Being a councillor is about being able to change people’s lives

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City council meetings are held in the Guildhall (left) next to Westgate Towers

With the council elections nine months away, a prominent councillor explains what the role involves

I love being a councillor on Canterbury City Council. Above all else it’s an honour represent the people that live here, but for my friends and even my husband it can be difficult to understand sometimes why this is something I, or anyone, would want to do.

Let me elaborate: being a councillor takes up huge amounts of time.

But it doesn’t have to. You can adequately help the residents in your patch, or ward, and participate in votes at full council inside two or three hours a week. Plus a little more to help your political association with delivering leaflets or gauging voter intention.

But if you, like me, genuinely care for the district and what goes on within it, the level of information you’ll find you suddenly have access to, and the opportunity to affect real change within the council and the areas it controls, will soon draw you in to participating in various committees, working groups, meetings within your ward for, say, parish councils or residents associations, and more.

Take me as an example. I chair one of the three committees of the council that handles its business.

Cllr Ben Fitter-Harding

It’s not unusual for me to spend 20 to 30 hours a week on work related to that role, helping residents within my ward, attending various meetings and doing bits for the association (which, perhaps rightly, is always the bit that gets squeezed down to make room for everything else).

I work full time and have two children, and sometimes it’s a burden that feels unbearable. So why do it?

You’ll meet lots of really amazing people. Even those who most vehemently disagree with what you’re doing are engaged and passionate people who you’ll enjoy talking to and learning from.

Listening is probably the single biggest skill a councillor needs, and the more you can listen the better the decisions will be that you’ll make.

You’ll change people’s lives. Planning is one of the biggest ways in which a councillor does this, mostly within their ward.

Whether it’s fighting off a predatory developer or helping a resident get a much needed extension, the decisions you’ll influence will be life-changing to one or more people. That’s a great feeling.

You’ll create a legacy. Whether you want to or not, you’ll be involved in decisions that will stay with Canterbury, Herne Bay, Whitstable and the villages for years, decades even, to come. You may even be lucky enough to instigate or oversee the implementation of some of these decisions.

Finally, you’ll have the opportunity to work alongside some of the most passionate and engaged council officers that you can imagine. The decisions taken at council are just the tip of the iceberg, and often the really hard work starts afterwards.

Hand on heart, the people I’ve met at Canterbury City Council, from the chief executive and his senior management team right through to the people who carry out the essential functions that the council performs, are some of the very best and most upstanding people I have ever met.

Working with them, you’ll truly feel that there is nothing that cannot be achieved. But you’ll also understand why certain problems are so hard to solve, and just how much work goes in to every little detail of what makes our district so great.

When I became a councillor I was worried. Worried I didn’t understand enough about how local government works. Worried I didn’t understand how local politics works. Worried I simply didn’t have enough time to contribute anything useful.

But you can do it, and you will be able to contribute far more than you can imagine. You’ll even acquire the superhuman power to create time out of, seemingly, nowhere.

My message to you, no matter what your political affiliation if any, is to get involved. Even by running for a seat you’ll learn so much about your area and the people responsible for looking after it.

It’s fulfilling, it’s humbling and, you know what, it’s even fun. But most importantly of all, our district is only as good as the people who lead it, and so if you’ve ever thought you can do better then you know exactly what you need to do!

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