We have been running a short series of posts from councillors around the country about different aspects of the role. Some talk about the daily details of what being an elected member entails for them; others have written about a specific cause or issue that being on the council has allowed them to champion. All the contributions add up to a snapshot of the busy and varied job of councillor. A big thank you to all those who have taken time to contribute.
Councillor Abi Brown is deputy leader of Stoke-on-Trent Council and leader of the Conservative Group. Here she talks about the challenges of juggling her council role with the demands of family life.
It started a few hours after I was first elected in 2010. The letter said induction for new councillors would be on the Monday morning and I was required at 9.30am. Unfortunately, I had a prior engagement at Parent and Toddler Group with my eldest child, who had stoically put up with hours of leafleting for the last few months. I turned up on the Tuesday, when child 1 was safely ensconced at preschool, signed my declaration and committed myself and my family to the life of a local councillor. I stood for election, but you need your family’s support every step of the way.
My first year as a backbencher was not too bad, organising my time around preschool, getting involved in my ward and the council, and more campaigning, as we left elections by thirds and entered all outs. Of course, this was not enough of a challenge, and by polling day I was pretending badly not to be heavily pregnant. There were some worried faces at the count, probably more over whether I would safely exit the building if I’m honest. Child 2 arrived 4 weeks later, but now being in a group of two meant council meetings were few and far between. Local residents however welcomed my growing family with open arms – we improved a playground, supported local community groups and my children became regular features in our small office.
Fast forward 6 years, and things have changed again. With both children at school and now Deputy Leader of the Council, my current challenges are squeezing everything I need to do into school hours. You don’t need to be a full time councillor to make a difference, but having flexibility is a massive help, along with – in my case – very supportive relatives who help out regularly. Holidays however are a challenge, especially in the summer, because you can’t just take 6 weeks off for childcare! A combination of fewer but busier days, grandparents helping out and the odd meeting with kids in tow is the best way through.
I’m grateful that Stoke-on-Trent City Council has always been a diverse council, with quite a high proportion of younger councillors, many with families. A view of what life is like in our city for families gives a different perspective, especially as we bid to be UK City of Culture in 2021. Widening awareness of what Stoke-on-Trent is really like is a key part of our bid – we have bigger city benefits whilst being just moments away from fantastic parks and open spaces. A great combination for families whether living here or just visiting.
It has also had a positive effect on my children – my eldest has been Chairman of the School Council (a very proud moment!) and both are confident at talking with adults. I get involved in lots of different projects and meet all sorts of people, and talk about this at home so my children get exposed to all sorts of ideas. They both have quite a high awareness of civic responsibility, which makes me proud. My youngest defines my job as “Mummy has lots of meetings” which I think hides the fact that I have the best job in the world, working to make the place we live, Stoke-on-Trent, be the best it can be.