(Manfred Mann’s Earthband)
After I was made Town Mayor (of South Woodham Ferrers) in May 2020, the local free newspaper, the South Woodham Focus asked if I would answer twenty questions for them.
Inevitably short questions sometimes demand long answers but this is what I answered:
I’m 63, and moved to South Woodham in July ’86, so I’ve been here 34 years, more than half my life.
As well as being a Town Councillor, I also represent South Woodham Ferrers at the City and Essex County Council. As County Council meetings take place during the daytime, it would have been unfair to expect an employer to release me for those meetings, so I gave up my ‘day job’ in Information Security.
The Town Mayor chairs meetings of the full Town Council and the Policy & Resources committee; there’s also a ‘hands on’ role in supporting the Town Clerk and Council employees.
The Town Mayor also supports community groups by attending community events and functions, although due to the current Covid situation this is currently more difficult.
No ‘powers’ as such, but during my year as City Mayor I was able to raise around £10,000 for Parkinson’s Essex. I’ve nominated them my Mayor’s charity as Town Mayor and hope to raise some money for them when circumstances allow.
No more influence than any other Town Councillor; Town Council policies for the most part are directed by the National Association of Local Councils, discussed and agreed by Town Council committees.
Most Councillors have ‘pet’ projects and ideas to improve things for residents, we each bring those to the Council for discussion and hopefully, implementation.
All elected Town Councillors receive an allowance to cover their expenses, the Town Mayor doesn’t receive anything on top of that.
Pragmatism, as we often have to accept things we might not agree with, and empathy, as we’re working to improve things for our residents.
I think previous mayors have all brought their own skills and experience to the role, I guess I have the insight of understanding how the City and County Councils work.
I’m approachable, and take time to listen to residents’ concerns.
The Town Mayor has a chain, but no robes. I wore ceremonial robes during my year as Mayor of Chelmsford – for meetings of the full City Council and for civic occasions.
As I mentioned earlier, I support the Town Clerk and her staff. The Town Clerk had to make some difficult decisions during the Covid crisis and I was able to talk those through with her.
I was impressed with the ordered queuing for supermarkets during the early days of the lockdown, there was a real sense of “We’re all in this together.”
And I’m proud to see how many people have volunteered to deliver shopping, food and prescriptions through the lockdown. I’ve delivered both food and prescriptions to people who are shielding.
One gentleman commented “I hear the former Mayor Chelmsford is doing deliveries”. I replied “That’ll be me, and I’m currently Mayor of South Woodham.” He apologised for not bowing, but suggested that, Like Captain Tom, he’d struggle to get back up.
Both Chelmsford and Essex County Councils responded well in setting up support services for the vulnerable, both online and in ‘the real world’.
All councils have lost income through the crisis and face difficult decisions going forward.
As for central government, I think they faced an impossible challenge, this crisis came from out of the blue.
Yes, I’m a self confessed ‘geek’. I have found that virtual meetings can be very effective, a recent County Council meeting had 118 people online and on screen.
As Chairman it’s easy to identify which Councillors want to speak, although it’s sometimes tempting to hit mute ‘by mistake’!
Murrough and I get along very well, he’s a great Deputy Mayor and I have a great deal of respect for him. He’s very often ‘the smartest guy the room’ and always worth listening to. He’s also even geekier than me, so I can call on him for technical advice.
I consider all the Town Councillors to be friends, and together we serve on the Town Council to support our residents.
You can’t please all the people all the time, and I sometimes find that stressful.
As for how I deal with it, I enjoy cooking – it’s hard to beat a (socially distanced) barbecue with friends.
And I’m looking forward to being able to travel again.
Trying to make things better.
While I was Cabinet Member for Parks at the City Council I was able to provide improved sports facilities at Compass Gardens, despite not being particularly sporty myself.
I shop in Sainsburys occasionally, and think that having an alternative actually reduces the pressure on parking in the Town Centre, making it easier for people to visit other Town Centre shops.
For many years I believed our Town to be ‘finished’, but now I recognise that, if the development is done properly including the Town Council’s influence through things like the upcoming Neighbourhood Plan, then the new housing should benefit our Town.
The upside of the new development is the additional investment money that will be available to the Town and City Councils.
I’d love to see sporting facilities improved, a community presence in one of the empty units in the Town Centre, and more independent shops.
The success of Phoebe’s Pantry down at the riverside has clearly shown that – no pun intended – there’s an appetite for more facilities down there.
Spare time? Seriously though, I’m a member of the British Guild of Beer Writers and write for a Beer website; I love seeking out unusual beers.
I also spend far too much time on social media!