Since this article was first published in June 2017, Helen Simpson has been elected Mayor of Hungerford (on 8 May 2018), replacing Keith Knight, who became her deputy. The day after her election, she talked to Penny Post about her new role:
I am so very proud and honoured to announce I am the newly elected Mayor of Hungerford. I would like above all to thank my family for allowing me the time needed to take on this new role. I’m also very grateful for the overwhelming support I’ve received from the residents of our special town.
I have really enjoyed my apprenticeship as Deputy Mayor. Keith and I are a team working together to help the town and I’m thrilled that, as he will be my deputy this year, we can continue our work together. I would like to thank Keith personally for his enormous support and friendship over the last twelve months.
Having been the Deputy I’m very aware of how much has been accomplished and how much still remains to be done. The Library and the neighbourhood plan – one nearing its conclusion and the other just started – are two obvious ones. I’m sure that further issues and opportunities will emerge in the next year. The job is a huge personal challenge but one I’m ready, willing and honoured to be taking on. I hope I can continue the superb work of my predecessors and also bring my own approach. Rest assured that this will involve all the members of Hungerford’s most valuable asset – its residents!
The following is the interview conducted with Helen Simpson shortly after she was elected Deputy Mayor in 2017:
Penny Post was recently able to catch up with Councillor Helen Simpson who since last month is now Hungerford’s Deputy Mayor. Between her various engagements we managed to fire off a few questions about her, her perceptions of town councils before (and after) she became a councilor and what she intends to accomplish.
Tell us a bit about your background.
I’m a local girl, although from just across the county line – I grew up in Great Bedwyn and went to school at St John’s in Marlborough. Since then, I have lived in Hungerford for the last 28 years.
What kind of jobs have you had?
At 16 I became a full-time apprentice for Roberta hair salon where I gained my City & Guilds. I then became a customer services adviser in a mail-order cosmetic company, also in Hungerford, before joining Hypertec, an IT memory manufacturer. I started in reception, then moved to sales and finally to marketing. I met my husband Dean whilst working there and we now have two sons, Alex and Adam, who have both attended Hungerford schools. I returned to work part-time at Montague’s hair salon and loved being back in a job that involved dealing with people. Sadly I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis which meant I had to stop work. As a result I understand the problems faced by other people with a long-term illness.
What were your perceptions of the role of Hungerford Town Council (HTC) and similar councils before you became a councilor?
I had the – completely wrong – idea of the council being composed of people with political agendas who were neither approachable nor in the least bit interested in the views of the local inhabitants. How wrong could I have been?
So, you’ve changed your mind, then?
Totally! For a start, HTC is not political in any way. I met a hugely dedicated bunch of people who are passionate about our wonderful town. They volunteer enormous amounts of time and energy into every aspect of town life. Much of what the council does is invisible.
What made you want to become a councilor?
I have always loved living in Hungerford – we are so lucky to live in a town like this. I felt it was time to give something back. I think the tipping point was the announcement came that Hungerford Library was going to be closed. I knew I had to do something. Once services like this stop it’s very hard to get them started again. I was introduced to the library through the craft and chat group which meets every Friday morning for a couple of hours. This wonderful bunch of people taught me a lot and also helped me through a difficult period in my life. Libraries are not just about books, vital though they are. I knew then I had to do everything I could to protect these vital services for the residents of Hungerford now and in the future..
What is the most satisfying thing you’ve been involved with since you joined the council?
It has to be the library. I’m hopeful that we are close to securing our valuable asset for the town. I hope to see the building evolve into a community hub for the whole town to use and enjoy in the future.
What are the biggest challenges you can see facing local councils generally and HTC in particular?
Ask any councilor at any level in any part of the country and they’ll say that because of the funding difficulties, there are a number of challenges, most quite unprecedented. Of these, learning to manage the growing list of assets controlled by HTC is one I’d pick out. Due to these cuts, we are taking on a number of buildings, services and facilities within the town that we would otherwise have probably been lost. Taking them over is the first stage – they then need to be managed, staffed, maintained, marketed…This is why we need people who can help bring their expertise to help these work as well as they can. We also need to make sure our town continues to thrive and grow in this sometimes difficult environment whilst continuing to protect the diverse and unique place we are lucky enough to live in.
What else do you still hope to achieve as a councilor and deputy mayor?
If I had so many mistaken views about HTC it’s fair to assume that many others still do. I hope to reach people who currently feel (as I did) that they have no voice within the town. I want to be an approachable councillor who cares about the community she lives in. I want to work closely with the HTC team and be as proactive as I can be. Specifically, I’d love to see a cleaner, smarter high street with some free short-stay parking. I’d like more facilities for the younger members of our community. I’d like to engage the whole town more often on important town issues. For instance, there’s a discussion currently under way about the possibility of producing a neighbourhood plan. Whether this happens will be for the residents to decide – either way, I hope the debate will encourage people to come forward and become involved in helping this wonderful town grow and prosper.
If you would like to ask Helen any questions please feel free to contact her on 01488 68 2946 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Please click here to read Penny Post’s monthly summaries of Hungerford Town Council’s main activities.
Please click here to watch an interview with the then Mayor, Keith Knight.