At approximately 11:30 pm on Thursday 7th February 2019, the result of the Evendons by-election was read out, and life suddenly changed. A wave of emotions came over me which resulted in a few tears as I hugged Helen, my husband and Daniel and Tim the other candidates. I was then whisked firstly over to sign a book that is held by Electoral Services to confirm that I would become the new Liberal Democrat councillor for Evendons, and then out of the room for interviews with the local press. I’m not sure what I said – I had been up since 5:30 am and it was getting close to midnight now and was still battling with a number of emotions. My poor husband though settled the mood as he came trailing behind me with my bag and coat, begging people not to call him Denis Thatcher.
Prior to the election, my husband and I decided it would be an idea for him to take a few days off work post-election. The build up to the election had meant we had seen very little of one another, and whatever the outcome, we needed some time together. He took the Friday, plus the following Monday and Tuesday off work. However, a few days to collect ourselves never materialised. After having crawled into bed at around 2 am after the election (we needed a G&T before bed!), and unable to switch off and fall asleep, our 5-year-old came bounding into the bed room at 6:30 am enquiring after the result. And with that my mind was buzzing with all the things I needed to do, despite feeling like a zombie.
I thought that once the children were at school, I would be able to have a fairly relaxed day, and I did get as far as having brunch in town with my husband and mum. That soon changed though when BBC South got in touch with me. I have been campaigning for some time to have changes made in the marketplace in town to ensure the space is accessible to all our residents. A number of design features have contravened guidelines for minority groups, particularly those with visual impairment. I have been putting pressure on the council to make a few alterations so that these safety concerns are rectified. BBC South were going to run a feature and wanted to interview me as part of it on the following Monday morning, airing on the Tuesday. Nothing like a baptism of fire when starting a new job that’s very much in the public eye! I had no idea what to expect, so I contacted a friend who is interviewed a lot on television and radio to get some advice. The main piece of advice was to be clear about the message I wanted to get across and try and put that message into every answer so that however the piece is edited, the message is present. I can honestly say that is a lot harder than it sounds and I need more practice. On the plus side though, I was asked if I could be interviewed by BBC Radio Berkshire on the Andrew Peach show about the same topic. The difference with this interview was that it was live and therefore what I said could not be edited…No pressure!
The rest of the week carried on being just as busy, having part of my council induction and responding to a deluge of emails and phone calls. I also attended a meeting with two of the lead campaigners against the potential development at Woodcray, along the Finchampstead Road. I had received the planning application for a development consisting of 216 properties and met to discuss the proposal with them. This also tied in with some of the work being done on the Local Plan Update consultation which was due to close at the end of the following week. There are a number of sites submitted (including Woodcray and Fox Hill) affecting the Evendons ward. The consultation process though was not straight forward and the range of questions and sites submitted made it a huge undertaking for residents to complete. The more resident feedback though, the better, so I wanted to put out as much useful information as possible to residents to help them with their submission. The Fox Hill group had written something incredibly useful which I wanted to build upon for the prominent sites across the ward.
With all this going on though, I still had to balance the rest of my life. I took a choir rehearsal one evening, and after the meeting with the Woodcray campaigners on Friday, I had to ice 60 cupcakes to take into school and help with the cake sale my oldest son had arranged (and only told me at the last minute)!
The following week was half term and both my boys suffered with flu, so we were pretty much housebound for the week. I did though have my first full council meeting to prepare for that Thursday and this one was the budget! On Monday alone I spent 7 hours going through the documentation and I had what can only be described as brain fry. I have watched many council meetings, but I am still astounded as to the behaviour that goes on. It’s not quite the House of Commons, but it’s not far from it. I think it’s best described as a pantomime and I can honestly say my children behave better.
I made my maiden speech at the meeting, asking for there to be a line in the budget to have a designated bay installed in the town centre for the community buses that transport the disabled and elderly community. My request was amongst other amendments that my fellow Liberal Democrat councillors asked for that we submitted in an amendment to the budget being proposed (all fully costed and put together with department heads), but unfortunately the amendment was rejected. However, the Executive for Highways did make a statement in the meeting and also spoke with me afterwards about my request and it is something being looked at. Fingers crossed we get a solution soon.
The Liberal Democrat group also put in an amendment to the Council Tax Reduction Scheme which is there to support those on lower incomes. The scheme proposed did not have a 100% reduction. Should a resident not be able to pay, the council would have to take that resident to court and the cost of doing that would far outweigh the amount of money owed, so the amendment was to have a pot of money put aside for those in hardship. The amendment was accepted and part of the new scheme going forward. Whilst I support the amendment my party proposed, I still couldn’t vote for the scheme as a whole. When calculating a person’s income to determine how much of a reduction they are entitled to, 33% of carer’s allowance is included as income. This allowance is a life-line to people that are caring for others, and unable to work as a result, freeing up resources in our struggling NHS and adult social care services. Therefore, I voted against this.
Since the budget meeting, the range of areas I’ve been looking into has been quite extensive. I’ve been spending time putting together my comments for the proposed Woodcray development (I am strongly against it), looking for any possible solutions for the huge levels of congestion we face on the Finchampstead Road (I am trying to acquire traffic data that will help with this, plus looking at potential sites for cycle routes), researching ways of tackling the increasing levels of anti-social behaviour (my first action on this is arranging a ride along with our local police team, and visiting an area in Maidenhead that has successfully implemented proactive measures to understand best practice methods), plus inundated our highways department with requests across the whole ward for a wide variety of issues to name just a few. To say this role is varied is an understatement, but I am enjoying the challenge.