A former colleague of mine was one of those people who clearly had, and presumably still does have, a brain the size of Jupiter. You know one of those people you look at and wonder how they cram it all in there? And on such a wide variety of subjects? Not one of those people who thinks they’re very clever, but one of those people who thinks they’re stupid because they’re so clever they have a grasp of the enormity of everything that they don’t know? I used to sit next to such a person at work. And every lunchtime that person would battle his way through the tourists in the middle of Stratford in order to make his way to the Leisure Centre so he could go for a swim. In the warmer months he found the walk to be particularly trying due to the number of visitors, and the swim even more trying due to the other swimmers. He often referred to those impeding his way as “Members of the Public”.
On one occasion after a particularly testing walk and an even more difficult swim, he was openly wishing for his own heated swimming pool in order to avoid these trials, I advised him that frustrating as it may be to him, Members of the Public are free to walk in the street and use the public swimming baths. I then advised him that he freely enjoyed these things as he was also a “Member of the Public”. It became very apparent very quickly that this was very much new information. It had clearly never once occurred to that bright, brilliant mind of my dear colleague that he was just the same as everyone else. Not in a derogatory sense. He never once gave me the impression that he thought of himself better than anyone else. Just of all the things he had considered, thoughts he had had and issues he had wrestled with, that had never been one of them. He sat for about fifteen minutes staring out of the office window, quietly saying “oh…er…yes…”
There are sixteen parishes in my hoped-for ward, and a complicated arrangement in some cases for meeting, but around ten meetings in total. It stretches from just north of Banbury to just south of Daventry. Presumably the Boundary Commission were trying to make the ward boundaries fair in terms of Members of the Public. However, the geography is stretched over a large rural area. Therefore if one wishes to get a handle on things, there is not one Parish Council meeting to go and listen to. Any Member of the Public can attend a Parish Council meeting. Over the past few weeks, I have been making free with my democratic rights and have attended five with Nigel so far, sitting quietly in the corner and making a few notes. What have I found out so far?
1. It has been significantly more interesting than I thought it would be
I doubt that this will be a surprise to anyone but my hopes were not high on this score. Of all the wild nights out I could have, this was not anywhere near any list that may have existed. However, with sincere apologies to all of the lovely Members of the Public I have met so far, whilst it has been far from raucous (which in fairness, Nigel never even hinted at as a possibility) it has been most interesting, so I was wrong about that. That was my first surprise.
2. Everyone was pleased to see us
The second surprise has been that either we have a statistically unusual pool of acting talent in the area, or that people have been genuinely pleased to see us. This is an odd sensation for me as people are usually only slightly more pleased to see a lawyer than an undertaker.
3. Each meeting is broadly the same, but wildly different
This seems to be the most surprising piece of information to people. Of course each meeting has a published agenda and follows a broadly similar format in terms of topics to cover. But but oh my goodness every meeting so different. Wildly different.
3.1 Buildings are different
Not a shock really. Some are small and some are large. Old, modern. Parking. None. Most are used for lots of different things, some for sporty things, some for parties, some for community clubs or playgroups. I sat in the tiny room for my village and wondered how six of us used to do yoga in there without smacking or kicking each other. Some rooms are freezing cold, one was so warm the heat hit me when we walked in, another had a lit fire. The chairs are different, the chairs are set out differently, the decor is different. Everything. Different.
3.2 Attendance varies between parishes
I naively assumed that the villages with the largest populations would have the largest attendance from other Members of the Public. Nope.
3.3 How each meeting is run is different
As I said above, each agenda is broadly similar, but the manner in which business is conducted is very different between villages. As the Chair is in charge of the meeting, they run the meeting in the way that they would like to, and of course each and every one of us is a different person.
3.4 Issues concerning each village are different
No one is delighted to have cars speeding through their village. It is very upsetting when criminal gangs have clearly targetted your village to see what they can steal for the period that they are operating in your area. These are just two issues which are familiar and common to rural areas. But there are little peculiarities for each village that are of particular concern to residents, which are part of their identity.
4. Parish Councillors are from all walks of life
An important point here for those who think that being a Parish Councillor might not be for them. Parish Councils are made up of people who are all sorts of different ages and from all different jobs. And when I say jobs, I don’t just mean those in paid employment – I mean people who parent full time, people who volunteer their skills and time, and people who take the time to look in on their neighbours – those are the sort of people who are really needed if you’re thinking it’s not for you. You don’t have to have a brain the size of my former colleague to be a part of one. Which is something of a relief to the rest of us.
5. Not everyone always agrees with everyone else
A group of people together discussing matters that matter to try and find a way forwards and resolve issues can and frequently does result in heated discussion. Not a surprise there. But…..
6. Everyone is doing their best
As an outside observer and fellow Member of the Public, I can hand on heart say that every Parish Council I have met is formed of people who are earnestly trying their best for their community. It has reminded me very much of the pre-school building project that I was a part of. https://nataliegist.com/2017/06/29/abacus/. I cannot tell you how many discussions we had about, of all things, toilets. Cost, size, where to put them, how many, what sort…..good grief you wouldn’t have thought it possible….and yet, there we were sat on my friend’s rug using it as a toilet cubicle size guide. And the thing that we had, that kept us together through all of that, was that in spite of any differences we did have, we never lost sight of what we all wanted to achieve: the best for our community. It’s the same in a Parish Council. But without the rug.
If you are interested in being a Parish Councillor, you can find more information here: https://www.stratford.gov.uk/doc/211844/name/Notice%20of%20Election%20May%202023%201%20Parishes.pdf
Or ask the clerk of your the Parish Council where you would like to stand and they will be able to give you further information.
Published and promoted by Richard Vos on behalf of Nigel Rock and Natalie Gist (Liberal Democrats) all at 55 Ely St, Stratford-upon-Avon CV37 6LN