Winner of the Innovation and Service Transformation award at the Cllr Award 2021 (England and Wales), Cllr Paul Bell, tells us more about his time in local politics and the causes he passionately advocates for at every opportunity.
In his lifetime, Cllr Paul Bell has faced some truly difficult challenges, having grown up in Sheffield, as part of a working-class family in the height of ‘Thatcher Britain’, he shares that he was no stranger to poverty and its harsh impact on daily life – having even become homeless himself as a child. Adding to this hardship, while growing up in the 1980s and trying to find his place in the world as a young gay man, Cllr Bell faced both discrimination and homophobia.
Evidently, those negative experiences have shaped Cllr Bell and now he has found his place advocating for those in need within his community of Lewisham, and beyond.
“I am passionate about veganism, tackling climate change, ending privatisation, fighting discrimination, ending austerity and eradicating poverty to improve the lives of people, all people, in our borough,” he lists.
First and foremost, Cllr Bell says he is ‘so proud’ to call Lewisham his home, but like many others in local government, he’s concerned about the rising pressures facing council services and his many residents, “For me, being a councillor and cabinet member is about public duty,” he remarks. As a result, he feels the new pressures of today, along with ten years of cuts, are pushing people to the ‘brink’ and that is just not something Cllr Bell is willing to accept.
Cllr Bell considers one of the biggest challenges he has faced in his role as a councillor to be building social homes. “In the last four years, local government has coped with continued austerity, a global pandemic, Brexit and supply chain issues. This all impacts on our ability to deliver new council and social housing.”
His win at the Cllr Awards is credited to the determination Cllr Bell has to succeed in every initiative he takes on. A core example of this is the ‘proxy address scheme for homeless people’ which Cllr Bell led last year. This has made a fundamental difference to many lives because the lack of a fixed address means that homeless people can not claim benefits or get a job, which in turn, needlessly perpetuates the cycle of homelessness and prevents them from improving their situation.
Find out more about why Cllr Paul won the Service and Innovation award here:
Cllr Bell shares that he found out about a colleague nominating him for the Innovation and Service Transformation award after the submission deadline, and was ‘surprised’ again to then be announced the winner of the category. “There are many talented councillors in the UK, working tirelessly for their constituents.” In terms of the recognition he received, Cllr Bell states, “For me, the recognition is less about me and more about the fact that doing the right thing is recognised.” Sticking fundamental to his beliefs, Cllr Bell remarks that, despite the hardship of politics – especially nowadays in an increasingly hostile environment towards politicians – he has ‘always done what he believes is the right thing, which is not always the easy choice.’
True to his ‘modest’ nature, as described by his colleagues, Cllr Bell also states that the award is far from just his achievement.
“I believe in teamwork, I could achieve nothing alone. I work with talented officers at Lewisham Council who really care about making a difference. This award is a recognition of their work too.”
When looking towards the future, Cllr Bell says his focus is on delivering all his manifesto targets by March this year – which as you can imagine is quite the challenge. “When I became cabinet member for housing in 2018, I commissioned a video about residents living in temporary accommodation. This video still guides me on what, and why, I and officers do to help our fellows citizens and I want to share it with others too.”
Video: Lewisham Council’s ‘No Place Like Home’