizen’s Advice documents and the policies and practice of award-winning local authorities to develop a new Equality and Inclusion Policy for CTC. I worked with Cllr Suzy Firkin, who proof-read and improved the text for me from her experience as a professional equality and diversity consultant. Thanks, Suzy!

The new Policy states “We want Congleton to be a place in which everyone’s hopes and aspirations can be made real. We want to ensure that no one is held back or excluded and that our Town’s success is shared… Our policy sets our vision: recognising the contributions that people from different backgrounds make, actively tackling inequalities and fostering good relationships across our communities.”

The new Equality and Inclusion Policy differs from the old in that it:

  • Recognises that including more diverse groups of people will help our decision-making, democracy and the success of our town
  • Says that CTC will show leadership in equality and inclusion for Congleton
  • Commits to listen to and understand the diverse needs of all people to make our information, services and products more accessible and inclusive
  • Sets out the legal protected characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation, and identifies additional characteristics that we will protect – these are: people in care/with caring responsibilities and people of different socio-economic groups
  • Gives examples of ‘types of discrimination’ (from case law) using each of the characteristics.
  • Says we are determined to continually measure our performance and improve, and that we will share good equality and inclusion practice.

You can read my report to the Finance & Policy Committee and the new Equality & Inclusion Policy in the meeting papers from 13th February (starting pg. 65).

I was very happy that the Congleton Chronicle put the news of the new Policy on their front page, together with a report about the council’s support for Pride (which I also spoke in favour of). I was less happy that the Chron called me a ‘LibDem Councillor’! My LibDem colleagues (and other friends) enjoyed this apparent switch of allegiance! But the paper did print an apology this week.

Childcare

I have written to the respondents of last year’s Childcare Survey who agreed to work with us further, and invited them to a workshop to discuss childcare challenges and potential solutions for Congleton. This will take place at the Town Hall on 14th March. If you’d like to take part, get in touch!

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. Our Working Group consists of 4 councillors (Paul Duffy, Mark Rogan, George Hayes and me), the Council Chief Officer, David McGifford, and two volunteers from the community – Richard Walton and Peter Munro. We have all completed White Ribbon Training so they are now Ambassadors and I’m a Champion, as they call women.

You can join in by making your Promise here: https://www.whiteribbon.org.uk/promise. If you’re involved with boys/men at work or in a social sense such as a sports club – perhaps you’d like to help? Do get in touch.

The next step for our group is training for our council employees and councillors.

Mental Health

The Health and Wellbeing Working Group, of which I’m a member, is prioritising adult mental health services for Congleton – for which we must lobby other agencies like Cheshire East Council and the NHS.

Cllr Mark Rogan and I visited ‘Number 71’, a new ‘Crisis Café’ in Chester to learn how it is set up and the services it provides. It is intended to be a place to go if you are in mental health crisis, instead of going to A&E. There will be qualified mental health professionals on-hand, and the facilities include consulting rooms, group-work rooms, activities and areas to relax and have a coffee and chat.

This is the sort of facility we want in Congleton. We have been told the Clinical Commissioning Group is rolling these out all over Cheshire so we will continue to lobby for Congleton to be the first in Cheshire East!

Some councillor colleagues met with Mentell who provide a service primarily for men with mental health problems. There is Cheshire East funding to support and train facilitators of mental health peer groups, so we will connect this with people like Mentell who have set up groups in Congleton.

Antisocial Behaviour

I was pleased to learn via this Working Group that for the last 2 months of 2019, antisocial behaviour was down 50% year-on-year. Cllr Robert Moreton has been working with local venues and Bamboogy have agreed to run an ‘under-18s night’ on 9thApril to give young people something to do in town. We will see how this is received.

Support for families affected by Domestic Abuse

We are continuing to support Cheshire Without Abuse in their efforts to get funding for a domestic abuse hub in Congleton and several bids are underway.

Street Naming

We were asked last year to suggest street names for a new development off Back Lane, Congleton. Since I believe more than 90% of Congleton’s streets named after people are named after men, I suggested 5 names of prominent Congleton women, and I’m delighted to say these have all been accepted as new street names! they are:

  • Ormiston Way (Dr Margaret Ormiston, who set up Quinta hospital for wounded soldiers)
  • Elmy Avenue (Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy – suffragist, women’s rights campaigner)
  • Turner Drive (Theodora Turner OBE, President of RCN)
  • Williamson Close (Margaret Williamson MBE, local Councillor and life-long volunteer)
  • Burgess Place (Jessie Burgess, first woman mayor of Congleton, 1945-47)

Environment and Sustainability

The Congleton Green Working Group has got going and has had a couple of meetings, the first one with a Cheshire East Officer who explained where things are up to with the CEC Environment Strategy.

It became clear that they are not going fast enough for us, so two of the Congleton Green Members (Barry Speed and Mark Rogan) will be calculating CTC’s own carbon footprint and from this we will set some clear objectives for our group.

The objectives will not be limited to carbon footprint – we will address all areas of sustainability including waste, plastics, consumption etc.

Plastic Free Congleton (Heather Seddon) came to request the formal support of Congleton Town Council, and I spoke in support of that group, which is doing great work.

I welcome the Young Pretender’s initiative to show a ‘climate change’ movie night each month – a great idea. This week I saw ‘Chasing Ice’ which was fascinating and sobering.

The Congleton tree planting initiative continues. I haven’t been out for a planting day yet, but intend to! If you’d like to join in you can learn more here.

Integrated Transport

Our Integrated Sustainable Transport Working Group has met and started to set its objectives. I have been looking into the new funding for bus services that is coming from central government. Cheshire East will be entitled to some of this assuming it puts together a bid, which I’m sure it will as Craig Browne of CEC states they will in this week’s Congleton Chronicle.

I am also interested in the idea of the ‘All-Electric Bus Town’ which is a large government fund for a single town to go to all-electric buses. CEC have not committed to bidding for this but I believe Congleton could be a contender so will continue to pursue it. If you’re a transport or bus expert and would like to help, please get in touch!

Museum Trust

I met with the Congleton Museum team and Cllr Suzy Firkin to discuss how to raise awareness and get more people coming to the museum. I put together a ‘comms calendar’ so we can regularly tweet and post about ‘heritage days’ and other important dates, and share images of our artefacts. This will start in March, in addition to the usual museum communications, so see if you notice the museum is more visible in your social media feeds!

Other Activities

I got trained as a Dementia Friend, along with other Councillors. If you’d like to be trained (it only takes an hour) please contact Dementia Friendly Congleton.

I wrote yet again to Cheshire East officers to ask what is being done about the bins on Sheldon Avenue, but did not get a response.

I corresponded with the residents of Bath Vale about a dispute with the developers and CEC because their road has not been finished off properly and is full of potholes.

With council colleagues I attended a meeting with Canalside Radio to discuss their increased broadcasting for/in Congleton and the potential for a ‘Congleton App’. More on this soon!

Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy

I’m a member of Elizabeth’s Group, which is raising awareness of suffragist Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy and all the great work she did in/from Congleton for women’s and girls’ rights.

I attended the Elizabeth’s Group fundraiser ceilidh, which was great fun. I also helped out at the Olive & Stitch market in January. Elizabeth’s Group is planning to launch a new Heritage Trail about Elizabeth on 2nd May and has lots of other activities planned for 2020.

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

In addition, I am 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
  • 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
  • Elizabeth’s Group

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.

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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.

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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).

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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!

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