Claire Rowles is one of the three West Berkshire Councillors who were elected for the newly-created ward of Hungerford and Kintbury in 2019. Penny Post caught up with her to ask him a few questions about her background, her role as a district councillor and her views on challenges faced by West Berkshire, ending with a brief foray into the world of Desert Island Discs.
When did you first become a West Berkshire Council Councillor?
I was first elected in May 2019.
What made you want to become one?
My father, Andrew Rowles, was a councillor for Kintbury for 18 years and a former Chairman of West Berkshire Council. This exposed me to the role of a councillor and the wide variety of aspects it covers. I wanted to be a councillor to make a difference to the local community and to improve people’s lives. I grew up on Station Road in Kintbury and I live in Boxford which, since the boundary changes, is part of Kintbury and Hungerford ward. It was therefore a privilege to stand and to be elected in the ward where my father was a councillor, where I grew up and where I now live.
What jobs have you had (or still do have)?
I am a qualified lawyer but I don’t practise anymore. I set up and still run my own consultancy business helping lawyers to communicate better with their clients and win more work. I try to also help them be more human! Owning my own business gives me the flexibility to be a councillor.
Prior to setting up my consultancy business, I worked for global law firms including Clifford Chance and Allen & Overy, managing client relationships across different sectors. When I was younger, I did a range of temporary jobs including waitressing, milking cows on my cousin’s farm and plucking turkeys.
On a voluntary basis, I am a trustee for MS-UK, Chairman of West Berkshire Conservative Association and a former school governor. This probably doesn’t count as a job but it was a big deal to me at the time – when at school I was also a Hungerford Carnival Queen. My mind goes back to that every time I see a float or a procession going down the High Street. I didn’t at the time think I’d one day represent the town but perhaps this experience had something to do with it. It was, in a way, my first public engagement…
How would you define what a District Councillor does?
The role of a District Councillor is to represent the interests of their residents on West Berkshire Council. You effectively act as a bridge between the community and the council. In practice, this means responding to queries and investigating resident’s concerns, leading or supporting local campaigns, communicating decisions made by the council that may impact on residents, working with local community groups, businesses and parish councils and representing the views of your residents at Council meetings.
Some examples of the types of things I have been involved with since being elected include visiting a pig farm just outside Kintbury, looking at the pigeon problem in Hungerford, investigating flood alleviation schemes in Boxford, meeting Hungerford Fire Brigade, looking for bats in the Croft at night and visiting the Dogs Trust in Hampstead Marshall. I expect there will be many more interesting experiences.
You must have had some preconceptions about what being a District Councillor was like: did these prove to be accurate?
I had a pretty good idea of what being a District Councillor was like from my father’s experiences. My expectations have been exceeded as I didn’t quite realise how many interesting things it exposes you to and I have met so many amazing people who are passionate about getting things done to improve the local community.
What is the main thing that you hope to accomplish in this role over the next four years?
One of my main priorities is the environment which has become one of the most important issues of our generation. West Berkshire Council has declared a climate emergency and pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. I would like to see more environmental initiatives implemented across my ward. These include extending the refill campaign which I supported in Newbury at the beginning of the year to encourage reduction of single use plastic bottles, increasing the number of electric-vehicle charging points, establishing more cycle routes and introducing more recycling bins in our high streets. Maintaining and where necessary improving relations with local groups – in particular continuing to build our close relationship with Hungerford Town Council – will be crucial to achieving this.
It’s well known that all local councils have faced some unprecedented financial challenges recently. What challenges do you think the next four years will provide?
The environmental challenges of moving towards carbon neutrality by 2030 and the challenges which will no doubt be presented post-Brexit.
Imagine for a moment that you’re on Desert Island Discs. What would be the one piece of music that you’d want to have with you?
I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor.
And the book?
The complete works of Dickens as I have never had enough time to read all of them.
I think that counts as more than one book – and a pretty big one at that – but, if you can carry it, you can have it. And the luxury object?
My Jack Russell, Maximus. He’s not a luxury object but comes with me everywhere. I’m happy to give up the music and book for him if necessary!