Do you believe in coincidences? I don’t. I believe everything happens for a reason and the lead up to my deciding to stand for Oakwood Councillor was full of prompts and sign posts.
Back in October something happened, which I don’t really want to divulge here, but I really felt that myself and a group of people I represent in Oakwood had been mistreated. I was spurred on to try and get better representation and joined the Oakwood Neighbourhood Board. At the time I hadn’t had much to do with this type of work and felt a bit out of my depth, but encouragement from Oakwood residents gave me to confidence to speak at the meetings and question decisions made to ensure that benefits to the residents of Oakwood were the priority.
Discussions at board meetings and Neighbourhood Forums, about the community spirit in Oakwood, led me to recognise that there are small groups of people around Oakwood working really hard to improve our neighbourhood. However, I refuse to believe that the lack of involvement from others is because the people of Oakwood don’t care – a reason I heard many times- and personally I know many people who care passionately about Oakwood but don’t always feel able to help for a variety of reasons. The lack of positivity and inability to try and see things from different points of view upset me and I feel that the people of Oakwood deserve a bit more respect.
Initially the idea of standing for election kept slipping into my mind… I quickly dismissed it as I didn’t feel I had the confidence, skills, knowledge or time to do the job. I also know that Oakwood has always voted with an overwhelming Conservative majority in previous elections so didn’t really see the point. Currently I don’t really align myself with any political party – to stand as an independent candidate I would have to fund any publicity myself and don’t have any experience of campaigning as a political party would.
Then last weekend a friend came to stay. She stood as an independent candidate in Oakwood a couple of years ago. She explained a bit more about the process and how it was free and quite easy just to get your name on the ballot paper. Even if I did nothing else I could give people an alternative, to the three main parties, to vote for.
The following morning I had a look at Derby City Council website to find out a bit more about what standing for election is all about. It turned out there was a briefing meeting at the Council House that very morning – not only that, but I was available to attend.
I attended the meeting. This was the first time I have stepped inside the refurbished council house. My heart was racing as I walked into the Council Chamber -I felt so uncertain. I took a seat near the back and waited to see what would happen. I was encouraged that I didn’t seem to be the youngest person in the room though I was one of only a couple of female attendees. A gentleman from the council came and introduced himself to me – I gave him some one-syllable answers as a result of my nerves. He was very kind and explained a bit more about what would happen and offered to get me a nomination pack from behind the main desk at the front.
I listened to the presentation. Lots about the nomination process, standing for a party and what happens at the count. There was also a big input from the police about electoral fraud – a crime taken very seriously. This was nearly enough to put me off.
Further conversations when I got home convinced me I should get my name on the ballot paper if I did nothing else. In the days that followed I found myself becoming more motivated to mount a campaign to get as many votes as possible. I drew up a draft flyer and created a Facebook page and blog. Friends and Oakwood residents were extremely positive. I tried really hard to put obstacles in the way or people who would be likely to tell me not to do it but no-one did.
I read a document by the local government association and some websites about being a councillor – one of the first case studies I came across was from a woman very similar to myself – same age, young family. Then I found out that there were other people like me already working as councillors in Derby – all prompts and prods in the right direction.
I made the decision I would stand. The Facebook page got a number of ‘likes’ very quickly and not just from people I know but others as well. Confirmation that the people of Oakwood need more choice on the ballot paper.
I’m now in the process of finalising some publicity, the next council briefing is already in the diary and I have an appointment to get my nomination paper checked and submitted later next week.
Keep an eye out for posters appearing in a window near you.