I was helping my friend canvass for the County Council election in 2017, I’d joined the Labour Party earlier that year and was keen to get involved with the local branch. Next thing, someone asked if I fancied standing in the upcoming by-election in July………..I’ve now been an Eden District Councillor for a year and I really enjoy it.
July 2017 by election – getting out and about canvassing for the election was great, using my time to chat to people about local issues and Labour Party policies was so rewarding, more than I thought it would be to be honest. Be aware that canvassing does take up some time, but it is very worthwhile and invaluable in getting the word out about the upcoming election and connecting with voters.
To be an effective councillor requires commitment and the ability to balance the needs of the community, the party you represent and the council. If you’re considering becoming a councillor, take the time to talk to family and friends, you will need support, some of your spare time will be taken up with council business and it’s important that everyone is aware of what is involved.
The time commitment bit! – A rough guide to how much time you need to give is a minimum of one day per week. However, this will depend on how involved you want to be, issues that may be raised from local residents, the number of committees you choose to serve on and what community projects you feel you want to get involved in.
Meetings tend to be held during the evening, occasionally they have member briefings and working groups which meet a little earlier, but these don’t happen that often.
Eden District Council has 38 seats – 20 Conservative, 10 Independent, 7 Liberal Democrat and 1 Labour. The Council meetings are scheduled for 8 times a year, which includes one Annual and one budget meeting. I am on the Environment and Economy Scrutiny Committee and Housing and Communities Scrutiny Committee, each committee meets 5 times a year, I sit on the Community Housing Fund advisory board and I will be chairing a participation task and finish working group. I attend the Parish Council meetings every month to update them on Eden District Council business and feedback anything relevant.
Outside of the Eden District council meetings and working groups, I find that a lot of my time is taken up with local projects and dealing with local issues raised by residents. Getting involved in local groups is a really good way to get yourself immersed into the community, I was already a member of the PTA, a part of a refugee solidarity group and a trustee of the local play area and being a councillor has enabled me to become even more active and offer some time to other projects such as a Neighbourhood planning project, a Community Housing project, recycling initiatives and a footpath project.
Being a local councillor means that you’re representing your community, residents will contact you regarding a number of issues, being able to support people in this way is particularly rewarding. As their local representative you provide a bridge between them and the council. You will need to become familiar with your ward and the problems they may be facing, respond to any queries, investigate concerns, signpost to the correct area within the council, feedback council decisions that affect the community, work collaboratively with other organisations and councillors and be able to convey the views of residents at council meetings.
Being a councillor gives you the chance to make a difference. It’s an opportunity to stand for what you believe in. Give it a go!
By Lissie Sharp, Eden District Council for Labour in Alston Ward
You may be interested to read a booklet, produced by the Labour Party entitled, ‘Becoming a Labour Councillor The what, why and how‘. http://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Become-a-Labour-Councillor-Booklet.pdf