Two years ago, I was the victim of what I might best describe as a genteel ambush, and became Chair of our Parish Council. Let’s be frank here, and note that we’re not talking about an empire here - our annual precept is just over £5,000, and the population for which I am theoretically in charge of is comfortably under 300. But, regardless, it is a responsibility that I take seriously.
The idea, I was informed, was that I would do two years and pass the role onto my Vice-Chair. And, I will admit, I was perfectly relaxed about that - power is not to be hoarded, it is to be shared, devolved. That said, I’d enjoyed my two years, and had found an unexpected niche in village life.
Annual Meetings take place in April or May usually, and we generally combine the two into one evening, the Annual Parish Meeting first, where various local worthies, the Parish Council Chair included, submit reports for consideration by Parish residents. There then follows the Annual Meeting of the Parish Council, where we elect officers and, if appropriate, sign documents.
Coronavirus put a stop to that, however, leaving us the question of what to do with the leadership of the Council. It was quickly decided that I should carry on for another year which either means that nobody else wants the job, or that I’m performing adequately. Of course, both could be equally true...
It would be fair to say that I’m not a radical Chair. I like short meetings, but encourage participation, maintain a reasonably tight grasp on procedure but am not fixated by it, and recognise the efforts of my colleagues, our Clerk and our residents. That doesn’t sound like rocket science, and it isn’t, but I see my role as being one of listening to people’s concerns, reflecting on what might be done, and using the tools available to us to achieve things.
Walking around the village as part of my 10,000 steps a day habit doesn’t hurt either, especially during the spring and summer when people are out and about. Admittedly, it does mean that a walk tends to take longer than it might otherwise do sometimes, but I learn a lot from the conversations I have.
And, of course, I have access to the incredible knowledge and experience of Ros, who has probably forgotten more about local government than I will ever know. Any rash notions I might have are usually tempered by a few words of wisdom from her, which makes me a better Chair.
So, another year starts, albeit under rather strange circumstances. We’ve held our first virtual meeting to deal with another controversial planning application and some financial management issues, and that seemed to go well enough. The leaflet that we circulated around the Parish with contact details in the event that anyone needed help has led to a couple of requests that have been taken care of, which is nice, although most people here are either wholly self-sufficient or have neighbours or nearby family who are looking after them.
And I really ought to write an annual report for circulation, I guess. I might leave out any reference to the absence of a plague of frogs this year - can’t be too careful...