A campaigner from the start
I think I have always been a campaigner. My first campaign letter was written aged nine, to the Brazilian Embassy demanding that they stopped killing dolphins for the eyeballs. I got a nice reply, although I am not sure that it made a difference! During my teens I was often found at school handing out leaflets on vivisection or other cruelty to animals.
Trying to do something to help made me feel less angry and like I was making a difference in my own small way.
When I got into public relations and started working for the NHS in 2000, my favourite thing above everything was campaign work. I set up campaigns on stopping smoking, coughs and sneezes spread diseases (in case pandemic flu arrived in the UK) and while working at Devon County Council in 2007, I established a campaign to improve adults’ perceptions of young people - called ‘Don’t Judge Us Before You Know Us!’
My step into the freelance PR world
With a couple of private clients already established I took the freelance plunge in 2008 and relished the flexibility it gave me - both in my work and my family life.
A campaign against Tesco coming to Ottery and joining Ottery St Mary Town Council
A threat of a Tesco store coming to Ottery on the old factory site in 2009, mobilised me to join Sustainable Ottery’s campaign against it - and it was from there that I joined Ottery St Mary Town Council. The Tesco application bit the dust and Sainsbury’s won the supermarket war in Ottery.
On Ottery Town Council I felt liberated by being able to speak my own mind and represent people’s views instead of being the mouthpiece of an organisation. I also got started on working hard for the community.
Saving overnight stays at Honiton maternity unit
Overnight stays were set to be lost from Honiton Hospital’s maternity unit In 2010, and I led the campaign to save the service, which was successful, in the end!
West Hill’s first play park
During 2010-2011 I led a working group to achieve West Hill’s very first play park, under the labour government’s playbuilder scheme. The funding was threatened when the coalition came into power in 2010 but fortunately, although some of the funding was lost, Devon County Council kindly made up the shortfall.
Broadband in West Hill
Working with BT Openreach in 2010, after a letter to BT’s chief executive about the poor broadband service, I helped to improve the service. As a result of my work, BT Openreach spent six months repairing cables improving the speed for many residents. Not all have seen an improvement unfortunately, but hopefully things will get better for everyone once the broadband service is boosted by the forthcoming investment.
Being elected to East Devon District Council
I was elected to East Devon District Council in May 2011, with 1364 votes, ousting long-standing conservative leader of the council, Sara Randall Johnson in the process.
I stood down from EDDC in 2015.
As an EDDC councillor I focused on two main themes - encouraging more transparency and openness - and trying to save the district from a very real threat of over-development.
On the subject of openness and transparency things have definitely got better a series of motions and probing questions has helped this come about.
I continued throughout my tenure on EDDC, to battle against over-development and was a member of the Local Plan Panel in 2011, just after I was elected. I was often voted down, but I always made sure I got my views across.
I spoke at EDDC’s examination in public in February 2014 against the amount of development proposed in the local plan.
Of course, we need some housing in the district, especially for younger and less well off local people, but the scale of development that we are now seeing is unprecedented and is destroying our lovely countryside, as well as swamping infrastructure, such as our schools, roads and health services.
I have been battling away against the national loose planning rules (National Planning Policy Framework) that came into force in 2012 and the resulting planning chaos that ensued. I continue to fight for the communities I represent, some of which are being engulfed by large scale housing proposals. Especially Feniton, which is beset by major problems with flooding and mass housing proposals.
A proposed quarry at Straitgate Farm on the edge of Ottery
I am in the thick of a campaign group who are protesting against Aggregate Industries Plans to open a massive quarry - around 100 acres at Straitgate Farm. Devon County Council is unfortunately, supporting its inclusion in its minerals plan.
But the demand for sand and gravel is diminishing and any quarrying here would be likely to cause devastating damage to ancient woodland (Cadhay Bog), so old that it is it thought it may date back to the ice-age. The reason the ancient woodland is at risk is because of an underground watercourse that Cadhay Bog relies on to sustain its trees and other flora and fauna. It is of course, totally irreplaceable.
Other obvious impacts of the quarry would be the impact on traffic - around 100 lorries a day would be driving to and from the quarry and processing plant on the B3180. It would create a huge scar on the landscape that would be seen for miles around.
Votes at 16
At political speed-dating events (councillors being asked lots of questions by school students) I have supported young people’s wishes for the voting age to be lowered to 16. It seems to me that young people can do many adult things at 16, including getting married and having children, paying tax, riding a motorbike etc, but they are not allowed to vote!
I lodged a motion at EDDC full council in December 2012 and it was supported. A letter was sent to the Local Government Association asking them to lead a debate on the subject. This has been a bit slow going and I have had to chase senior councillors up several times. Still not very much appears to be happening but I am in touch with the UK Youth Parliament team in East Devon, who are also championing this cause. Hopefully things will start moving soon!
Being elected to Devon County Council
I was elected to Devon County Council in May 2013, with 2970 votes (a 74 per cent share). I replaced former excellent independent county councillor, Roger Giles, in 2013, who has encouraged me every step of the way. I have learned a lot from him.
I am leader of the non-aligned group on Devon County Council, which consists of three independents and one green councillor.
I am a member of the health and wellbeing overview and scrutiny committee and am currently keeping a keen eye on big changes that are being proposed to our community hospitals.
I am a member of several other committees, including procedures, investment and pensions, member development and also am on a group looking at boundary commission requirements to change the boundaries of wards in the Devon County Council area.
A campaign to create a cycleway from Feniton to Ottery to Tipton St John to Sidmouth
I am a member of a group that is trying to establish a cycleway along the old railway line (or as close to it as possible).
A feasibility study has been produced by cycling charity, Sustrans, published in April 2014 and working with others, the group hopes to move things forward over the next few years. See our website and read the feasibility study, here - http://ottertrail.org/
Woodland Trust Tree Champion for Devon
In November 2013 the Woodland Trust asked me to be its Tree Champion for Devon, which is a huge honour. The invitation followed the many battles that I have had with developers chopping down important native trees in my ward.
Since being Woodland Trust Tree Champion I have successfully persuaded Devon County Council to carry out more tree planting on its land, helped by the Woodland Trust, and a task forum is to be set up at EDDC too, following a similar motion from me, to work out how we can better protect our trees in East Devon and plant more. Many are lost through development each year, of course. And not enough are protected, in my view.
It is absolutely vital, as we have very little woodland cover here in the UK compared with Europe, that we not only take better care of our native species, especially with all the threats of disease, but also make efforts to plant new ones whenever we can.
The main committees that I sit on at Devon County Council are health overview and scrutiny, procedures, member development. I am also a member of the Smile Trust that works with West Hill Primary School and Ottery St Mary Primary School. As a county councillor I get involved in all sorts of issues such as youth services, health services, highways safety, schools.
A pilot to grow wildflowers on Devon County Council verges
I am currently leading a pilot to encourage more wildflowers in Devon. I have, with the support of Devon Wildlife Trust, seeded three Devon County Council owned verges at Ottery St Mary, West Hill and Tipton St John and am looking forward to the spring when they will come up!
If the pilot is deemed a success it could be spread to other verges in Devon. I was motivated to champion this pilot after the alarming State of Nature report that was published in spring 2013 and gave us the very worrying news that many wildlife species such as hedgehogs, insects and other wildlife had dramatically declined. Wildflower meadows have declined by a massive 97 per cent in recent times. Of course, without the flowers, the insects cannot thrive, which is why I decided that wildflower verges were the best approach.
This pilot is now being prepared to be extended across the county.
Massive local government budget cuts
Devon County Council must slash over £110m from its budget by 2017. In my view the government seems to be trying to destroy the concept of public services - Devon County Council has already cut a similar amount in the last four years. Many services are proposed to be lost as a result. It is extremely worrying, especially when the government is spending so much money on major and unnecessary infrastructure projects such £50bn on HS2, and many more wasted millions on free schools, tax breaks for big business, police and crime commissioners.
My bid for parliament in 2015
In 2015, I was an Independent parliamentary candidate for East Devon, running against foreign office minister, Hugo Swire. I came second with 13,140 votes and a 24 per cent share, polling the most votes of any Independent in the country since 2001, when Independent, Dr Richard Taylor won Wyre Forest. Nationally acclaimed novelist, Hilary Mantel backed me, as did former Queen guitarist, Brian May, who endorsed me as part of his common decency campaign. East Devon results are here - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/politics/constituencies/E14000678
You will find much more about my parliamentary campaign in the blog posts between June 2014 and May 2015.
Representing your views
I will always strive to represent people’s views on the issues that they say are important to them.
As an Independent councillor I can speak out freely, unfettered by party politics.
It means I can put my constituents needs first and foremost without pressure to think or vote along party lines.
Photograph: Seeding the wildflowers: Me, with Cllr Roger Giles, West Hill Residents Association chairman, Dick Beardsall and Emily Stallworthy from Devon Wildlife Trust