A week in the life of your local councillor

A week in the life of a Councilor..... 17th to 24th November.

Mrs B gets out and about around her constituency.

The weekend started with a most excellent slice of fruit cake (counts for at least of one of your five fruits a day) and coffee at the Mud Pie Cafe at Okeford Fitzpaine village hall which is an opportunity to talk to Okefordians about what is happening in the village and what is bothering them.

They continue to have concerns about drainage in the village. To improve their mood and before I got out of there sharpish I was able to inform them that the road out towards Belchawell is closed with immediate effect to repair a broken bridge. Back to Sturminster do some Christmas shopping at the excellent now annual SERO Craft Fair in The Exchange. Everything those ladies does amazes me. They are a small group of self-starters working to create charitable funds primarily for the Julia’s House Hospice Charity, great stuff ladies. Let me say thanks to all of you in case someone hasn’t already?

That evening I caught up with three long term friends for one of our regular meal in Wimborne…. friends for over thirty years, including my Liberal partner-in-crime Cllr. Pat Hymers with whom I was involved in the very beginning of saving the Wimborne Model Town all those years ago. It just reminds me that we can achieve a lot when we work together.

Sunday morning was church at Mappowder and finding out the latest news about efforts to get the Hinton St. Mary Mosaic back to Dorset, hopefully North Dorset. This amazing structure records the first images of Christ found in the UK. There is a small team of people all working together to try to repatriate it from its current home in storage at the British Museum.

Sunday afternoon and it was time for my routine visit to my aged Cousin Phyllis (98) in her nursing home at Sherborne. I get there and she is feeling a bit down after a cold….. I notice that her loss of hearing is leaving her increasingly isolated and vow to try to drag her to a hearing test and a new hearing aid she will actually use. I know she will resist and resolve to superglue it into her ear so she has to use it. What is that saying “cruel to be kind’? And finally after a busy day a small whisky at home – no wait a minute I need to spend part of the evening helping another Cousin with complex paperwork made the more difficult for his dyslexia. So far he has spent three years trying to sort out his father’s will, sell various family properties, deal with the vagaries of the Department of Work and Pensions arising from his multitude of chronic ailments and medical treatments – as usual he arrives with a handful of official brown envelopes for sorting, advising and letter writing. Life can be very difficult.

Monday in Stur. is a good day to be around as there are still a few market stalls coming in and for older people Monday is still Market Day in Stur. A colleague and I had a useful two hours in The Exchange Coffee Bar getting to know the new Anglican Priest for Sturminster Newton, the Rev. Philippa Sargent who has only been in town for six weeks or so. Philippa’s task (“should she choose to accept it Jim” means meeting the spiritual needs of her existing church goers in Stur., Hinton St. Mary and Lydlinch, whilst reaching out to the non-churchgoing residents of the area. On my way home I collected some bags of unsaleable clothes from the Community Chest to take down to Clothes 4 Cash later that afternoon so we do get some money for them. The Community Chest is doing well, raising money which will be used to support the regeneration of the town centre. Already they have a Dementia Friendly Sturminster programme in hand, and are working with Yewstock to help some of their older school leavers on their journey into adult life independent of full time school support. Then it’s a case of trying to find on line the documents I needed for the Informal Shadow Executive Committee Meeting of the County Council at Dorchester at 4.00 p.m. and get them read and digested. The topics for consideration were the establishing of the new Weymouth Town Council, the issue of the Five Year Land supply for housing across the county, and the arrangements for the executive appointments to the new Unitary Authority. All documents come “on line” rather than in paper copy which on the whole I prefer because I hate having loads of papers to file or dispose of, but the problem is finding where oh where are they stored on one of several secure sites. Then follows a moment hoping I have the correct passwords. Get it wrong, or a system malfunction and it can be very, very frustrating and time wasting. This week proved to be a bad week for finding documents, my password for one site has run out and needs changing (aaaarghhh) but I can only do that on a council computer and I am not due down in Dorchester again until Tuesday – meanwhile every few minutes the site flashes up and asks me for its password. Whoever thought we would inflict this sort of stress on ourselves in the interest of efficient working? I think our parents and forebears would be horrified of the world of work we have forced ourselves to operate in. Who said the desktop PC has replaced 70 clerical jobs since it came into being.

On Tuesday, I am having a helpful guy come and repair the leaking conservatory roof which was only put on last year, then off to a meeting in Church House, Salisbury at 2.00 p.m., so that meant leaving home an hour and a half beforehand to get there in good time, on a cold and wet day. I am part of the Diocesan Social Responsibility Group, not as part of my official council duties but because I have been vocal about social conditions in my Ward and the church’s response to them. So as a local Councillor and a Church Warden I can make a contribution to the discussion but its my choice and at my cost. We received a report called Hidden Dorset from the Dorset Community Foundation on hidden poverty in Dorset. We were also told about the campaign against Fuel Poverty “Surviving Winter” which is inviting those who get the winter fuel payment but feel they do not need it to donate it to that campaign to be given to those struggling to keep warm – over 300-400 local residents die during the winter months and cold is a contributory factor.

Wednesday was a day of trying to catch up at home, not least getting the house sorted out following rewiring works whilst I was away in September and October – and also the clock repair man calling to get an old mantle clock chiming again. The only problem now is that if someone phones on the hour its a bit hard to talk whilst that and the grandfather clock are both doing their full Westminster chime thing. In the evening there was a briefing meeting on the budget proposals for Sturminster Newton Town council…. and the chance to have a cup of tea and catch up afterwards with Town Council Colleagues. Human contact in a work context, a rare moment of peaceful reflection with colleagues.

Much of Thursday was taken up by attending the funeral in Bournemouth of a dear friend and former colleague who died aged 98 and I cursed myself for not having made the time to go down and see him before he became ill – it’s too late now I tell myself and resolve to make sure it doesn’t happen elsewhere. Really our friends and family and the relationships we have with them are our most valuable things in life. If only we could remember that. He was a very brave man, a sailor, who was many of the major episodes of World War 2, and whose considerable number of medals included the BEM and the Legion d’honneur. On retirement he’d joined the Probation Service to continue his public service.

I got back in time to have a quick bite of late lunch and then go to meet a local family who have an issue with Children’s Services. Casework of this nature makes up quite a bit of a councillor’s time, or it does mine, not least as I work closely with the MP’s Parliamentary Assistant on problems brought to Simon Hoare which are in my Division. My working career was as a social worker but the difficulties experienced by residents in getting appropriate services from the local authorities can be very harrowing and very frustrating. In the evening it was back to the Town Council for the Budget Meeting and another cuppa at The Exchange with fellow councillors afterwards.

Friday was a day of one meeting rolling into another starting at 9.00 a.m with the Chairman and Secretary of the Newton Residents Association to consider traffic calming measures for the A357 in Newton (twinned with Sturminster). At 10.30 a.m. there was a meeting of the Friends of Stur. Library Committee (or which I am Chairman) at the Library to review our recent events and think about what we may be able to achieve next year. Friends not only keep the library open for an extra two hours on a Monday but also recently ran a Spam Awareness event and have been running Craft Sessions on Saturday mornings which have been well attended. Michaela Knowles hopes to continue those next year. That was followed by a discussion with Jacqui Wragg over a coffee about the work being done to set up an active Chamber of Trade and Commerce for Sturminster and the surrounding area, following from. That was followed by a meeting of all those involved in organising the Christmas Event in Stur. on 1st December to ensure we knew what was happening when and to iron out any potential problems hopefully before the day. I have a role to play in Stur that day but also have to fit in a coffee morning in Pulham and talking to the Dorset Youth Council at Buckland Newton at midday about women in politics. I hope to treat myself to the Christmas choral evening at the Church after that if I have the energy. On Friday evening it was disappointing that David Starkey had to cancel his talk on Henry Viii at The Exchange but it did allow some friends and I to have a good evening together over a nice meal.

And finally ……Saturday 24th …. 9.30 to 12.30 spent helping select Conservative candidates for the forthcoming new Dorset Council Elections in May 2019 and being adopted as the candidate for the Blackmore Vale Ward.

Pauline Batstone,
County Councillor Blackmore Vale, District Councillor Lydden Vale and Sturminster Newton Town Council.