One of my favourite things around this time of year is the Spotify Wrapped reflection of your year. The types of genres you listened to, how many new artists, what your top genres/songs/artists are. This year it even included your music’s aura! (Mine was upbeat & positive FYI & my spotify 2021 upbeat wrapped playlist is here if you fancy dancing out!)
So I thought, lets do it (Smizz style) for my just over 6 months as a councillor.
Things I’ve learned in the 6+ months is just how varied my weeks and casework is. Whilst I considered myself pretty political before I decided to run as a cllr, I was fairly naive to the sheer breadth & type of work you get to do *as* a councillor. And even how the council functions in its processes. Unlike many of my peers, I haven’t had anyone in my family be engaged in trade unions, or activism, or local council (officier or member) or government work. And whilst that is indeed a bit of a curse, it is equally a gift because i get to wonder why things are the way they are.
One day I am getting emails about people not picking up dog poo, the next day I am at an emergency CCG meeting with MPs about primary care access. One day I am planting trees, the next I’m reading a 300 page report on what the council’s quarterly outcomes have been.
I came into being a councillor as the youngest in my ward, and the newest. A first time runner. So I am a new face. Despite this, I’ve had *at least* 113 new individual case work since middle of May 2021 (more that i’ve not written down in my notebook). I don’t know if this is a lot or very little. But it’s enough to help me settle in.
That works out around 4.5 (round upto 5) cases a week. All through multiple different channels (email, social media, phone, letter, in person). It doesn’t sound like a lot, but at least 2 of those are often quite complex issues (like housing) and I am still learning where things are located (environment? highways? public health?) and who to go to? Then when you figure that out, you have to wait. Wait for a reply, and that reply often doesn’t answer your question, so you have to ask again in a different way. And wait. This makes the work add up.
Some weeks I’ll get 2 pieces of casework, some other weeks I can literally get 15 issues. You can guarantee these will happen when I have the world’s busiest work week or I’m working away (I also have like 3 different part time jobs on top of this).
This is on top of site visits, resident meetings, appreciative enquiry work, trying to mobilise groups, attend community events, responding to emergency events (which happen here far too often) and all of my council training and labour/council/chair meetings about meetings (as my bro likes to laugh about).
I thought in thinking about what matters to my residents, I would colour code each casework I got with a theme. And these are the biggest themes from May, and what I guess matters most to my residents. Or our biggest challenges as a ward/demographic?
I get soooo much about the environment. People love their parks grass to be cut, very regularly and to a very high standard. And why shouldn’t they? i do believe covid has helped people appreciate and notice outside spaces more.
We have a massive housing crisis happening across Doncaster. This is something I want to do a deep dive into next year, as chair. My heart sinks whenever I get housing emails for STLH house need.
Arguably Anti-Social Behaviour is the thing that my community talks about a lot. But they don’t report it officially. So then the cops say they can’t do anything. It really annoys me that they say that because they choose to not value my voice (the reason i exist as a councillor) as legitimate data. What is the point? Knowing how crime and community are nuanced, they should be open to more qualitative forms of data/evidence. Rather than the 101 system, which is flawed design-wise as well.
It was a sharp learning curve for highways, and their laws, when they put in a terrible road diversion system & sent endless of HGV trucks, speeding up, very small, busy residential streets with speed bumps for 3 weeks. That 3 weeks was hell. Esp because I lived on 1 of the streets affected. Massive trucks & oil tankers, and lorrys that carried 10s of cars getting stuck and honking at each other or resident car owners to move their cars. At all hours of the day. That story will be going in my future book 😉
A big chunk of my case work is drivers driving like dickheads. Or too many cars on the road. But then also cycle paths wind people up too. It’s tough work. And I wish I could stop drivers from being unsafe. There’s far too many on the roads across the country atm. Another police issue.
And then there’s the super varied! It goes from kids telling me swimming costs too much, to planning permission nightmares living in a conservation area, to listening to people’s stories of their experience with adult social care, and the council building stuff and not. anD So much more in between.
What a privilege!
When I first started this job. I knew nothing about flood design, drains, trees, highway laws, asset valuing, the localism act 2011, integrated care systems, balancing reserves, cycle lane engineering, planning laws (esp about fences), enforcement, (re)wilding, how to do a (political) motion, and a million other things.
The amazing officiers in the council have taught us newbies so much, and will continue to do so. I am in awe at their knowledge & experience, and how they juggle it all and then how they adapt to work with us as well.
We get sent emails of things that require a certain level of knowledge, to sign off on or to question. My knowledge is building up enough now that I can pull things out. Less things go by my nose. And i’m less nervous/anxious to ask what things are (my brain always makes things sound more exciting than they really are).
When I got elected, I had HUGE plans. However, I had no idea how many small tiny fires are happening across my ward in all different ways. And floods, mudslides and tornados damaging people’s properties. So the last 2 months I’ve been, finally, after finding my feet and putting many fires out or learning how to handle them, or spin multiple fires at once – i’m beginning the real good proactive stuff I wanted to become a councillor for. To get a sense of community feeling heard and going. And the best thing is… it’s STARTING TO HAPPEN. I can’t believe it.
We’re writing half a million pound business plans to save our heritage buildings, waiting to see if we get 100k for a new playground grant, developing community gardens in an area that people wrongly say wouldn’t be engaged, working to make our parks a future green flag park in the future. We’ve helped people make many community groups. And there’s so much more, and much more yet to come. Good and bad.
Sometimes I have really bad days. Where I feel powerless. Like what-is-even-the-point? Then something happens. The smallest of small wins, a nice email, a gentle but deep conversation with a resident. You can hear it in their voice when they feel heard. It just switches everything. On those bad days I think, gosh if I feel powerless in this system, no wonder our communities are sometimes apathetic and disillusioned. So it reminds me to keep ongoing. That’s the main goal of this 4 years. Is to help my community feel heard. feel less apathy. to feel like things are happening. And they helped make them happen. That’s the real joy.
So all in all. 6+ months wrapped. In my novice beginners mode. I don’t think it’s been too shabby. And it’s still an absolute privilege. I still pinch myself when I’m in the chamber, I still can’t get used to being referred to as councillor or cllr smith. I still get dead nervous before any scrutiny. And i never take any part of what I do as a given.
I have been lent this opportunity to serve. I will continue to take every opportunity I can to keep on learning to be better to serve those in need. And I am humbled and grateful all the time for this experience.
Thanks for all your trust, patience and reaching out residents of Adwick & Carcroft ward. Y’all amazing.
Here’s to the next year, taking this learning and applying it wider and faster.