When you first become a Councillor, apart from the great honour and excitement you, feel it changes your life completely. Suddenly, residents are asking you for help: some with very private and sad issues, others asking for help on matters that involve, perhaps, a whole area. When I was first elected, back in 2002, one of the biggest issues that came to light was a planning application for building on the area known as the Woodland off Mitre Way. This application and subsequent ones failed, which was purely because the residents came together to fight the applicant and even this year we have been successful again. In Holywells Ward we have had some really testing issues over the years: traffic lights at the top of Bishops Hill; the proposed large bridge so close to Cliff Lane and still ongoing; a proposal to put a supermarket where Holmes Oak Court is now right next to the Park; not cutting the grass along Nacton Road and Clapgate Lane and many more. So working together the Power of the People is a very successful tool.
Often services are improved in the area you represent because of your work with the community – pavements, grass cutting, road improvements including calming measures, parking issues, the need for more buses, bus shelters, more police the list is endless. Councillors just have to be persistent.
In Holywells Ward, Associated British Ports is very important. Not only does it employ local people it plays a big part in the community. This is also the case with the University and Suffolk New College and having students living amongst us is a great asset locally and for the rest of the town. It is also important to involve local businesses, restaurants and to promote local charities in their work in the town and in the Ward you represent.
I have to say over the 16 years I have been a Councillor I have found residents are keen to improve their local areas and to help where they can by taking part in community events. I have also found that the schools, churches, Friends Groups, charities, Community Interest Companies and businesses all pull together when there is a need and I have been very proud to help and to represent them and the residents in Holywells Ward.
When the first British women gained the right to vote in February 1918 celebrations were very muted because the Great War was still raging. Sylvia Pankhurst in her book The Suffragette Movement said: “the sorrows of the world conflict precluded jubilations”
So a century later we should celebrate the triumph as fully as we can. However women were not given the vote on the same terms as men until a decade after the act was passed – on 2nd July 1928 the Second Representation of the People Act was passed into law. In a cruel twist of fate, Emmeline Pankhurst the leader of the militant WSPU died on the 14th June 1928 just 18 days before equal suffrage rights were granted.
One victory led to another. The bar to women running for parliament was quickly removed, and the first female MP was elected that year (though, as an Irish republican, Constance Countess Markievicz chose not to join the Commons). The next year, Nancy Lady Astor was the first woman to take her seat in parliament.
Yet progress for women has often felt painfully slow. In 1982 when Harriet Harman was elected there were still only 19 female MPs. The 2017 election was the first time more than 200 women were elected, 208 out of 650 seats. If you speak to female MPs many worry about the murder of Jo Cox, the climate of vitriol on social media, sexual harassment and it is still so hard to balance child caring responsibilities with a political career hence women who have no children are often over-represented at the top.
Here in Ipswich Women’s Votes, Women’s Voices are a group of women’s organisations who have come together to plan a Festival on the 6th October at Suffolk University and are organising EqualiTeas as part of the events leading up to the festival. The festival will highlight and provide women with an opportunity to have access to local politics and democracy and to encourage women to get involved and most importantly to register to vote.
So true to the spirit of the suffragettes – who came from all kinds of political traditions – let us celebrate 100 years of the suffragette movement and all that achieved.
When I first became Leader of the Council, the late and irreplaceable James Hehir – CEO of Ipswich Borough Council – said to me: “You have to become a governor of Suffolk New College”; and so my journey
of being involved in education in Ipswich began.
I’ve never made a secret of the fact that my education was cut short, when my father was moved from Warwickshire to become manager of the Claydon Cement Works. I was 14 going on 15, and instead of continuing my education I was sent to Miss Holmes Secretarial College and then straight out to work. So to then become a Corporate Member of the College, where I studied in the evenings, was more than a great honour.
Having been involved with the College for many years, I have seen many changes from top to bottom: from the old building, to the wonderful new premises we now inhabit. I have chaired the Audit and Risk Committee for several years and although my time at the College is coming to an end, I have enjoyed and learnt so much and feel very proud of its achievements.
I am also a governor at Parkside, which is a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) dealing with children who are unable to cope with mainstream education. They come to Parkside for the wonderful education, counsel, help, care and love they are given. My involvement over the years has seen us become a Multi Academy Trust – known as the Raedwald Trust – which takes in all the PRUs in Ipswich and, although in its infancy, is very exciting. I was asked to join the Foundation Trust at Ipswich School, to help raise funds enabling bursaries for less privileged children to be educated at this wonderful school and all the opportunities it offers. It isn’t easy for a student to do this or for the parents to agree, but we have seen
some remarkable success stories.
Finally, I am very proud to have been asked to become Patron of Student Life and to help this new and important publication to grow amongst the education world, which has enabled students to discuss openly their many issues. Although I very much want to see
education improve in this town, we must always remember that ‘educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all’.
Before I started this month’s article I decided to look up the definition of Networking which states: It is the process of trying to meet new people who might be useful to you in your job, often through social activities. [business] If executives fail to exploit the opportunities of networking they risk being left behind. Rather insensitive!
So no mention of permanent friendship and what that can do to change your life just something you do to promote your business and goodness if you are an executive not much hope at all.
I have been a local Councillor for 16 years and often attend networking events and when I was Leader of the Council it was expected of me. I admit that I made many contacts during that period and before when I worked in the Law. However I would like to think that I have never exploited those contacts and in fact many have become true friends. But I have to be realistic – for some people networking is extremely important and leads to all sorts of business leads, new business and even new employees – so an essential part of business life.
I have been involved in several local charities for a long time and have never thought of these as networking opportunities and in fact I would say I have through some of these charities found lifelong friends. Networking in communities is extremely important and very rewarding. The third sector is packed with volunteers all with different reasons for being there and we should embrace and encourage this.
So the question posed to me by Waterfront Life is the art of networking. I thought long and hard about this and decided that it is just your desire to meet new people, finding the same interests, listening to what others have to say rather than hogging the conversation, trying your best to make people feel wanted. And never forget that it is not always easy to walk into a room where it appears everyone knows each other. It is even harder if you are a female – believe me I experience this a lot!!!
(By Liz Harsant, as published in Waterfront Life)
When I was younger I took a great interest in two incredible ladies: Jennie Churchill (the mother of Winston), who was the cornerstone of high society, and behind the scenes a political dynamo when women were afforded few freedoms; the other was Nancy Astor – the first woman to sit in Parliament. Her campaigning spirit and enthusiasm for politics was
formidable and she championed many causes on behalf of underprivileged women and children. Strangely, they were both American, but I felt their lives were something I would love to emulate.
I became leader of Ipswich Borough Council in 2004 – the first female ever to hold that position, and at the moment; the last! It was a great privilege albeit rather daunting, and a realisation that I was often the only female in the room. To fight my corner and that of Ipswich I had to toughen up. However, the friendships and interests I formed during those 6 ½ years will always remain with me. I couldn’t write this article without mentioning Margaret Thatcher, who I was privileged to meet, and when you read her biography you realise what a hard time she had to achieve what she did. Every obstacle was put in her way but her determination shone through. Mrs May, our present Prime Minister, has more
than a hard job on her plate. I sometimes wonder how differently her negotiations would be if she was a man!
People ask ‘what are the advantages of being in local politics and what do you actually get out of it?’ Well, it goes back to my two heroines’ love of politics and the desire to help wherever I can and the great satisfaction that brings. What I have discovered over my years in politics is, although times are changing, we need more women to take part in local
politics and aspire to go further. I also realise that it is never easy to enter this world when you have young children, but local government recognises this now and tries very hard to accommodate young mothers. If you love politics then don’t leave it too long: us girls are breaking through the glass ceiling, so just go for it. I would be very happy to help.