Leader is embracing diversity across town

When Kathryn Downs became a council leader around 10 months ago, she was determined to give everyone in the community a voice.

Kathryn Downs. Photo: Peter Lopeman
Kathryn Downs. Photo: Peter Lopeman

As part of the mission, the newly-elected chairwoman wanted to ensure the authority truly represented all of the people living in the town and listened to their different viewpoints.

Her plan for Hednesford Town Council included enabling young people to have more of a say in local matters.

Although the coronavirus pandemic has made it more difficult for council representatives to get out and about to schools in the community, Councillor Downs is now hoping to press ahead with setting up a youth council.

“Unfortunately Covid has got in the way a little bit with the plan to get young people involved,” she said.

“One of the things we have done is appoint a new community officer, Laura Dunning, and one of her responsibilities is to work with the town to get the youth council up and running.

"As soon as we can we’re keen to go out and begin to talk to young people to get them involved.

"One of the groups we hear less from in politics is young people and we’re keen to listen to what they have to say and what their interests are in the town.”

The council is also keen to improve links with the BAME community and ensure they are included and represented in town matters.

“Once lockdown is over we will be pushing on with plans to form a business panel to support Hednesford’s town regeneration work and will be working to ensure that the panel is representative of the residents and businesses in the town including the BAME community,” said Councillor Downs.

Journey

The town council recently organised a successful ‘Hednesford Talks’ event to mark International Women’s Day, which featured speakers including internet star and chief officer of Cheshire Association of Local Councils, Jackie Weaver, Anita Rattan, headteacher at Hednesford Valley High School, Tanya O’Neil, entrepreneur and business owner, Lynn Evans and founding member of Friends of Hednesford Park as well as Councillor Downs.

“We got so many positive comments from the local community and everyone said how happy they were to see the event taking place. On the back of that we’re planning further events for Pride Month in June and Black History Month in October to celebrate the diversity we have in our town,” said Councillor Downs.

As well as heading up the town council, she is is also chairwoman of Chase Pride – the area’s LGBT+ charity.

Councillor Down’s says her own personal journey helped to open her eyes to the diversity of the community and has fuelled her ambition to ensure the town council is inclusive in everything it does.

“I’m a transgender woman and I transitioned 10 years ago. I’ve been on my own journey of discovery since then and become more aware of how the diverse the world is and I found myself learning more about the different issues people face. Since getting involved in politics, I’ve met many, many people from different backgrounds and religions. I want to ensure that we bring all these different views into the town council,” she said.

Councillor Emma Hunneyball undertook a review of Hednesford Town Council’s diversity policy in late 2020 to ensure the council was doing all it could to be inclusive.

Speaking about the new policy, Councillor Hunneyball, who has led accessibility and inclusion programmes in her role as a project manager in financial services, said: “As a council we strive to be fair and inclusive to residents, employees and fellow councillors.

“As it stands, councils across the UK do not tend to be representative of their constituents with the vast majority of councillors being retired white, straight, males over 60.

"It is our firmly held belief organisations that are diverse and outward looking not only treat people fairly but also attract better quality candidates, in this case as parish councillors.

"This new policy is aimed at ensuring even more working-age people from all backgrounds have the chance and opportunity to be involved with Hednesford Town Council.”

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