Ashfield councillor's plea for more people to enter the world of local politics as elections loom

Being a councillor can be 'highly rewarding, helps people and change lives', according to Skegby councillor Melanie Darrington.

Sunday, 21st March 2021, 10:32 am

The Independent Ashfield district councillor is trying to encourage more people to get involved in local politics as the county council elections approach.

And the mum-of-two, who lives in Skegby, says she especially wants more women to stand in a bid to get issues heard and championed.

Here, In her own words, she describes her experience of being a councillor.

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Ashfield district councillor, Melanie Darrington.

"I get asked all the time what it’s like to be a councillor. Many people ask me if they should stand for election. I would unequivocally, say yes! And with local elections coming up, there’s no better time.

Representing your community is highly rewarding, you get to help people and can change their life as a result.

You also can improve your area. On any given week I am contacted by dozens of Skegby residents.

Their queries can range from seeking advice on Covid restrictions, letting me know about fly-tipping, planning issues, pub closures and benefit advice.

One of the main issues I get is littering and dog muck.

While this has increased in lockdown with some people exploiting the fact that they won’t be seen if they don’t pick up after their dog, the issue was here before Covid and sadly will continue after it. At the moment I do litter picks alone but obviously can’t clear the whole of Skegby by myself.

As soon as restrictions are lifted, I want to organise a litter picking team so we can go out each week and get our streets and parks up to standard. I think the long term solution to this is covert CCTV in the hotspots. I intend to keep asking Ashfield District Council for this. One of the things I’ll always remember is finally helping to get street poppies for Skegby, it looked amazing and the community really got involved.

After Covid, I also want to set up a resident group.

When I’m talking to residents, they always have strong views on how they want their area to be. Being a councillor is your ideal role if this applies to you.

We all know people in the community who voluntarily give up their time but would never consider standing for council, I urge them to rethink – those who care deeply about their area always make the best councillors. They’re already doing the hard bit by helping their community.

The other part of a councillor’s role is to attend council meetings.

At first, this can feel daunting but everybody in that council chamber will have felt that way the first meeting they went to.

At the end of the day, you can join in the debate and share your opinion or you can simply vote on the issue and speak up another time.

I’d just say listen to residents and speak from the heart. It’s what you say that counts not the speech itself.

The reason I want more people to get involved and stand for council is that our councils need to mirror society – we need more women, young people, people BAME (black, Asian, minority, ethnic) candidates to be involved.

We also need people from different occupations as each person brings something new.

My daughter is a competitive swimmer, so I always have something to offer on leisure and the new leisure centre.

Other councillors don’t necessarily have the in-depth knowledge about swimming like I do. A dad with a disabled son will shout up to ensure new parks are inclusive – we all bring something to the table and that can only be a good thing.

Of course, being a councillor means entering the world of politics and it isn’t for everyone.

Politics isn’t always nice, people don’t always have a high opinion of politicians and can ‘tar everyone with the same brush’ so to speak.

I don’t let people shout at or abuse me, I don’t expect everyone to like me but I do politely ask people not to shout or be abusive on the rare occasions it’s happened.

The other side of local politics is the pantomime of a council meeting. I don’t like this – I don’t do nasty politics. If I have a problem with a policy I will speak up, but I won’t do personal attacks, it’s not necessary. I don’t care what political party councillors belong to, we can all behave like grown up professionals.

Sadly, I think women tend to come off worse with this. I’ve seen them called irrelevant when they speak and one called the ‘laziest councillor’ in the country because she missed a few meetings. The fact that she was a single mum with a toddler was ignored and she always answered residents and served her community well, seven days a week.

I’ve been on the receiving end of this, I’ve had to miss a few meetings due to hospital visits with my daughter.

It’s so unnecessary but I focus on all the things I achieve as a councillor and never respond to personal attacks with a personal attack back. For people reading this thinking the good side sounds great but the bad side puts me off, I say one thing, that’s why you need to stand. Things only change when people like you stand.

I’ve got three years left as a an Ashfield district councillor, if at this point I’ve helped residents with their problems – even if it’s just a tiny issue, I will be happy. If you strongly support a political party, get involved, if you don’t do national politics stand anyway.

Let’s make our town halls and council chambers reflect our villages and towns. In the process you will be fighting for your community and residents and there’s no finer feeling than making a difference.

The deadline to stand in the Nottinghamshire County Council elections is April 8.”