Councillor Sonya Ward: We face a big challenge in 2015, but there will be opportunities

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This week, Mansfield’s newest councillor, Lesley Wright attended her first council meeting, after being elected in the Netherfield by election, following the untimely death of the hardworking Councillor Derek Evans.

We are delighted to welcome Lesley who was a leading light in the Save Mansfield Market campaign earlier in the year.

Mansfield is a historic market town, having held a market charter since 1227.

However, in 2014 the Mayor and his executive proposed that the number of market days should be reduced.

Lesley, alongside others, successfully rallied public support to keep the market open.

Lesley was committed to this because as a Mansfield citizen, and a family member of a market trader, she knew that traders and the public overwhelmingly wanted the market to be supported, rather than run down.

The campaigners, supported by all of Mansfield’s Labour councillors, put their case forward very effectively, and were backed by massive public support in the form of a petition which was signed by over 4,000 people.

In June 2014, after receiving this petition, the executive had to listen, and as a result, Mansfield Market is still open six days a week.

The campaign’s success was a real victory for people power in Mansfield.

Now that Lesley is an elected member, I know that her passion and real knowledge of what works for the town centre will be a valuable asset.

I am also pleased that Lesley’s election means that almost half of the Labour councillors in Mansfield are now women.

Some may question why this matters – it matters because elected members should be representative of the community they serve.

In many council political groups, both in Mansfield and nationally, most councillors are retired and male.

Whilst those councillors undoubtedly bring skills and experience to the role, it can be limited.

We are elected to serve all of the community - both men and women, from cradle to grave, and a group of councillors of both genders and mixed ages, with a range of backgrounds and skills is valuable in ensuring that elected members can represent the interests of all citizens.

In 2014, Labour councillors have made the district council a Living Wage Employer, challenged the use of zero hours contracts, and seen the derelict General Hospital site cleared, as we promised we would in our 2011 manifesto. We are working to develop a new leisure facility in Warsop to replace the outdated Meden Sports Centre.

Like many similar towns, Mansfield will face big challenges in 2015, but I am also optimistic that there will be opportunities. With the right leadership, and by listening, I am hopeful that we can work on developing and regenerating the district to secure a better future for Mansfield.

Finally, I would like to wish everyone a happy and healthy New Year.